Saturday, May 19, 2018

"Deadpool 2": review

[WARNING: big-ass spoilers! See the movie first unless you like ruining things for yourself.]

Let's get the obvious out of the way: "Deadpool 2" was never going to live up to the original. Oh, "2" is often gut-bustingly funny (e.g., the "dying Logan" doll that we see as the movie opens), but the sequel has to fight an uphill battle against problems like lack of novelty and sequelitis, the latter being a condition in which a sequel tends to crib tropes from the first film, match the first film's story beats, and overstuff the new film with too many characters. "2" doesn't transcend either of these problems, and that's a major strike against it. That said, the movie is a serviceable sequel with plenty of funny, gross, and vulgar moments in the spirit of the first film. Second, it's also arguably smarter than the first film, adding an extra layer of philosophy to the mix, especially thanks to a hilarious mid-credits sequence that offers the viewer much to think about. Third, the movie has a heart, if you can believe it, as one of the major themes of "Deadpool 2" is family—a fact that Deadpool himself points out, early on, during one of his fourth-wall breaks.

"Deadpool 2" is a 2018 superhero action-comedy directed by David Leitch and starring Ryan Reynolds as "the merc with a mouth" himself. As established in the first film, Deadpool is a Canadian ex-Special Forces soldier named Wade Wilson who undergoes a treatment that releases the latent powers of his X-genes, making him virtually indestructible thanks to a Wolverine-like rapid-healing factor, but also altering his body such that he looks like a burn victim. While he loves his firearms, Deadpool is equally in love with the two katanas he keeps strapped to his back. The new movie sees him once again flirting with membership in the X-Men as he trades barbs with Colossus (voice and mo-cap by Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), but Deadpool eventually forms his own group, the X-Force, whose members include lucky Domino (Zazie Beetz), brain-fryer Bedlam (Terry Crews), ninja-ish Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), acid-vomiting Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård), invisible Vanisher (Brad Pitt in the movie's most hilarious cameo) and utterly normal Peter (a surprisingly fat and mustachioed Rob Delaney), who has no superpowers at all.

Before the X-Force thing happens, Deadpool, with Colossus and Negasonic, shows up in time to stop a young kid named Russell Collins (Julian Dennison of "Hunt for the Wilderpeople" fame) from tearing down a facility for mutant youth. As Deadpool attempts to negotiate with the boy—self-named "Firefist" for the pyrotechnics that can shoot out of his hands—it's discovered that the facility's headmaster and staff have been seriously abusing the children in their care, which is what ignites Firefist's rage. Deadpool himself, upon hearing this, actually shoots one of the creepier-looking staffers in anger, and he and Firefist end up being arrested and sent to a maximum-security prison for mutants, all of whom have their powers neutralized by a special neck collar (strangely unsatirized as a lazy plot device).

In prison, Wade/Deadpool rejects the kid's attempts to bond with him, and the kid turns to the huge fellow being held in The Cooler, the cell reserved for the most dangerous of inmates. Meanwhile, Cable (Josh Brolin) enters the scene, breaking into the prison, Terminator-style, on a mission to kill the boy. According to comics lore, Cable is the son of Scott Summers (Cyclops) and a clone of Jane Grey (Dark Phoenix); as a child, he gets transported into the future and trained as a warrior. He contracts a "techno-virus" (only comics writers could come up with this stuff) that has been eating away at his body for years, slowly turning him into a machine. "Deadpool 2" doesn't reveal this aspect of Cable's past; instead, it focuses on Cable's tragic history: it is an adult Firefist who, far into the future, kills Cable's wife and daughter, thus completing Cable's journey to becoming a badass killing machine whose only thought is to pull a Terminator and plunge into the past to kill Firefist while he's still a boy.

A fight breaks out in the prison as Cable goes looking for the kid. Cable's rampage releases Deadpool and Firefist from their shared cell, and Deadpool manages to stop Cable from capturing the boy, who escapes from both men but fails to escape the prison. Cable and Deadpool, still fighting, plummet over a cliff, with Deadpool landing in the water and having one of several visions of his lady-love Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), who was killed at the beginning of the movie by a criminal that Deadpool had failed to stop. This afterlife-Vanessa has been providing Deadpool with vague clues to help him reorient his life after her death. At one point, she tells Wade that his "heart isn't in the right place," and it takes him some time to figure out what Vanessa means.

