It’s no surprise that Deadpool 2, the ultra-violent R-rated superhero action comedy with all the emotional complexity of a Robot Chicken skit, has a tone problem.
(To be fair, tone is becoming an issue across the Marvel universe.)
But in this case, I don’t mean the comedy, which sprays across Deadpool 2 even more widely than the blood. No matter your sense of humor, you’ll find something to laugh at and twice as much to groan at, because if this movie is anything, it is desperately self-aware and extremely extra, all the time.
And I also don’t mean the violence, which is consistently and cartoonishly grisly. If you always dreamed of seeing a live-action Itchy & Scratchy Show, welcome to it.
No, the movie’s real tonal issue has to do with the paradox of emotion.
The whole attraction of Deadpool is that he says and does whatever he wants, existing as a kind of sex-and-violence wish fulfillment for people who haven’t yet realized just how empty it feels when absolutely nothing matters.
But when your entire conceit is that nothing is sacred and everything exists to be mocked, destroyed, and/or defiled, it feels awkwardly hypocritical to ask the audience to also care about the characters’ emotional journey.
Deconstructing Deadpool 2‘s Deconstructivism
Deadpool 2 is a relentless churn of pop culture meta-commentary swirled around a standard 3-act structure.
In act one, A Tragedy Happens that sends Wade Wilson (a.k.a. Deadpool, a.k.a. Ryan Reynolds, a.k.a. your adolescent id) spiraling into A Search for Meaning.
In act two, Deadpool faces off against Cable (a.k.a. Nathan Summers, a.k.a. Josh Brolin, a.k.a. Thanos) as they trade punches, bullets, quips, and marathon FX sequences due to their central conflict: Cable wants to kill Rusty Collins (a.k.a. Firefist, a.k.a. Julian Dennison, a.k.a. your new favorite teen Oscar hopeful), but Deadpool wants to… uh… well, actually, he mostly just wants to be left alone, actually.
It’s only when Wade realizes Rusty might be the answer to his Search for Meaning that we enter act three: Deadpool and Cable work together with Domino (a.k.a. Neena Thurman, a.k.a Zazie Beetz, a.k.a. the emotional anchor in Sollers Point) to find and save Rusty from himself.
If all of this sounds like a series of predictable action movie tropes, it is. On purpose.
But because it’s Deadpool, each trope also comes hand-delivered in a nonstop fusillade of self-referential humor, CGI entrails, and dick jokes.
And because it’s mocking the very nature of superhero action movies, Deadpool 2 also points out all the emotional manipulation and “lazy writing” it indulges in at every turn. It’s a two-hour inside joke that wants to make sure you never forget it’s an inside joke, while simultaneously telling you that you’re smart for “getting” what’s impossible to miss.
But it also wants you to care.
Not a lot. Just enough so that you understand what winning and losing would look like, so you’ll want Deadpool to win. Because if you don’t want that, then why are you watching this movie?
Except — and here’s the only pseudo-spoiler I’ll mention in a movie that would mock you for caring about spoilers in the first place — in this case, “winning” means preventing Rusty from turning into a homicidal maniac hellbent on revenge…
… which is basically what Deadpool himself is, more or less. (And Cable, for that matter. And half the heroes in the greater comic book universe.)
So, really, Deadpool 2 has two tonal paradoxes:
It wants you to believe a character who gleefully murders for a living when he tells you that murder is the path to ruin, and it wants you to care about the emotional journeys of characters in a story whose entire subtext is “caring itself is an act to be derided.”
In other words, it wants to matter, but it’s afraid to admit it.
It wants to be fulfilling escapism without committing in either direction.
It feels obliged to satisfy all expectations, no matter how contradictory, while insisting that satisfaction is a fool’s dream.
In a way, it’s almost like Deadpool 2 is trying to punish its audience.
And that might be the most meta way to make $300 million yet.
Like This Post?
Share it on Facebook or Twitter. (Sharing is caring, yo.)
Also, subscribe to my newsletter and you’ll never miss a new post. (I email it weekly-ish).
You should also check out how Iron Man created the formula for every Marvel movie, and the surprising theme in Paxar’s Coco.