When the memo arrived announcing that henceforth the movie industry would focus primarily on tentpoles adapted from comic books, I was dubious. Following Avatar's huge success, after all, pundits predicted most films would henceforth be exclusively in 3D. That lasted about five minutes. What were the chances an idea this pinheaded would fly?
Turns out grown-up human beings really like tentpoles adapted from comic books. I never expected to live in a world where superheroes are the driving force of the film business. But, hey, I never expected to live in a world where Donald Trump is commander in chief. Life is full of surprises.
I have zero interest in comic-book movies, so I generally just don't watch them. I had a professional obligation to watch Deadpool in 2016, however. It made $783 million, got great reviews and somehow became an awards contender. An awards screener arrived. As an awards voter, I had a duty to view it.
At last, I remember thinking, somebody's finally making fun of this ludicrous superhero thing. There were lots of screeners to view, so further investigation wasn't feasible. I just figured, good for Ryan Reynolds. Now he'd never have to make The Proposal 2.
Deadpool 2. Whole different ball game, right? Sure, but not as daringly different as you've probably been led to believe. Reynolds again plays the super-antihero. Deadpool's raison d'être isn't so much fighting evil as tommy-gunning profanities, pop-culture references, fourth-wall-breaking asides and cracks about Marvel characters, especially the X-Men. As in the original, some are clever and amusing.
Plotwise, the sequel is on the busy side. The most significant threads pertain to a painful loss that Wade (Deadpool's real name) suffers early on; his fraught relationship with a chubby boy named Russell (Julian Dennison), whose chubby fists are basically flamethrowers; and a protracted face-off with Cable (Josh Brolin), a cyborg who's traveled from the future to murder the boy, Terminator-style. Which occasions the formation of a motley supergroup that Deadpool names X-Force (like X-Men only "gender-neutral"). Its mission? To keep Russell breathing. Action-packed CGI set pieces ensue.
Directed by David Leitch (Atomic Blonde) and scripted by Reynolds with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the movie is a winking snark attack. Its creators want you to feel complicit in some merry antiestablishment prank when you get the in-jokes Deadpool makes about his Marvel counterparts. The reality, though, is that nothing the least bit subversive is happening here. On the contrary, what is happening couldn't be more corporate, more business as usual, more Trumpian.
The Deadpool franchise (two more installments have been announced) isn't a rebel sortie against the Hollywood status quo. It is the Hollywood status quo, as much as any Avengers or X-Men release. It's a thing of evil genius, really. The people who make all those comic-book blockbusters are the very same people who make the Deadpool movies razzing them. It's not like 20th Century Fox is this scrappy band of rule breakers taking on the big boys at Lucasfilm and Marvel. They're all owned by the even bigger boys at Disney. The media colossus is having its cake and satirizing it, too.
If Trump could own both the tanker and the company that cleans up its spill, you know he would. Similarly, the team behind the Deadpools functions as Disney's super-profitable Self-Deprecation Division. Yuk it up at the meta jibes and jabs as the sequel wrests the top spot at the box office from Avengers: Infinity War. The Mouse House is laughing all the way to the bank.