Most of the reviews I read in the British press for the Deadpool 2 movie gave it three stars. And yet, on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is currently scoring 86% with audiences. There’s a bit of a mismatch there. I saw the film last night and, pondering some of the accusations levelled at the film by the critics, have to say I think the critics are just plain wrong, misinformed or critically unsophisticated enough to ‘get’ what the film is doing. Deadpool 2 is a brave film that is deceptively simple. In fact, a lazy, unthinking viewer (one who doesn’t engage brain or critical faculty) will probably consider the movie to be by-the-numbers or even straightout bad. This is a perfect example of ‘you get out what you put in’.
I saw several reviewers complain that the movie, for all its representation of minority groups, was still centred around two white guys (Deadpool and Cable) proving who was the toughest. These reviewers claimed that the female characters and minority groups were reduced to canon fodder or background filler (with very few lines of dialogue). Such complaints and claims are a fundamental misrepresentation of the movie. At the end of the day, the movie is about the Deadpool character (who, admittedly, is white and male), but throughout he challenges what a white male hero is all about in today’s society – that’s the point of his character! And Cable (who uses the c-word) is only there as the inverse – to show us what a macho asshole Deadpool would be if he was reduced to the traditional white hero – the Deadpool/Cable dynamic is actually a bipolar debate about the nature of male identity. To then say the female characters and minority groups are done a disservice (in ‘service’ to the patriarchy) is hogwash. The Domino character (a woman of colour) proves Deadpool wrong, has plenty of central moments and survives where loads of white males (X-force) get chewed up. Then, when the Deadpool/Cable narrative falls away, it is the narrative concerning the young, large-bodied, Maori Firefist that completely takes over. Yes, the female character of Negasonic Teenage Warhead remains largely surly and monosyllablic throughout, but that’s the whole point – since, if you remember the first movie, she hates adult authority, is too cool for school and absolutely doesn’t want to succumb to Deadpool so-annoying dad-jokes (and her manga-cutesy Japanese girlfriend, who gets on so well with Deadpool, only adds to the tightly-wound interplay). No, the Japanese girlfriend isn’t a tacitly racist stereotype – because she is given telling lines at the end to make it clear that her ‘geekdom’ character was just that – all an act, and one that she used to her own benefit (even if it does play upon our own lazy thinking or cultural bias). There might be a stronger argument that the weedy Asian taxi-driving male character gets shorter shrift (when Deadpool quips that he’s ‘Brown Panther’), but I would argue just as strongly that he’s an aspect of the male identity debate (an aspect which is even more complex when competing cultural expectations are involved).
Another accusation of Deadpool 2 from the critics is that this movie is far less ‘meta’ than the first. It simply doesn’t break the fourth wall as interestingly as the first. There’s only one line from Deadpool like ‘big CGI fight coming up’ to keep things self-aware. Once again, the critics are talking nonsense. The whole point of the ham-fisted X-force team that Deadpool assembles (and promptly gets killed) is that they spoof the X-Men motif. There are geek references to the John Wick movie, lines like ‘that’s some lazy writing right there’, ‘he’s young enough to keep the franchise going for another ten years’, apologies from Ryan Renolds about how poor the Green Lantern movie was, intertextual mention of Thanos (Josh Brolin plays both Cable and Thanos) and a whole host of ‘Easter eggs’ that I just know I didn’t even spot. I am definitely inclined to watch again, as I know I’ll see so much more.
So where does that leave us? The easy assessment is that Deadpool 2 is a far better movie than you may have heard or read. And then there’s a tougher question about what the hell the critics are up to with their relatively poor reviews. I’m not sure I have all the answers to that. Clearly, you can’t trust the media critics to guide you properly. Media critics still don’t properly understand geek culture or current social debates concerning identity (debates that are significantly informed by the (often angry) voices of young people), it would seem. For me, Deadpool 2 is an 8.5 out of 10. Up your bum, critics!