One cliché that my parents loved to throw at us kids is the all-too-familiar “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.” It wasn’t until years later that I learned that that particular phrase, as originally written, actually made a lot more sense. How so? By reversing the twin subjects: “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.”
However you phrase it, though, the point is made: Some situations force you to choose between conflicting options. Say, for example, you may have enough money to buy that new Ferrari, but you may not have enough left over to buy any gas to drive it.
Or here’s one in movie terms: You can’t make fun of superhero action films and, at the same time, be a good example of one.
But if you look hard enough at every rule of culture, you’re likely to find an exception. And the exception in the case of superhero action films is the “Deadpool” series. Not only do the films, both the 2016 original and now the sequel – “Deadpool 2” – crack with CGI-enhanced action, but both offer satisfyingly comical self-aware commentaries on the very kind of movie they are aping.
Both films, which were written by the team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick – with star Ryan Reynolds this second time added in – are based on a Marvel Comics franchise that was created in 1990 by writer Fabian Nicieza and writer/artist Ron Liefeld. Originally a villain, Deadpool – a guy with super-healing and other physical powers – gradually became the wise-cracking, fourth-wall-breaking character that Reynolds has portrayed in both self-titled features and in a couple of “X-Men” movies.
And when I say wise-cracking, think Daniel Tosh in red spandex dropping F-bombs and joking about kids with cancer. Get the picture?
As directed by David Leitch (the guy responsible for the Charlize Theron movie “Atomic Blonde”), “Deadpool 2” pretty much follows the pattern created by Tim Miller in the 2016 original. “Deadpool 2,” however, sets up even more of a challenge for itself: It attempts actual moments of emotion, mostly involving – spoiler alert – the almost immediate death of an important character.
That event becomes the underlying theme of Leitch’s film, which involves Deadpool – whose civilian name is Wade Wilson – temporarily joining a troupe of X-Men, battling a super-soldier from the future named Cable (played by Josh Brolin) and trying to protect, and reform, a young mutant with the ability to throw fire (played by Julian Denison of the New Zealand film “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”).
Leitch succeeds by not so much undercutting the film’s serious moments with comedy as by augmenting them. And by making it amply clear that he knows what he’s doing: Openly manipulating us in ways that directors such as, say, Zack Snyder, think are cleverly artistic.
Leitch succeeds, too, by having at his disposal Reynolds, a guy who co-star Brolin calls “the Daniel Day Lewis of comedians” and a guy who recognizes as well as anyone ever has that self-parody done right is the best way of gorging on cinematic cake while retaining ample portions to enjoy later.