The biggest action set piece in the movie occurs when Deadpool forms his X-Force and attempts to rescue Firefist when the boy is being transferred, along with several other mutants, to a different holding facility. In a copter and ignoring that there has been a wind advisory, Deadpool and his new team parachute down toward the convoy... and one by one, the X-Force members are killed off in gruesome ways as the wind blows them along unfortunate courses. Bedlam, upon landing, gets smashed by a bus; Shatterstar, presumably an alien, is ground into extraterrestrial pulp by a helicopter's rotors; Zeitgeist glides feet-first into a wood chipper, and when Peter tries to help him, he vomits enough acid to chew off Peter's arm and part of his torso, thus killing Peter. Domino, with her superpower of luck, manages to land right inside the prison-transfer convoy's main truck, the one holding Firefist and Firefist's soon-to-be-revealed gargantuan friend. Domino and Deadpool have to deal with Cable, who shows up and attempts to shoot Firefist, but all hell breaks loose when Firefist opens the chamber holding his prison buddy: Juggernaut, a man as large and strong as a bull elephant, and just as unstoppable. Juggernaut rips Deadpool in half, then the angry giant and Firefist escape with the intention of returning to Firefist's mutant school to wreak revenge on the cruel headmaster—a move that will set Firefist on the path of evil that culminates in the deaths of Cable's wife and daughter.

The rest of the film is devoted to stopping Firefist from going down the wrong path, saving Cable's future (he ends up teaming with Deadpool to stop Juggernaut), and giving Wade Wilson something to live for in a world without Vanessa. The ending is about what you'd predict it might be, with all the good guys getting what they want...

...and then comes the mid-credits scene, which introduces so much hysterical metaphysical mayhem that your head is left spinning when it's all over.

In order to do this review justice, I have to talk about that mid-credits scene, so here comes your major spoiler. This scene is actually two scenes in rapid succession: (1) Negasonic Teenage Warhead and her cute girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna) repair Cable's wristwatch-shaped time-travel device, which Deadpool gratefully takes off their hands, leaving the girls to wonder whether they've just done A Very Bad Thing; (2) Deadpool goes on a series of quick time- and space-jumping adventures to correct parts of the timeline that he thinks need to be corrected. First, he zips back to the moment before Vanessa's death and kills the assailant before the assailant kills her. Second, he zips back to the moment before un-superpowered Peter gets killed and tells Peter to just go on home, thus saving Peter's life (but, strangely, not the lives of the other dead X-Force members). Third, he leaps into the events from "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and shoots the lame, mouthless version of Deadpool who appears in that film. Fourth and finally, he tracks down actor Ryan Reynolds (yes: the very same guy currently playing Deadpool) and shoots him in the head right as Reynolds is saying yes to starring in "Green Lantern" (and you'll recall that Green Lantern is from the DC Comics universe, so we're universe-jumping, here).

This series of events is designed to plunge the viewer into mental chaos. We're left with all sorts of questions: does Deadpool exist in our real world, such that he can kill the actual Ryan Reynolds? If he's just killed Ryan Reynolds, hasn't he just erased himself—Deadpool—from all timelines? If he's killed the Deadpool from the other X-Men cinematic timeline, does his action throw that timeline—which is already pretty confused—into further chaos? If all of this is meant merely as a joke, then does the saving of Vanessa also count as a joke, or will Vanessa be alive in the inevitable sequel?

