Thursday, 24 May 2018

Snark attack: "Deadpool 2"

Successful though it was, 2016's Deadpool felt oddly tentative in spots, as though the Fox beancounters still weren't entirely certain that an R-rated comic book movie was worth betting the house on. You saw it in the comparatively limited number of setpieces, the low-rent British villain, the wisecracks about not being able to afford the better X-Men, the scant 100-minute runtime, and the cheapest post-credit sequence of any Marvel release to date, in which Ryan Reynolds' hero - styled as Ferris Bueller at the end of his day off - shooed us away while imploring us to return for a sequel that would feature a proper Big Bad. Deadpool 2 is, for better and worse, a more confident proposition. It runs to a full two hours, with a proven action director (John Wick's David Leitch) overseeing a slambang setpiece every half-hour; we get a higher calibre of X-Men cameo; and there's even a broadly upbeat ending in which Reynolds lays the spectre of Green Lantern - that notorious 2011 flop - to rest, while our hero brings Josh Brolin to heel in a way the Avengers couldn't. Marvel's grip on the fanbase is unprecedented, and might be impressive if it wasn't so terrifying. Infinity War got you down? Here's the big red happy pill to perk you up again.

In short, this is the film in which this franchise reveals its true colours, and it's far from an edifying sight. More money means Leitch can expand and flesh out the first film's limited B-movie universe: the guest X-Person known for some reason as Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) has landed a girlfriend, Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna), in a throwaway gesture towards inclusion, bartender Weasel (T.J. Miller) gains a staff and visible clientele, while there are, from first frame to last, many more extras to behold on these mean streets. Deadpool, for his part, loses a loved one (Morena Baccarin's Vanessa, figuratively wasted as a damsel-in-distress in film one, literally wasted in a prologue here), but gains a son of sorts in rogue mutant Firefist (Hunt for the Wilderpeople's Julian Dennison, again not nearly as funny or charming as the film around him seems to think), and halfway through the running time shruggingly starts to assemble a ragbag back-up team, of which the most enduring seems likely to be Zazie Beetz's Domino (superpower: luck), and the most amusing is Rob Delaney's Peter, a portly bloke with a moustache but no actual superpowers, who saw Deadpool's ad in the newspaper and thought he'd give it a go.

Where the first film's tight screenplay circled round before eventually bringing us to the point, the sequel's script - composed by Reynolds himself with original scribes Rhett Reece and Paul Wernick - is far more of a hodgepodge, tossing in and yanking out elements seemingly just for shits and giggles. (A callback dubstep gag is framed as the height of narrative sophistication.) The overarching joke is that Deadpool doesn't operate - and, free from the intermeshing webs of the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, doesn't have to operate - like other franchises, but what that translates to here is an excess of non-sequiturs, a numbing over-reliance on ironically placed pop songs, and a flailing attempt at depth - introducing concepts of family and true love - that ultimately feels as insincere as anything else going on. One problem is that there may be no serious way of developing a figure who, in everything from his attitude to his crummy rubber suit, has been drawn to resemble a walking whoopie cushion, blowing raspberries everywhere the plot requires him to be. The character's most striking aspect remains his ability to regrow severed body parts by way of sophisticated tumours, a nifty analogue for Marvel movies as an ever-spreading, Hydra-headed whole. Zap 'em, bash 'em, tear 'em apart - and still they come back for more.

For all that these troll-courting movies might have provoked gurgling laughter in their target demographic over the past week, they've not yet managed to clear the low bar of being offensively funny in the way, say, the average episode of Fox's Family Guy typically summons up something to catch the breath; the stakes are as negligible comedically as they are dramatically. A combination of expensive persistence and growing storytelling heft led even this Marvelsceptic to spend idle minutes wondering which Avengers will be returning after the conclusion of Infinity War; after spending four hours in Deadpool's world, I couldn't care less who signs on for movie three, in part because there's so little in an affectless echo chamber like this for anybody over the age of fifteen to care about. Even that sharp streak of self-referentiality that elevated the first movie above the level of adolescent snark has dwindled: Reynolds spends somewhere between five and ten minutes of the sequel pointing out what he calls "lazy screenwriting", and putting that in quotation marks doesn't make it any less lazy. "Big CGI fight coming up," winks Deadpool as the film ploughs indifferently into its closing showdown, and any grown-ups remaining in the auditorium will note that he says it like he says everything else over these two hours: like it's a good thing.

Deadpool 2 is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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