Review by C.J. Bunce
In all the flurry of late spring and early summer movie releases, don’t forget to see that X-Men movie sequel that drifted into theaters with less fanfare than the original two years ago. That’s Deadpool 2, still in theaters nationwide in its fourth week, but probably phasing out soon. So get to the theater before it’s gone. More Ryan Reynolds sass and wisecracking, less of the supporting cast from the original, but more new characters fans of Marvel Comics and Marvel Comics-at-the-movies will want to see more of, Deadpool 2 has one big surprise you won’t glean from the trailers: It’s a classic X-Men comic book story.
Take away the R-Rated humor and the jokes and you’ll find the backbone is a plot bringing the entirety of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men franchise full circle. The themes of that very first story from the first film in 2000, the movie called X-Men, return. In X-Men we met young teenager Rogue (Anna Paquin), struggling with her abilities and the burden they place on her. Despite the superhero vs. superhero storyline, the real villain was Senator Kelly, trying to pass a federal Mutant Registration Act (similar in plot development as the legislation that divides the Avengers in Captain America: Civil War). Here we meet an out-of-control and mistreated mutant from New Zealand called Firefist (Julian Dennison), and the villain is another Senator Kelly-type trying to do-away with the mutants, played by familiar British actor Eddie Marsan. Coming back to this theme 18 years later is a smart move–even in a flurry of humor we’re reminded that the stories were sourced in an effort to address teen readers trying to fit into the world.
New characters Cable (Josh Brolin) and Domino (Zazie Beetz) are perfect transformations from comic to screen. Cable is an expertly realized cyborg, not just a fill-in character but a fully developed new player in Marvel Studios’ arsenal. Domino is a reminder that members of Marvel’s B-team line-up can steal the show (like Evan Peters’ Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past) when written well. Any kid or kid at heart will appreciate a battle scene between Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Juggernaut (Ryan Reynolds) complete with its own humorous operatic accompaniment. Time travel plays a key element in the story and Brolin’s cyborg is every bit as compelling as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s from the Terminator series, and the writers and director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, John Wick) tap into that with dropped references every chance they get.
If there is anything lacking in Deadpool 2, it’s the absence of as many scenes featuring original player Negasonic Teenage Warrior (Brianna Hildebrand). But otherwise the production strikes a balance between the old cast and the new. The juxtaposition of drama with humor, of a serious sequence with just the right (or very, very wrong) pop song, and dropping on the audience emotional scenes only to sweep them away in the next breath all comes together into one of the better X-Men films. As Reynolds’ mouthy mercenary jokes in the film, this is not the same kind of film as last year’s Oscar-nominated film Logan, but it tries really hard to look like it’s trying hard to fake it, including inserting (okay, it’s stealing) the very same emotional music from Logan into the emotional climax of the film.
Viewers may not catch every reference, but they’ll probably have fun trying to keep up. And if you love the X-Men you won’t want to wait until the home video release. Keep an eye open for more than one surprise cameo appearance, and a perfectly executed homage to James Bond movie opening title sequences. Not for the younger kids, this is a great summer movie full of action and superhero fun, but with ample crude and rude humor. Deadpool 2 is in theaters now.