Friday, May 25, 2018

That's just lazy writing


DEADPOOL 2

A small step forward for the franchise, a great step backwards for the mega-franchise.  So let's just call it "enjoyable," and not think about it again till Ryan Reynolds does another one that I won't be one bit excited about seeing, yet will nevertheless probably find myself enjoying anyway.

2018
Directed by David Leitch
Written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wenick, and Ryan Reynolds
With Ryan Reynolds (Wade "Deadpool" Wilson), Zazie Beetz (Domino), T.J. Miller (Weasel), Karan Soni (Dopinder), Stefan Kapicic (Piotr "Colossus" Rasputin), Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead), Julian Dennison (Russell "Firefist" Collins), and Josh Brolin (Nathan "Cable" Summers, not that you would learn this name from the movie he co-stars in, booooo)

Spoiler alert: moderate


Is Deadpool 2 better than Deadpool?  That seems to be the emerging (if unsteady) consensus.  And why shouldn't it be?  It seemed designed from the outset to correct the single most glaring problem of the original, which was that, whatever other strengths it may or may not have demonstrated, the original was one deeply mediocre generic superhero actioner.  And correct that problem it does, for rather than being directed by Tim Miller—he of, well, DeadpoolDeadpool 2 was directed by David Leitch, he of the first John Wick and Atomic Blonde.  Accordingly, Deadpool 2 gets to be a pretty good generic superhero actioner.  Hooray.  No, really, hooray at least a little bit!  It's an objective disappointment as a David Leitch movie—that's the plain truth—but in a world where a lot of superhero movies somehow aren't good generic superhero actioners, that's not something you necessarily want to sneer at.

On the other hand, it gets there by ruining the hell out of the adaptation of one of the most confusing but, by my lights, one of the most potentially-rewarding characters in the X-Men stable; but I can complain about that later, and, anyway, bad adaptation alone doesn't make Deadpool 2 itself bad.  Deadpool 2, after all, is 100% capable of striving for badness on its own merits, since in the process of correcting the first film's most obvious deficit it also doubles way, way the fuck down on the first film's second worst problem, which was being a metacinematic gross-out comedy that was also astonishingly, almost-literally-unbelievably square.

We'll have discovered this about Deadpool 2 by the time the opening credits sequence rolls, though Deadpool 2 takes a better-than-average amount of time getting there, to the extent that the surprise of it was more that there was actually still an opening credits sequence the filmmakers wanted us to watch, rather than the plot point that immediately precedes them.  So: at the conclusion of a righteous, globe-trotting murdering spree, our merc with a mouth/narrator, Wade Wilson/Ryan Reynolds, brings the wrath of some mob or another down upon his hearth and home, whereupon our hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, Vanessa, is struck down by a random assailant thirty seconds after she and Wade have decided that, yes, now would be an excellent time to have a child.  Upon this fittingly 90s-grimdark note (a note that so flawlessly evokes the era of Deadpool's creation that none of the filmmakers even noticed it was happening), that aforementioned pseudo-Bond credits sequence spools up, and it is indeed a pleasant-enough gag.  It would be pleasanter still, if it weren't also ribboned through with the same gag from the credits sequence of the first film, except now the joke screen credits are replaced with various expressions of shock, dismay, and outrage toward the writers and the director, triggering all kinds of bullshit alarms less than twenty minutes in, because, in 2018, really?  "Did you really just kill her?" they ask in what they presume to be a mockery of our voice.  "Yes, of course you did," we reply.  "That's typically why the non-powered girlfriend exists in the first place."

Thus when you learn that Rhett Reese and Paul Wenick and Reynolds (the latter earning his doubtlessly-overdue screenwriting credit) have somehow never even heard of "women in refrigerators," despite being pretty into superhero comic books (hell, despite having heard of Gail Simone specifically), you're honestly more vindicated than surprised—as it never once feels like they, or Leitch, are winking at the old standard, because if Deadpool 2 (like Deadpool 1) thinks it's being even the slightest bit clever it damn well calls its attack, and because Deadpool 2 crudely inserts scene after scene of the most po-faced grief imaginable into these proceedings, of such manipulative power that they might have even worked in a movie that did not also feature (just for example) the embarrassing intermediate phase of our healing-factor-equipped hero regrowing his dick.  In this context, though, the whole thing's kind of actively terrible: less because of the writers' resort to killing a woman to motivate a man, though that's not exactly great; not even because it's kind of grating to watch a movie this smug be this pig-ignorant about the things it thinks it's satirizing; no, above all, it's because it's just enough to leave a disposable comedy with one completely fucked-up tone, and also one deeply-unattractive insistence upon itself as something more.

