It’s been a while, but we’re back everybody! Of course, spoilers to follow…
Movie franchises have done interesting things to popular cinema over the last decade. On one hand, putting a whole bunch of action-heavy properties into the hands of mostly talented people gets you great consistency in terms of the quality of movies. On the other, when the same core group of producers, writers, and visual effects studios work on the properties, it brings a bland sameness to it all. It’s this sameness that Deadpool wants to exploit and mock. But in its attempts to do so, Deadpool 2 falls into one of the oldest traps in the book: sequelitis.
In retrospect, the first Deadpool is a great lesson on how a restrictive budget often makes a better movie. The story is well known at this point: Fox didn’t think an R-rated superhero movie could work with mass audiences, and didn’t even want to greenlight the script until test footage leaked online and was met with such an outpouring of excitement that it forced Fox’s hand. However, Fox only gave the movie enough of a budget for two set pieces (CG heavy action sequences), which forced the creative team to get creative and flesh out the characters more. Now, this isn’t to say that Deadpool is a masterwork of characterization (when you thumb your nose at the themes of becoming a hero, what you get is a shallow story about one-sided vanity), but it does do a great job of endearing both the characters of Wade Wilson and Deadpool to the audience, as well as the various other relationships in the story. Its got a lot of clever sequences, great comedic performances by Ryan Reynolds and Morena Baccarin, and is a bloody fun time.
The word that you can use to describe Deadpool 2 is “more”. There is more of everything: More money, which means more set pieces, more characters, more story elements, more 4th wall breaks…it’s all there. And there’s a lot more of it. Hence, sequelitis.
Larger franchise movies have largely been able to avoid a few of the sequelitis tendencies because there are just so many movies down the pipeline that trying to “one-up” each of them is likely to make the filmmakers’ heads explode. But Deadpool is a little bit different. It was made with a relatively low budget for a superhero movie that made a ridiculous amount of money at the box office, and had very few actual ties to Fox’s X-Men universe. Once that movie got popular, it was bound to be placed at the forefront of a struggling series of movies. And with no limit to what it can do, Deadpool 2 tries to do everything. The issue is that when you add more mouths to feed on a sequel, you end up having to take from important places.
So much of the movie is Deadpool jumping from action set piece to action set piece, with only a couple of minutes of buffer between each sequence. Of course, we all want to see Deadpool in action, but when you add more set pieces, you take away valuable time that you could be fleshing out newcomers like Cable and Domino, while also diminishing screen time for key character relationships (Negasonic Teenage Warhead is basically a cameo in this movie, and Colossus isn’t much more) from the first film. It’s the crisis of too many good things at once, and not being able to pick and choose what is absolutely necessary for the story, and what can go.
Also, them fourth wall breaks. They’re a key part of Deadpool’s character, for sure, but there were a lot of them in this movie, and quite a few of them reek of a need for validation from the audience instead of a clever joke. They compound on top of each other to the point where I was exhausted when the last few rolled around. They really should be used as strategic strikes, not as a catchall net every few minutes. But that’s just me.
For story elements, my opinion is marred by a major decision made at the very beginning of the movie. That decision, for those who’ve seen the movie, is to kill off Vanessa before the opening title sequence. My frustrations with that decision? For a movie and character that wants to lampoon the clichéd aspects of comic books and their movie adaptations, they sure did choose the most clichéd and predictable twist for significant others in comic book fiction. And not only that, but they play up the decision as if it’s shocking, and use the death as the emotional crux of this movie. Killing off the significant other as a means of character development for the hero is something that is so ingrained in comic book lore that it’s probably built into the paper comics are printed on, and Deadpool 2 just falls right into the trap.
Furthermore, the decisions that come after it undercut the emotional gravity of that moment. I like the movie’s instincts when it came to the story; Deadpool can heal all wounds, so the physical stakes are always low. So, make the emotional stakes high with trying to save this abused and wayward kid’s “soul”. Never mind that the plot of this is similar to 2012’s Looper (directed by Star Wars fans’ new Boogeyman, Rian Johnson), the issue is that Wade does not make a conscious decision to save this kid on his own, and is told to by Spirit Vanessa. It cheapens this decision into selfish reasons, rather than liking the kid and not wanting him to go bad. Of course, the thing that undercuts the decision to kill Vanessa off is the mid credits scene, where he goes back in time to save her. If that moment is canon for follow up movies…then what was the point? Why make that the entire emotional anchor of the movie when Deadpool can just undo it all at the end of the film? If you were emotionally impacted by her death, doesn’t it make you feel a little stupid for even falling for any of it? Most importantly, the strongest aspect of the previous film was the relationship between Wade Wilson and Vanessa. The actors have great chemistry, and what little we saw of it in this film was wonderful. Sidelining that for the entire movie is…just a strange decision in my book. If The Incredibles taught us anything, it’s that you can make an effective superhero movie that also touches on relationship drama. There just has to be a little more nuance involved.
I’ve skewed negative in this post, but the movie is still fun, even if it suffers from the “bigger and better” sequelitis. It’s just a good lesson that sometimes constraints can be some of the best creative fodder out there.
This article was written by Samuel Becker: writer for hire, Tek5 Filmscore Critic, and general hypocrite.