So Deadpool is back. How you react to him will probably be determined by your age and gender: as in the first installment, any twelve-year-old boys who manage to convince their parents to disregard the R rating will find their efforts rewarded with decapitations and dick jokes galore. The rest of us will probably feel a bit deflated to note that “Deadpool 2” follows that tired old formula: kill off the girl “won” at the end of the first installment to provide crude motivation for the hero in the sequel. Fridging has always been gross, but in the last ten years, it’s gotten both gross and boring. What’s odd is that I think the filmmakers know it—a series of gags in the opening credits and a plot wrinkle later in the movie both undercut the move. Which begs the question: if you know you’re employing a hack tactic, and you know it enough to apologize and sorta-kinda take it back in the mid-credits, why use it in the first place?
The answer may lie in the directorial swap that’s taken place between “Deadpool” and “Deadpool 2”; Tim Miller (for whom “Deadpool” was a directorial debut) has been replaced with David Leitch, who started out his career as a stuntman and then gained a significant amount of experience working on high-grossing and competent films like “Jurassic World”, “John Wick” and “Captain America: Civil War”, but also, alarmingly, “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues”, “Atomic Blonde” and “The Wolverine”. Leitch has made such a habit of working on massive projects with multiple (credited and uncredited) directors that it’s hard to derive any sense of him as a director, which makes me chary to lay the bad decision-making at his door. I’m slightlymore inclined to blame the screenwriting team of Rhett Reese and Paul Warnick, carryovers from the first film (the sequel also credits lead actor Ryan Reynolds as a writer), but again: how do you reallyknow who decided to write a straightforward fridging-followed-by-rampage instead of taking a risk and writing something fresh and interesting? You can’t, on any corporate project of this size, so instead I will invite you to simply absorb the names above. Notice anything? Say it with me: when women aren’t in the room, female characters die. In shitty ways, and for really shitty reasons.
The imbalance in the executive room comes through in other ways. In place of the sparky Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), Deadpool (Reynolds) decides to protect and defend a lonely kid, Russell (Julian Dennison), who is being abused at a “re-education” school/orphanage for mutants. Fair enough, except that a large portion of the plot centers on stopping Russell from killing before he ‘develops a taste for it’ and murders everyone in the school, students included. “He’s just a kid!” Deadpool bellows multiple times to stop various other characters, including the time-traveling Cable (Josh Brolin), from killing Russell. “He’s a good kid!” Can you think of any reason why the characterization of a boy planning the murder of all his classmates as “just a good kid” might not go down as easily as it once did? I can think of a lot of reasons.
Signs abound that the movie’s creators have lost the pop culture pulse: a recurring joke about dubstep, which died as a trend six years ago. The total waste, in a microscopic cameo, of Terry Crews, who has been ripe for a serious comeback for the last year. A “Fargo” reference.
All this is not to say that the movie is hopeless, or un-fun: it’s not, at all. The introduction of the delightful Zazie Beetz as hyper-lucky Domino is a blast of fresh air, and Brolin slots his time-traveling mercenary into Deadpool’s team so effortlessly he feels as though he has always been there. I’ll watch this movie again, and be equally entertained and frustrated by it, and probably write some corrective fan fiction for it that gives Negasonic Teenage Warhead (reprised by Brianna Hildebrand) more than five lines, and I’ll dream of a “Deadpool 3” helmed by a team that can imagine more for women to do than die.