This is, I think, one of the many ways in which "Deadpool 2" may actually be a much smarter film than its predecessor. The movie is satirizing the very idea of sequels and team-up movies: it immediately kills off almost all of the new team, and it very self-consciously calls our attention to the fact that it's a sequel when it deliberately relives certain moments from the original movie, e.g., Deadpool getting stabbed through the head; or Deadpool awkwardly regrowing body parts (this leads to a gut-buster of a parody of Sharon Stone's leg-crossing scene from "Basic Instinct," in which we get a quick, discomfiting shot of Wade's baby-sized dick as his lower body is regrowing; in the same scene, I was introduced to the term "shirt-cocking"); or Deadpool's interactions with Dopinder the Indian-American cabbie. "2" also satirizes and undermines the very notion of time travel as a story device; the resultant metaphysical messiness of Deadpool's mid-credits transtemporal escapade is meant as a fuck-you to most time-travel narratives out there, from "Terminator" to, quite possibly, the still-unnamed sequel to "Avengers: Infinity War." In the end, we viewers are clutching our heads and wondering how much of this movie was real and meant to be taken seriously. Now, when a movie that's already a satire can get viewers to wonder whether it should be taken at all seriously, that's about as meta as you can get.

My buddy Charles, who has made a study of tricksters, might appreciate "Deadpool 2" on this deep level. The movie as a whole, but especially that mid-credits sequence, plays such a degree of havoc with the question of textuality and the beholder's relationship to the text that Deadpool is, I think, a truer incarnation of a border-shattering trickster figure than Christopher Nolan's Joker could ever hope to be (and let's not even talk about Marvel's huge misinterpretation of Norse trickster-god Loki). As I noted in a long-ago post, the Joker is actually not as chaotic as he seems at first: his Rube Goldberg machinations require so much structured planning that the Joker can almost be seen as anti-chaotic. This leads to a certain irony when the Joker tells Harvey Dent, "I'm an agent of chaos." He is that, on the level of his intentions, but he isn't that when we consider his methods. Deadpool, meanwhile, throws several fictional universes into pandemonium.

So ultimately, for those of us who like to think about the movies we've seen, "Deadpool 2" is unwontedly philosophical, but in a gleefully playful way. While I didn't think the action or the comedy quite stacked up to that of the first movie, I give the film credit for absolutely shredding the metaphysics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a way that not even "Avengers: Infinity War" could manage. Deadpool is an anarchic force to be reckoned with, and he is perhaps more deserving of the mantle of superhero court jester than DC's Joker.

I haven't written much about this so far, but another thing that "Deadpool 2" gets right is the emotional side of the plot. The movie begins with Wade Wilson trying to commit suicide in the most nonsensical way possible: by lying on top of several barrels of accelerant while inside his grungy apartment. We find out that this is because he's just lost Vanessa during the aforementioned confrontation with the baddie that he had failed to kill earlier. Unmindful that he's going to be killing other tenants as well, Wade blows himself to smithereens, but when Colossus comes over and pieces Wade's pieces back together, Wade's healing factor takes over, and he ends up surviving the blast. Wade's several communions with the dead Vanessa convince him that he needs to find a family (which Wade initially dismisses as another f-word), and he ends up bonding with Colossus and Negasonic from the X-Men, as well as with Domino and Firefist—and possibly also with Cable, although Cable seems too prickly to accept hugs from Deadpool (Deadpool, mid-hug: "Is that a knife in my dick?" Cable: "That's a knife in your dick."—we'll leave the Freudians to interpret the homoerotic subtext). Of course, true to the movie's sandcastle-kicking comedic nature, it's questionable as to how powerful or meaningful any of this lovey-dovey stuff is once Deadpool gets hold of Cable's time-travel wristwatch and starts "repairing" timelines.

One of the major fan questions before "Deadpool 2" came out was whether the departure of "Deadpool" director Tim Miller was going to lower the quality of this new movie. I'm happy to report that David Leitch, who took over after Miller left due to creative differences with Ryan Reynolds, has proved to be a steady hand with a good sense of comedic timing and pacing. Leitch knows he's swimming in the ridiculous ass-end of the Marvel pool, so he lets the foolishness flow. Like Tim Miller, Leitch directs the action sequences in such a way that the viewer always knows what's going on, keeping any shaky-cam footage to a minimum.

