1:00 pm EDT, May 23, 2018

‘Deadpool’ is the only thing keeping Marvel in check

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Deadpool 2 arrives at the perfect time, an antidote to the jam-packed superhero onslaught that was Avengers Infinity War.

When the first Deadpool hit the scene in February 2016, it was a game-changer in its own right, breaking box office records and paving the way for the R-rated superhero movie. Fox would go on to follow up the success of this with the genre-shaking, ultra-violent Logan the following year.

The arrival of the foul-mouthed pansexual anti-hero played by Ryan Reynolds came on the cusp of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which would begin with Captain America: Civil War, basically a version of an Avengers movie.

And now here we are with Deadpool 2, shattering the fourth wall acknowledging its place within the MCU in a barrage of meta jokes, similar to the first — but this time they come even more scathing and relevant. Deadpool takes swift jabs at Wolverine’s noble death in Logan and boasts about his own box office success, the highest-grossing R-rated film second to only The Passion of the Christ.

This breaking of the fourth wall, which the character has become known for (and has been known for in the comics) is not only a comedy device, but even more, it makes for sharp commentary on the current state of the superhero movie. And more specifically, it takes aim at what the MCU has done to the superhero genre. The meta moments here are put to even greater effect than in its predecessor.

We’re now on the dawn of Phase Four, with Thanos in full form and having wiped out half the universe. Josh Brolin plays time-traveling mutant Cable here, and Deadpool even refers to him as Thanos in Deadpool 2. Having seen all the Marvel superheroes and storylines now merged into this one larger cause, it’s refreshing now to take this step back, pump the brakes and dive into some surprisingly deep character work, more than anything we saw in that full two hours and 40 minutes of Infinity War. And this is coming from Deadpool, where depth of character is perhaps among the last things you’re expecting.

This is the first superhero movie in a while where there was any sense of actual stakes. Even when some of your favorite Marvel characters vanished into thin air in Infinity War, you know they’re not staying gone for long. Here, however, Deadpool actively trying to kill himself at every turn feels real. The emotional arc between Deadpool and Julian Dennison’s Russell (the breakout from Hunt for the Wilderpeople) has a grounded reality to it.

The crunchiness of the original Deadpool brought to mind Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, which also had one foot grounded in a brutal reality. The same goes for Deadpool 2, directed by David Leitch, best known as the filmmaker delivering the best studio action movies today, such as John Wick.

While doing this, it also manages to effortlessly lambast so many of the tropes that have become standard fare within the MCU. Take for example the scrappy team of Deadpool throws together, cheekily named X-Force, which does come from the comics, but the way he describes assembling his team here is a clear swipe at Guardians of the Galaxy.

There’s also what has largely become the MCU’s third act problem; that is, throwing a huge CGI fight together where the action seems to all blur together in a senseless mashing of bodies. And yes, it happens here. But it’s actually much more small scale than we’ve grown accustomed, and of course Deadpool calls it out directly.

Tackling another problem with the MCU in a less direct way is the nonchalant diversity apparent in Deadpool 2, from Zazie Beetz’s Domino (who Deadpool refers to as black Black Widow) to Karan Soni’s Dopinder (receiving an elevated role this time around) to Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s new girlfriend Yukio. And there’s of course Deadpool’s known pansexuality, which felt revelatory even in 2016 when this iteration of the onscreen character was introduced. (There’s a running joke of Deadpool trying to have sex with Colossus.) In just one movie we get more diversity than we’ve seen for most of the MCU’s existence.

Beyond all this, jokes fly left and right that refer to other characters and arcs in the MCU. As this world (well, universe) has continued to grow and merge together, a bunch of disparate storylines becoming one cohesive whole, it is Deadpool, both the character and the film he stars in, that has the wherewithal to call attention to it all. It’s Deadpool who remarks on the comic book-ness of it all, the tropes these superheroes are all participating in and the studio heads behind th curtain orchestrating it. Yes, you can call it cheap meta tricks, but for me, it works on the level of commentary and acknowledging the system.

In today’s landscape of superhero movies and the corporate machine of the MCU, Deadpool 2 arrives as the only entry in this universe keeping it all in check. It’s a refreshing slap in the face, and a tonic for all the sameness we’ve begun to experience — apart, of course, from prominent outliers such as Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, and even those are getting slotted into their place within the universe. That fate likely awaits Deadpool, as well, now with Fox-Disney merger underway.

Until then, Deadpool has been a nice little detour and side tangent, injecting the superhero proceedings with something that feels decidedly different and bluntly honest.

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