And so does Deadpool 2 unfold, as "one of the guys who killed John Wick's dog" (not to mention, as the credits themselves do not, John Wick's wife) leads Wade through the overtly-vignettish stages of mourning.  It briefly lands him with his established X-Friends Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, though (initially) this is solely to put Wade in the same place as Deadpool 2's tragically pyrokinetic maguffin, named by his parents Russell Collins but preferring his self-styled nomme de guerre of "Firefist," and played by Julian Dennison as if this were somehow an explicit sequel to Hunt For the Wilderpeople, which I'm not sure I appreciate.  Having spent his whole young life being tormented by the mutant-hating caretakers of a mutant orphanage, Russell naturally takes a shine to Deadpool after Deadpool winds up in a mutant super-prison with him for killing one of Russell's captors in a fit of pique; and it's here that, much to their surprise, a certain soldier from the future enters to fix tomorrow by killing Russell today, before he can become a firestarting mass murderer.  Confronted now with a child he didn't care about fixing to get himself assassinated by a crazed cyborg, Wade has an epiphany and determines to put himself between Russell and his would-be killer, gathering a rag-tag group of mercenaries called X-Force to face down Cable and rescue the kid.

Hey, it almost sounds like a movie somebody tried at, this time around, and that redounds to Deadpool 2's great favor, though it's mostly a mirage; it's true enough that a lot more stuff simply happens in Deadpool 2, but most of that stuff is just the stuff you'd expect to find in any Abraxas-level knockoff of Terminator that simply happened to have been made with fifty times as much money.  (In other words, then, Looper.  Zing.  Take that, Rian Johnson.)  And there's a fair argument to be made that Cable never was anything more than a Terminator riff, anyway.  But that makes my point for me: he was a Terminator riff, with interesting features that belonged to him and him alone.

So I'm tempted to say the most satirical thing about Deadpool 2 arises by complete accident, when it unintentionally underlines the obnoxious, self-destructive tendency every comic book-inspired movie franchise seems to have: the tendency to try to do everything immediately, adapting favorite stories that rest upon decades of much older stories that haven't been adapted yet (and, now, never will be).  Thus Cable: a character almost-inexplicably intertwined with the labyrinthine continuity of the X-franchise—son of Cyclops and Jean Grey (to keep it simple), sent to the future to save his life, returned to them a bitter, broken man, haunted by the horror of a far-flung millennium ruled by the immortal Apocalypse, followed by his dark shadow, Stryfe, and absolutely determined to stop them both in the present—reduced now to a blank anti-villain buried beneath a mountain of reference jokes, destined to become Deadpool's sidekick, and presently tasked with killing an unathletic child for the pretty much the exact same tediously-personal reasons that Deadpool's defending him.  (It's mirroring!  It's good screenwriting!  Jesus Christ!)

Then again, it's hard to blame Deadpool 2 for screwing up Cable when X-Men: Apocalypse already exists.  A 6/10, Hunter?  Really?

Cable's played by Josh Brolin, making this the second time in less than a month that Brolin has tried to redeem a comic book character vastly more interesting in his original medium; to his credit, it's only the first time he's failed.  (It's a fine performance on the merits, but better as a force of opposition than an actual person, as such.)  And sure: Cable's a joke now; no character as mired in X-continuity snarls and Liefeldian design as Cable could survive being taken seriously forever, or (frankly) for even more than a few years.  But the joke rests on the fact that we did take him seriously once.  Without that, the joke doesn't actually quite work.

