How deep do the pop culture references go in Deadpool 2? Let’s dive. In an early scene, our sardonic titular superhero (Ryan Reynolds) and his very special lady friend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) are chilling after a long day of crimefighting, watching Yentl on TV, like you do. A few minutes later, after a traumatic incident that allegedly shapes Deadpool’s behavior for the rest of the film, we find him dazedly worrying about whether the song “Papa Can You Hear Me” from Yentl is suspiciously similar to a tune from Disney’s Frozen. (Deadpool 2, released by Twentieth Century Fox, is full of jabs at Disney.) This would be an amusing enough throwaway joke, but of course it will resurface at a later point in the movie. And this might be some kind of meta-trolling of this movie’s villain, Josh Brolin, whose real-life stepmother is Barbra Streisand, the star of Yentl. Brolin’s casting is almost certainly an in-joke itself, as he also currently does villain duty in Disney’s much more serious Marvel blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War.
Does it sound like I’m chasing down references instead of writing a review? Fine, but that’s what watching the Deadpool movies feels like. Reynolds will happily stop the story’s momentum in order to address the audience or point out how cinematic a particular shot might be. At one point, Deadpool compares the domestic grosses of the first Deadpool movie with The Passion of the Christ, which is surely what our culture’s over-analysis of movie box office deserves.
Within all this, there is a story (which Reynolds wrote with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick). Deadpool becomes the reluctant protector of a 13-year-old mutant (Julian Dennison, the funny kid from Hunt for the Wilderpeople), and enlists some stray members of the X-Men for help. For some reason, Cable (Brolin’s one-armed avenger—and yes, there’s a Deadpool complaint about the proliferation of robot-armed superheroes these days) is after the boy. In one of the movie’s funnier passages, Deadpool and his cowardly assistant Weasel (T.J. Miller) recruit new members for a super-team, the results of which are hilariously disastrous. The best of the newbies is Domino (Zazie Beetz, from Atlanta), whose superpower is “being lucky,” which, despite Deadpool’s skepticism, turns out to be an enviable power.
Is the movie any good? It’s not as sharp as the original Deadpool, which had a harder edge and the virtue of freshness. This movie wants us to care a little bit about Deadpool even as it ridicules the conventions of the Marvel world. I didn’t much care, but I did appreciate the jokes about Canada (a few decent gags rely entirely on the audience knowing that Ryan Reynolds is Canadian), and I take pleasure in knowing that when I watch future Marvel movies, I’ll always think of Deadpool exclaiming “Big CGI fight comin’ up!” when the digital titans are ready to tilt. I’m still working on connecting Yentl to Canada, but I’m sure it’ll come to me.