The movie's jokiness doesn't quite rise to the level of the original "Deadpool," but as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, that was to be expected. This time around, the comedy is less of a one-man show and more of a team effort, with Deadpool's relationship with Cable at the center of the action. Josh Brolin's Cable is generally the straight man to Ryan Reynolds's wacky Deadpool; Cable cracks very, very few jokes of his own. Brad Pitt's hilarious, half-second cameo (enough time for me to think, "Wait—was that Brad Pitt?"), in which the Vanisher becomes visible right as he makes contact with power lines that are in his way as he's parachuting down, had me busting a gut. TJ Miller, back as Weasel, gets to have another funny "You look like..." rant moment when he sees the half-regrown Wade shirt-cockin' it in the apartment of Blind Al (Leslie Uggams, still looking and sounding like Nichelle Nichols to me). The Korean audience I was with lost it when Wade, in that moment, got off the couch and awkwardly midget-staggered toward Cable to shake hands on their deal to defeat Juggernaut and maybe save the boy. This being a Deadpool film, there are also plenty of jibes about DC Extended Universe movies, pop culture, and even comics artist Rob Liefeld, the creator of the Deadpool character. Some of these jokes land; some don't.

The special effects are of the bigger-budget variety overall, but not everything works, e.g., the effects for Juggernaut (voiced and mo-capped by Ryan Reynolds, his voice having been altered for the part). The downtown chase sequence involving Deadpool, Domino, Cable, Juggernaut, and Firefist looks pretty good on screen; there's a moment when Wade has to drive a Hummer—while standing bent-over on its hood and peering out at traffic from between his legs—that's pretty intense. There's also plenty of blood and gore to go around.

The actors all hit their comedic marks perfectly, which is to be expected from such a talented crew. Julian Dennison, who played a young rogue in "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," had already proved to be among the less annoying child actors, so I didn't have to worry about his performance. Zazie Beetz was bright-eyed and lovely as Domino; I wondered, for a bit, whether she might turn into Wade's new love interest with the death of Vanessa, but given the mid-credits sequence, it appears there's only one woman for Wade Wilson.

Domino's character presents her own metaphysical questions: for her to be as lucky as she is, reality basically has to walk on eggshells around her, constantly curving away any time there's any danger. Point a gun at Domino's head, and your gun will inevitably jam. Hurl a car end-over-end at her, and she'll be standing in the exact spot at which the car will miss her as it tumbles. Throw her into the air, and she'll end up landing on a giant balloon animal (you see this in one of the movie's preview trailers). Being lucky, when you think about it this way, is quite a mighty superpower because it's so damn ontological. One wonders what Domino could do if she ever found herself face-to-face with Thanos and his gauntlet. Domino reminded me strongly of Teela Brown, a human character from Larry Niven's classic novel Ringworld who was specifically bred by an alien race for luckiness. Niven's novel sometimes refers to Brown's special trait as "luck," but more often toward the end of the book, he uses the term "psychic luck," which is never explained in depth. At a guess, I take psychic luck to refer to a naturally lucky person's innate ability to see the most beneficial set of future possibilities and follow one of those paths flawlessly. That's the psychic part of psychic luck: an uncanny percipience about which branching possibility to follow among the constantly ramifying branches on the tree of infinite possibilities. Perhaps Domino is that way, or maybe she's just cruising along, with luck being more like a protective deity, floating alongside her and forever warding danger away and/or bending circumstances in her favor.

One movie-nerd panel discussion on YouTube speculated on what Domino's kryptonite might be, and the panel came up with the clever idea that there might be a state of affairs in which it would be luckier in general for Domino to die than for her to survive. This might involve some fate-worse-than-death scenario (e.g., the prospect of horrible torture), or it might involve Domino's having to make a choice that would save thousands of lives, but only at the cost of her own, thus allowing her to "share" her luck with others before she dies. Whatever the case, Domino makes for an interesting addition to the team/family, and since an X-Force movie is in the works, we'll be seeing more of her soon.

Overall, "Deadpool 2" is worth a second viewing. I didn't find it to be as funny as the original, but I do give the movie credit for its subversive smarts and for its surprisingly tender heart. The movie also casually slides a naughty middle finger up the bum of "Infinity War," given how it mocks the ultimately meaningless loss of multiple characters, most or all of whom we can assume will return thanks to the wacky benefits—and ultimate nihilism—of time travel, which sucks the value and significance out of everything. The plot leaves open a ton of logical holes, but that's kind of the point with any movie about Deadpool, our new trickster god.

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