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'Deadpool' Sequel Has Jokes on Jokes, But Nothing Beneath the Surface 

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The raucous, raunchy Deadpool 2, which opens in wide release Friday, is a fitting sequel to the wry and self-referential original, a superhero film billed as a new frontier in superhero cinema that took the box office by storm in 2016. (The Ryan Reynolds action-comedy delighted studio executives and surprised everyone when it raked in more than $360 million in 2016.)

Much like its predecessor, DP2 is amped to the gills with one-liners, improvised riffs (courtesy of T.J. Miller, whose comedic stylings are now inseparable from his real-life boorishness), meta commentary and over-the-top violence. It is as gleefully R-rated as The Hangover and its sequels, though far more extreme. In the category of jokes-per-minute, this one's every bit as successful as the original – Reynolds, a self-aware hunk with brains, is the perfect vehicle for Deadpool's commentary. But also like the original, it's an emotional dud. At the character and story level, the franchise remains at or near the very bottom of the superhero stockpile.

Watching this film, there's just no point investing in anything. Any character, at any moment, might have her head blown to pieces or his penis ripped off for the sake of an outrageous laugh. It's like watching a series of very witty, grotesque skits that amount to zero in aggregate. In fact, it's like watching porn. There's a narrative arc beneath the onslaught, but it's largely incidental.

The central conflict, such as it is, concerns one Russell (Julian Dennison, the New Zealand boy of Hunt for the Wilderpeople fame), a plus-sized kid with deadly flame-throwing powers, a sort of beta version of X2's Pyro. As it happens, Deadpool is now an X-Man trainee himself, donned in yellow penny. He encounters Russell outside a home for mutants after an incident there. The school is the sadistic inverse of Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Children. This one's run by the more-pedophilic-than-usual Eddie Marsan, a guy who approaches youth mutancy the way hardcore religious fundamentalists approach homosexuality – something to be remedied via experimental therapies bordering on torture.

Deadpool enters into an uneasy alliance with Russell when they are imprisoned, and a cyborg-man from the future, Cable (Josh Brolin) arrives to kill Russell to prevent a future catastrophe. Deadpool can be counted upon to mention that Josh Brolin is also currently playing Thanos in Avengers: Infinity Wars. Very predictable broad strokes ensue, with about eight or 10 disposable characters that are introduced and promptly dispatched in a preposterous, but nevertheless hilarious, sequence.

I don't deny that I laughed hard and often during my viewing of Deadpool 2, but I have to say I felt pretty gross about it. There are story elements which would seem to give the sequel more heart than the original, the big question of which was whether an indestructible superhero would be taken back by the love of his life because his face was disfigured by burns. Here, the question has to do with a child, and whether or not it's possible to save him before his villainous tendencies are irrevocably implanted. But in Deadpool 2, the good guys get fed into wood chippers and the bad guys get anally electrocuted. So honestly, who cares?

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