When it comes to quippy one-liners, the ‘Deadpool’ franchise could stand to learn a few things about a picture being worth a thousand words.
With a bigger budget and a more impressive cast, fans were understandably curious to see what Deadpool 2 had in mind. The original film was a testament to the perseverance of Ryan Reynolds and his creative team; despite multiple setbacks and a budget normally reserved for award season darlings, Deadpool emerged a huge box office success and a welcome antidote to the recent barrage of self-serious superhero movies. Deadpool 2, on the other hand, was tasked with a difficult proposition: expand the scope and scale of its predecessor without losing any of the DIY charm present in the first movie.
And for the most part, the movie succeeds. Despite some disappointing story elements, Deadpool 2 ups the ante by delivering a few tremendous fight scenes, some memorable new characters, and a few hilarious moments throughout its two-hour runtime. The only problem? The jokes. Those worried that Deadpool’s meta-commentary on Hollywood and other superhero franchises would wear a little thin the second time around will likely be disappointed to see the number of times Deadpool 2 elects to use a quippy one-liner when some kind of visual gag would be a helluva lot more memorable. Simply put, Deadpool 2 has a comedy problem, and this is something it needs to address if they’re going to keep the good times rolling.
Film critics and box office prognosticators have been worrying about the demise of the Hollywood comedy for years now. Back in 2016, The Hollywood Reporter published an article examining the downward trend of big-budget comedies, noting that R-rated comedies had continually underperformed at the box office since the impressive grosses of films like The Hangover and Bridesmaids. In the article, insiders pointed to the ephemeral nature of comedy as a huge stumbling block for comedy franchises. “What has always worked when it comes to comedy, though, is putting a fresh spin on an old concept,” Jeff Bock explained. “Catching the zeitgeist in a bottle is often very difficult, especially for a comedy, which is why comedy sequels, more often than not, fall flat.”
In other words, when it comes to comedies, rare is the premise that can deliver as many laughs the second time around. Faulting Reynolds and company for delivering more of the same might be a weird criticism of a Deadpool movie; fans wanted incremental improvements on the first film, not a complete overhaul of what made it a success. Still, while the joke density keeps things moving along at a pretty brisk pace, Deadpool 2 proves that being literate in popular culture isn’t enough to carry a feature-length film. So much of the film hangs onto throwaway lines and colorful use of profanity – operating more like a Judd Apatow movie than a superhero film – while failing to deliver unique laughs that aren’t simply upscaled versions of what we saw in the first film. We need creative
And that’s a problem, because for a movie with a big budget and a director who oozes inventive fight choreography, there’s a surprising lack of visual creativity to be found here. Once we make it through an impressive prologue, most of the fight sequences boil down to two characters trading blows or a pair of CGI monstrosities punching each other in the face. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great moments littered throughout the film; Deadpool getting torn in half by the Juggernaut is the kind of envelope-pushing creativity that should be the norm for this franchise. But making a joke about a bland CGI fight scene or the laziness of your writing, and then delivering a bland CGI fight scene or lazy writing without any attempts to innovate, does not count as good humor or good action. There are too many times in Deadpool 2 where the writers wink at the audience and assume that squares everything away.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Deadpool 2 is the moments when it departs from its own formula and delivers unique situational humor. The film’s lengthiest and most rewarding gag takes place when Deadpool and X-Force launch their assault on the mutant convoy. One by one, each of the members of X-Force – minus the impossibly fortunate Domino, of course – are horribly murdered as they attempt to hijack the vehicles from midair. It becomes pretty obvious from the get-go how things are going to play out during this sequence, but that doesn’t make their horrific demises any less inventive. Deadpool 2 gets a tremendous jolt of energy from having physical comedy, not just pithy asides to the audience.
What does this all mean for Deadpool 3 or X-Force? Fans should be concerned that the premise has begun to take on a little water, even with only two films under the studio’s belt. The appeal of the character isn’t just that he can drop a well-placed Batman v Superman or Avengers: Infinity War joke into another movie; what makes Deadpool great is that he can do things that other characters in the Marvel cinematic universe cannot. If Reynolds and company want to keep this momentum going for a few more films, they should aim for the kind of manic visual energy that sets these movies apart from their more formulaic peers. As much as it pains me to admit it, the superhero industry doesn’t need its own Mystery Science Theater 3000.