Many of the other jokes work, though, and it's not like we come to a Deadpool film to be entertained by anything else: the same paradoxical combination of desperation and charisma Reynolds brought to the first film returns in force, mostly in the same ways, and I mean that mainly as a compliment, though it's clear how shallow the well of inspiration really is for these pictures: dicks; butts; gay stuff (without malice); wacky ultraviolence that isn't that violent; pop culture references that are mostly funny for how out-of-date they are; occasionally some actual character-driven humor (mainly from Stefan Kapicic's dweeby Colossus and Karan Soni's genuinely-upsetting Dopinder the Taxi Driver); constant fourth-wall-breaking that almost exclusively involves Deadpool yammering at himself; and, very very rarely, the kind of anarchic cartoon logic that, in more concentrated form, might actually have made Deadpool 2 hilarious, but is mostly forsworn because these movies operate under the hugely-misguided notion that anybody wants them to be canonical with the X-Men films.  (The best parts of Deadpool 2 are when it commits to being that kind of Warner Bros. cartoon, though: and the difference between the middling score I would've given it and the good score I'm going to give it is its very final joke, coming halfway through the closing credits.)

We can quibble whether Deadpool 2 has a higher hit-to-miss ratio than its predecessor (I think it does, but it lacks the shock of the new, or "new," in its juxtaposition of R-rated shenanigans and superpowers that elevated Deadpool above its weight-class as a pure comedy).  But it's not like the hit-to-miss ratio matters in these movies: I'm not saying they're not funny, but the real fundamental charm of them is Reynolds' absolute willingness to die trying, and Deadpool 2 does that at least as well as the first.

But, like I said: beneath the bluster, unbelievably fucking square.  Once again, there's no such thing as actual subversion to be found—even X-Force's fate is telegraphed well in advance, by the lameness of 80% of its membership—and while God knows "Deadpool vs. Cable to save a child's soul" is a lot more inherently dramatic than "Deadpool vs. Francis to rescue Deadpool's girlfriend," it bears no greater evidence of imagination being put into it.  And this time Deadpool's flimsy action boilerplate comes alloyed with that aforementioned vicious maudlin streak, which you could almost read as self-parody, except it so transparently isn't.  It's an odd fetish for a movie that's the theatrical equivalent of someone shouting "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" (amazingly, it's not the literal equivalent) and heartily chortling milk out his nose.

On the plus side, the action boilerplate is provided by someone who can do action boilerplate in his sleep.  Though I also suspect this was exactly how Leitch did it.  As much as Deadpool 2 is a very clear cinematic step-up from its predecessor—benefiting immensely from Leitch's regular team of cinematographer John Sela, editor Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, and production designer David Scheunemann, plus a pair of other editors here to help Ronaldsdottir with the boring stuff—it's just as clear how much Leitch is holding himself back, refusing to waste any good idea on Deadpool 2 that he might still be able use in a movie he cared about later.

The only real exception, sadly enough, is the one that cost a human life to realize: it's a movie-stealing sequence centered upon Domino, the only non-lame X-Forcer, that uses her mutant power of luck to turn a car chase into a hundred-ton Rube Goldberg machine played out at speed on city streets.  It's the only brush with greatness in the movie; you get the impression it exists here mainly because Leitch knew that Atomic Blonde 2 wouldn't support the conceit.  (On the other hand, while there might be only one example of Leitch growing as an artist here, it is in the area where he obviously needed the most improvement: Deadpool 2 has the same great prediliction for awesome 80s pop that Blonde did, and while Leitch still demonstrates a hugely-noticeable tendency to cut the songs around the movie rather than cut the movie to the songs, it's much less jarring this time around.  Plus the Say Anything reference made me chuckle.)  Meanwhile, Leitch does manage a fine rendition of one particular fan-favorite X-Men antagonism.  Of course, as a legitimately cool thing stuck inside a spurious film, it falls victim to the comedy the same way the comedy often falls victim to the so-called drama—ending in (you guessed it) the butt.

That's of a piece, at least.  And Deadpool 2 ends up in the exact same place Deadpool did, for me: that being a place where a movie could annoy me and entertain me simultaneously for its entire damn runtime, and make me like it, despite itself.  Maximum effort.

Score:  7/10

2 comments:

  1. "gay stuff (without malice)" - that's my jam, man.

    And God that closing credits scene is so good, and I've had "Turn Back Time" stuck in my head every day since seeing that movie.

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    1. I like the slow version of Take On Me, which I kind of half-wish were saved for a more serious/affecting movie, but that was obviously never going to happen and I'm the only one who wanted it to happen.

      But Cher rocks too. Make no mistake.

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