One of the main complaints some critics leveled against Infinity War was that the movie assumed viewers had seen the 18 movies that preceded it, and didn’t attempt to catch any newcomers up to speed. Whether that’s a bug or a feature depends on how much you like these movies (we dug it, for what it’s worth). Deadpool 2, which hits theaters less than a month after Infinity War’s premiere, is very similar to the Avengers flick, and not just because Josh Brolin plays the bad guy in both films. Does it feel a little cheap to talk about Deadpool 2 by way of comparing it to another superhero movie? Sure, but the Merc With a Mouth invites the comparisons, and, frankly, the most meta-hero in the game would want it that way.
This review does not contain plot spoilers for Deadpool 2.
The main plot of Deadpool 2, Ryan Reynolds’s second outing as the wise-cracking, regenerative mercenary, doesn’t require much knowledge beyond a vague recollection of the events of the first movie. The funniest jokes and charm, however, are dependant on knowing that this really isn’t Reynolds’s second time playing Deadpool, it’s his third, but we don’t talk about X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Deadpool 2 assumes you have outside knowledge of the conversation and controversies that surround the X-Men series and other franchises. The actual fictional events that happened during those movies? Eh, not so much, but it helps.
One of the funniest one-liners in the movie comes when Deadpool is telling the newcomer Domino (breakout star Zazie Beetz) that her luck-based superpower is stupid. It was probably thought up by some hack, he says, one who definitely can’t draw feet. Rob Liefeld, the comics legend who created both characters, routinely gets made fun of for his utter inability to draw feet. It’s a great burn, if you get the reference. The post-credits scene, which might just be the best post-credits scene of all time, assumes you’re aware of two other movies and their bad reputations.
That’s not to say that the humor in Deadpool 2 can’t stand on its own. Tons of jokes and gross-out moments are hysterical based just on timing and Reynolds and his co-stars’ delivery, no outside knowledge required. But if you’re tapped-in to the conversation enough to get the meta jokes, Deadpool 2 gets even better. There’s one amazing scene involving the X-Force, the superhero team Deadpool recruits midway through the movie. Without spoiling what happens, the scene is hilarious on its own, but gets even better and more subversive when you consider that the much-hyped X-Force are supposed to get their own movie after this.
If Deadpool 2 were only funny to fans who have both comics knowledge and a deep understanding of Reynolds’ filmography, that would be a problem. Deadpool 2 works because it’s a reference machine, but one with a surprising amount of soul. Even as it makes a mockery of the very idea of storytelling tropes, canon, and narrative consistency Deadpool manages to make the Merc’s surprisingly tragic struggle to find purpose engaging.
It is, weirdly, another similarity with Infinity War. The big issue at the center of the story is whether or not to sacrifice one life for the good of the world. As Thanos and Cable, Josh Brolin is willing to kill an innocent to save countless more, but the Avengers and Deadpool won’t make that trade. If anything, the dilemma is more meaningful in Deadpool 2, because Deadpool is a violent killer who doesn’t take things too seriously, so it’s noticeable when he does care. His legitimate concern is just shy of being out-of-character, which makes for pretty great character building, as it turns out. Deadpool 2 makes you care about its stakes, even as it toys with a plot device that could undo any losses — yet another Infinity War comparison.
Deadpool 2 surpasses the first Deadpool, building off of the 2016 movie’s success as well as the meta-narrative surrounding each and every superhero movie and using those references to build something unique, a fun superhero spoof that has its heart in the right place. Not bad for a movie that also has a shot of a CGI baby penis in it.
Deadpool 2 hits theaters on May 18