There was a time when the idea of a Deadpool solo movie seemed unlikely -- maybe even impossible -- but those days are long, long gone. Following the success of the first Deadpool movie, Deadpool 2 has felt like a looming inevitability rather than a scrappy little franchise-that-could story of heart and determination. That meant the real test for Deadpool the second wasn't so much building out the Deadpool brand, but avoiding the pitfalls and weighty expectations that have become synonymous with superhero movies these days.
Unfortunately, it doesn't find much success there.
Picking up several years after the finale of the original Deadpool film, Deadpool 2 opens on a Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) in crisis after enduring yet another huge tragedy in his life. He's in a dark place made even darker by the fact he's learned his hyperactive healing mutation has made it so he can't die. Of course, this poses a bit of a problem that, seeing as it's a Deadpool movie, spirals out into wacky hijinks -- forming a team, begrudgingly protecting a kid and running into a time-traveling cyborg, all with the core of the narrative being Wade grappling with his own self-destructive urges.
It's clearly a stab at recreating grittier, more emotionally fraught origin story moments that Deadpool 1 certainly didn't shy away from, but this time it feels like the movie is trying to punch way, way above its weight class. It gracelessly waffles back and forth between being a stark look at a superhero with failing mental health and a hyperviolent dick joke-filled romp but never pauses to say much about either of its identities -- and neither of them do the other any favors.
Worse yet, while Deadpool 1 managed to make Wade feel like a totally new look at tried-and-true superhero tropes, Deadpool 2 reduces him to yet another in a long line of masked men who are motivated to act heroically by the loss of a woman in their life. Sure, he makes more jokes and breaks the fourth wall along the way, but it's all stuff we've seen before dozens of times, and totally missing the cool subversions the character banks on to set himself apart.
The humor too feels rehashed, even dated. There are a few topical gags -- mostly winks and jabs at other superhero movies, some of which are actually pretty clever -- but the bulk of the comedy seems strangely reheated. For example: during a fight with Cable, Wade makes a crack about dubstep music that feels straight out of 2012, which then proceeds to become a running motif for some reason, complete with a blaring dubstep soundtrack over big action moments. Weasel (T.J. Miller) spouts off the exact same hyperbolic metaphors that he did in the first movie. There's an extended gag with the formation of the X-Force that feels less like a part of the movie and more like a cut-in sketch from Saturday Night Live.
That said, the movie does bring some new stuff to the table. Both Cable (Josh Brolin) and Domino (Zazie Beetz) provide enough energy and momentum to the story that things never really drag. Domino's weirdly esoteric "luck" powers wind up being a total joy to watch unfold on screen and her easy, unbothered humor make a great counterpoint to Wade's unrelenting commentary. Cable's plays the straight man and the token over-the-top badass in equal measure, and spends his fight choreography oozing well-designed coolness, even if he does sometimes feel like he wandered out of a much more down-to-Earth movie every now and again.
At the end of the day, this is going to be a movie in which your mileage is going to vary a lot depending on how bought in to the Deadpool brand you already are. Stripped of the boring motivation, the awkwardly handled emotional stakes and the obviously curated-by-committee gags Deadpool 2, is a fun movie that's at its strongest when it really allows the ensemble cast to shine. With any luck -- maybe Domino can share some of hers -- the stumbles here are only temporary and non-fatal, and future Deadpool outings will play to those strengths instead of resting on the laurels of safety and convention that it wants so desperately to thumb its nose at.