Deadpool 2 review: Ryan Reynolds’ bad boy superhero adds much-needed sass to the Marvel Universe
With a producer and co-writing credit, star Ryan Reynolds can safely claim credit for much of this sequel’s success. (Supplied: 20th Century Fox)
The bad boy of the Marvel Universe is back and — gasp — he’s even sucking on a cigarette in the opening shot of the new film.
If you’re new to the character, Deadpool (played by Ryan Reynolds) is like Marvel’s court jester: a wisecracking, irreverent prankster whose irony and serial violations of the fourth wall point to his early 90s origins, when post modernism was regarded as a novel, edgy idea.
Of course, he isn’t really bad. Despite the intimidating red suit with two swords slung across his back, this assassin-for-hire ultimately bows his head to the greater, solemn vision of Marvel.
He’s a good guy, essentially, whose warped sense of humour can be traced back to a history of girl trouble, terminal illness and an experimental cure that has left him hideously disfigured and superhuman.
A face like an avocado, as one character puts it.
This latest film confirms his humanist credentials by putting him in touch with his inner father figure, first literally when he and his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin) try for a baby, then figuratively, when he comes to the rescue of a wayward young New Zealand orphan who we first encounter launching balls of fire at his orphanage (Julian Dennison from Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople).
Ryan Reynolds scripted the character of Firefist specifically for Julian Dennison, after seeing him in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. (Supplied: 20th Century Fox)
Saving this angry young brat from himself sees Deadpool confront a time-travelling, half-cyborg villain from the future (Josh Brolin).
It also sees him commandeer a posse of super heroes that inspires the film’s best action sequence: a series of kills that recalls the schlock violence and gallows humour of the Final Destination franchise.
Zazie Beetz’s Domino is a mercenary and mutant with the ability to manipulate probability. (Supplied: 20th Century Fox)
Director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) serves up action with unflinching verve — bodies are crushed, bent out of shape and disfigured in cartoonish, surprisingly funny ways — but it’s in the film’s extended comedy bits that Deadpool 2 really shines.
It’s a sad indictment on contemporary Hollywood comedy that a Marvel film can appear like the funniest thing released so far this year, but the confluence of Reynolds’ note-perfect, irony-laden delivery with the script’s finely-tuned gags and large dollops of physical humour results in some bone fide hilarity.
A high point in this regard — or low point, depending on your taste — occurs when Deadpool is forced to grow a new set of legs after a villain has literally ripped off his old ones, and appears sporting a pair of childlike appendages while wearing a shirt and no pants.
Nothing quite prepares you for the homage to Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct when he uncrosses his legs — but suffice to say, it can’t be unseen.
Elsewhere there’s a moderately successful series of jokes about white people that gives the film a contemporary zing (although Karan Soni’s Indian caricature remains as head scratchingly clumsy as ever), and there are meta references galore.
T.J. Miller’s character Weasel is the best friend of Ryan Reynold’s Deadpool. (Supplied: 20th Century Fox)
The soundtrack, meanwhile, jumps from 80s nostalgia (Aha’s Take on Me gets a mushy makeover) to diva kitsch (Dolly Parton sings 9 to 5 over a sequence of multiple assassinations, Streisand sings from Yentl) and a dash of AC/DC.
It’s like an end-of-year party at the Vice office where the theme is “irony”.
In the face of this pretence of cool cynicism, the film’s eventual nod to sentiment and pathos doesn’t seem maudlin or ridiculous.
Credit should go to Reynolds, who brings to bear the sincerity and vulnerability he’s expressed before in his rom-com roles.
As one of Deadpool’s producers, it’s not an exaggeration to suggest this film’s success belongs to him as much as anyone else.
His bad boy character is really just another muscle bound softie, carefully aligned to the values of much of Marvel’s emotionally conservative core audience, but he’s arguably the most likeable of the bunch.