This contains full unmarked spoilers for Deadpool 2.
Deadpool 2 is maybe one softball game away from being a perfect X-Men movie. Strip away the fourth wall breaking, the filthy humor and the ultraviolence and you’re left with a story about a group of misfit mutants coming together to be better people than they can be alone, and to save someone from becoming the worst version of themselves. Along the way there’s tragedy, there’s action, there’s death, there’s teen romance, there are timeline shenanigans and there’s heavy-handed anti-mutant sentiment from villains representing Christianity/conservatives. It’s been almost twenty years since the X-Men first appeared on a movie screen and only now, in this weird jokey side franchise, is their spirit being honored appropriately.
But why would you want to strip away the fourth wall breaking, the filthy humor and the ultraviolence? They’re vital parts of what makes this movie work, and the absurdity and silliness are rivaled only by the movie’s weird pairing of intense violence and sweet kindness. And you know what? I think that kindness is also a thing that Deadpool 2 gets right about X-Men stories that few of the previous films in the sprawling and weird franchise bothered with.
The kindness on display in Deadpool 2 is a running joke, but it’s not ironic. And more than the fridging at the center of the film’s plot (a weird, bad choice barely mitigated by the fact that the movie calls it out as a weird, bad choice in a brilliant Bond-spoofing credit sequence), it’s the kindness that gives Deadpool 2 the heart it needs to be more than a Mad Magazine parody of superhero movies.
Sure, Deadpool is snarky and makes jabs at his friends, but it’s all in the context of the loving relationships he has with them. I think Deadpool’s whole weird attitude is summed up in the helicopter with Peter before X-Force makes their jump into action. He’s yelling at Peter, who is a normal guy who found the X-Force gig on LinkedIn, for being afraid of jumping in high winds. But then he leans in and tells his ‘sugar bear’ that he’s just yelling for the sake of the rest of the team, and that he won’t let anything happen to him. And the mid-credits scene shows that Deadpool actually honors that, going back in time to save ONLY Peter out of all of X-Force.
Even Deadpool’s ball-busting is, as is the case in many male friendships, coming from a loving place (and it’s mitigated by the ways the movie makes fun of its own lead and his career choices. There’s playful ribbing in all directions here). When he oversteps by making fun of the blood-splattered teddy bear that Cable has hanging from his waist he immediately expresses regret (and, in a beautiful reciprocal kindness, Cable goes back in time and changes his answer to Deadpool’s question to spare his friend the shame of having transgressed unknowingly), showing that there are limits to even Deadpool’s sassing.
In fact, I’d say that Deadpool interacts with every character in a way that works for them – he speaks their language. Yes, he’s snarking on Teenage Negasonic Warhead, but that’s her language. She responds to that kind of communication. He similarly communicates in kind with Yukio, and his kawaii ‘Hiiiii’ is never coming from condescension.
Even his rejection of Russell/Firefist comes from a place of kindness. Deadpool hits bottom and believes that he’s more of a hindrance than a help to the kid. It isn’t so much that Deadpool is annoyed by the kid, it’s more that he’s (happily) dying and doesn’t want the kid dragged into his final days. It’s misguided, and it’s based on self-pity, but it’s kindness. In fact it’s the beginning of the lesson Deadpool learns in the film – that pushing others away does not help, and that being there for them, even if you’re dying, is what makes for strong bonds and for strong kindness.
Deadpool is even willing to admit when he’s wrong, giving props to Domino when it becomes clear that her powers are actually real, and actually excellent (and very nicely depicted). Deadpool’s whole schtick with swords and guns is very phallic, and his quick resorting to violence is very masculine, but his willingness to admit when he’s wrong (and love of being sexually penetrated) undercuts that masculinity, making it oddly non-toxic. He finds strength in vulnerability.
This is what makes Deadpool 2 so bizarrely sweet. Deadpool is essentially Bugs Bunny, and the filmmakers could have gone the traditional Bugs route – surround him with assholes who deserve to be irritated – but instead they decided to surround Deadpool with characters he likes. He is irritating to the villains (who are largely nobodies/stock characters who exist only to have violence visited upon them) but truly loves his friends. In his own way, of course. But I think that’s valuable as well – kindness and love isn’t a one size fits all concept, and so you have to approach each person with the kindness and love they can accept.
That’s a very X-Men concept to me. My favorite X stories always treated the team as a family, which is why I’m so fixated on the movies never giving them the proper sorts of recreational activities. They didn’t just fight the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants together, they hung out together. They had BBQs and softball games. They shared lives, not just adventures. There’s little sense of that in the Bryan Singer movies, which always had the feel of workplace stories to me. But Deadpool 2 doubles down on the idea of a team as a family, making it very explicit (as Deadpool is wont to do).
The first Deadpool was good, and I enjoyed it, but it was right on the border of being edgelord material. There’s stuff in the movie that saves it from being 4CHAN: THE MOTION PICTURE, but by a hair’s breadth. Deadpool 2 will probably still be embraced by our shitposting brethren, but I think that the central sweetness elevates it far beyond the fedoras and katana crowd.
What’s more, it’s weirdly tight for a shaggy movie. Deadpool 2 takes a solid 30 minutes to get started, but the script is full of strong setups and payoffs. The skeeball token is a good example of how even with a movie as loose as this one, smart scripting can bring a sense of unity to the proceedings. The film is sort of careening from manic episode to manic episode, yet it’s not – there’s a steady scripting hand guiding the madness. What makes the movie delightful is that the hand isn’t obvious when you’re watching, and it’s only as the payoffs accumulate that you realize this was more than chaos.
Deadpool 2 also gives us X-Men stuff we’ve been denied in other movies. Finally we get Juggernaut done correctly (it really seems like this was something that could have been pulled off back in The Last Stand), and we get Juggernaut battling Colossus in a fight that is very cool and very comic book-y. A lot of the action is wonderfully comic book; the big Cable/Domino/Deadpool convoy battle is a joy, and some of the shots reminded me of Geoff Darrow art.
We live in a mean, angry world. In a world like this kindness is subversive… but at the same time kindness doesn’t mean you have to lose your edge or become a big teddy bear. You can maintain your identity and your dark sense of humor and your appreciation for bifurcated people dragging the top half of their bodies while their guts trail behind them and ALSO practice kindness. You can be hardcore and still be loving. Deadpool 2 is one radical movie in that weird ass way.