This weekend, “Deadpool 2” knocked “Avengers: Infinity War” off the top spot at the box office, after three weeks in that position. While it fell marginally short of industry predictions, it did so during an opening weekend that also saw a lot of eyeballs glued to a royal wedding. And it only has one clear week before the traditional start to the summer, Memorial Day weekend, and the opening of “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” So how do they compare?
To some extent of course, that question doesn’t really matter. Each of the movies is going to attract its respective fans – many of whom overlap. And they’re both competing with the lingering appeal of “Avengers” which was also boosted, as if it needed the help, from this year’s earlier Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) blockbuster “Black Panther.” But “Deadpool 2” and “Solo” aren’t quite even in terms of tone and exuberance.
“Deadpool 2” manages the near impossible by being deadlier and poolier even than “Deadpool.” It ramps up the snark and the fourth-wall breaking asides, never really slowing its relentless pace. It’s loud and funny and it knows it. And while some may find it a little full of itself – part of its self-awareness is how full of itself it is – and it’s essentially full to overflowing. But that’s what won audiences over in the first film, along with the manner in which it makes fun of the very genre it’s reveling in being a part of.
This time around, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds – who also co-wrote the screenplay) is dealing with grief and his own resultant death wish, while also trying to clean up his act – a futile undertaking if ever there was one. And just when things seem like they’re at a low, in a prison for mutants, a seemingly unstoppable soldier from the future arrives in the form of Cable (Josh Brolin).
And the casting here is important as it provided the only slightly jarring content in the film. Deadpool exists within the world of Marvel comics but not within the recent MCU run of films, and in which Brolin just played Thanos (in “Avengers: Infinity War” – which, as stated, was dominating theaters through last week), albeit in largely CGI form. So seeing Brolin again so quickly in a marginally related project took me out of the film for at least a moment – but it also prompts an internal joke that depends on that conflict – so again that snarky self-awareness saves it. And the film comes with one of the best and funniest end credits compilations ever.
“Solo,” by comparison, simply seems flat. It lacks both the exuberance of the recent Marvel films and much of the prior Star Wars franchise content, including the more modest snark of Han Solo himself. And as an origin story, it suffers by being the origin story of a character that seemed worthy of an origin story, until we actually got it. It’s not bad, it’s actually quite fun – but it’s not a film that would be likely to cause a first-time viewer to think “I’ve got to see more of this guy!”
Han (Alden Ehrenreich) is seen, at the start of the film, in a Faginesque community of thieves and opportunists – perhaps more toned down Artful Dodger than Oliver Twist – desperate to escape and become a pilot. But escape doesn’t come easy and he later finds himself in the bigger leagues of thieves and space pirates (and a “Chill Factor” cool blue fuel that explodes if it gets unstable and warm), and meeting his soon to be long-time buddy Chewbacca. Which inadvertently illustrates some of the problems with the film – we’re here to see the backstory of Han but the film is likely to make you want more, instead, of the backstory of Chewbacca. Han’s story is just starting out when they meet, whereas Chewbacca’s is already long and still largely untold – and possibly far more interesting (and makes Porg-eating seem restrained). And the same goes for other characters in the film.
Meanwhile the film jogs along from action scene and setup to action scene and setup, quite serviceably, but it never really seems to hit any huge crescendo of memorability. It’s like a better film immersed in some kind of mood stabilizing drug, free of highs and lows. Again, it’s never really bad – and it’s better than either the previews or the troubled production may have given us cause to be concerned about. But, as a fan of the franchise, it never wowed me or made me catch my breath.
Part of this may be a result of the casting, with Ehrenreich in the lead role. He doesn’t seem to embody the Harrison Ford Han Solo we’re used to – and while it’s easy to wonder about other actors in the part, it also raises questions about the character arc we’re given versus the character arc some of us may have wanted. This is beginner Han, who hasn’t quite found his charm or really tested his limits yet – this isn’t simply a young version of the already dashing and self-assured Han. Whether or not that was intentional is hard to determine – the former could simply be a failed attempt at the latter.
So, for many of us, both films are likely to be on the viewing must-see list as the summer gets rolling. But whereas “Deadpool 2” hits even higher notes than its predecessor, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” seems to mute its franchise source material, which ends up making me wonder about another crossover film – but a crossover of filmmakers rather than characters.