Deadpool is back and ready for action in Deadpool 2. Comic book fans can thrill over a new adventure that brings in cool characters like the time-traveling cyborg Cable, the plucky and lucky X-Force member Domino, and the fired-up teen Russell. But sci-fi fans might well recognize Deadpool's latest adventure as a super-powered remake of the 2012's Looper.
Major spoilers for Deadpool 2 and Looper below.
Aside from the inclusion of time travel, Deadpool 2 and Looper might seem wildly different. One is a hard-R superhero comedy stuffed with gonzo action sequences and subversive silliness. The other is a gritty thriller with few jokes and action scenes that are more horrific than outright fun. Yet the core of their stories are the same.
Our hero is a hired gun with questionable morals.
Well, "anti-hero" might be more apt. Regardless, Deadpool 2 centers on the titular Merc with a Mouth (Ryan Reynolds), an assassin who has no qualms slicing up sauna-savoring ninjas, gunning down gangsters at a mob-family funeral, or shooting up could-be pedophiles in a playground. The only thing that gives him pause is being called a hero.
Looper centers on Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a hitman who specializes in shotgun blasts through the chests of masked marks from the future. Both are men of violence whose communities are full of killers. Yet both dream of a future that offers something more. For Deadpool, it's having a baby with his bawdy bride Vanessa. For Joe, it's a far-flung metropolis where he might find love and purpose.
The future will be determined by an angry child.
When we meet fire-flinging mutant Russell (Julian Denison), he's a scared teen lashing out against the cruel Headmaster who rules over his orphanage with an electric cattle prod. But in the future, Russell is a notorious killer who murders Cable's wife and child with a merciless blaze.
The angry kid of Looper is a 10-year-old telekinetic named Cid, whose rage can literally rip a man to shreds. In the future, Cid uses this power to become an unstoppable crime boss, who can wipe out his enemies with the snap of his fingers or the blink of an eye. His orders send a slew of retired loopers on fatal trips to the past and his goons are responsible for the deadly shooting of Old Joe's beloved wife.
A would-be killer from the future is the antagonist.
One of the ultimate time travel quandaries is if you could go back and time and kill baby Hitler to prevent the Holocaust, would you? That core concept is the basis of both Cable and Old Joe's journey in their respective movies.
In Deadpool 2, the teddy bear-carrying Cyborg aims to kill young Russell to prevent the decades-later murder of his wife and daughter. Likewise, Old Joe time travels to seek out the Rainmaker before his rise to power. Without this ominous figure's identity pinned down, this haggard hitman targets two other children before zeroing in on little Cid.
A mother shows our anti-hero the way to redemption.
In visions, Vanessa warns Deadpool his heart "isn't in the right place." He takes her ambiguous advice as a sign that he should rescue Russell. This pits Deadpool against Cable in a race to save not only Russell's life but also his soul. If they can prevent the hurting teen from killing the vile headmaster, the future might be saved without further bloodshed. With this mission, would-be mother Vanessa gives her suicidal lover a new lease on life.
In Looper, Cid's mother Sara forms a fragile alliance with Joe as they lie in wait for his older, child-killing self to crash through her cornfields. This blooms into a romance and, more importantly, exposes Joe to the power of love. Sara argues that a mother's love could keep Cid from becoming another one of the violent, lost men who cause carnage in the nearby city, and her love transforms Joe from a selfish thug looking only to save his own skin into a generous hero who puts hers and Cid's safety above his own.
Saving the kid requires a bloody self-sacrifice.
Both films feature the gun-slinging anti-hero held up in a remote location, reluctantly befriending a troubled and powerful kid. Deadpool and Russell bond over beatings and a stanky, contraband pen while imprisoned in the Icebox, an isolated prison meant exclusively for menacing mutants. While hiding from his killer colleague in a hidden tunnel, Joe bonds with Cid by sharing the story of his own lonely, rage-filled childhood. Each of these hurting boys is a reflection of the film's hero in his youth: unloved, angry, and alone. Each boy is on the precipice of the bad path that can lead to much blood and pain, like that of our hitman/hero. To save the boy, each of these men must die.
Deadpool throws himself in front of Cable's shot, sparing Russell the bullet and accepting his own death. Seeing that someone can love him that much, Russell is transformed, as is his future, and Cable's blood-soaked teddy bear turns crisp and clean.
In Looper, Joe realizes that if Old Joe kills Sara to get to Cid, the boy will escape, grow up unloved and furious, and become the Rainmaker. Not close enough to reach Old Joe with the blunderbuss' spray, Joe points the gun at his own heart and fires, erasing his future self from existence, and preserving Cid and Sara's lives and happiness.
Now, none of this means Deadpool 2 is unoriginal or bad. It shares a lot with Looper, but that film was also pulling from well-worn tropes. Beyond the baby Hitler question, a man of violence sacrificing himself to save the innocent and preserve society is a long-established storyline in Westerns. It's also the core of Logan, which directly includes scenes from the similarly themed Western Shane. And cheekily, Deadpool 2 directly references Logan with its explosive opening. It's all just a little bit of movie tropes repeating.
These repetitions shouldn't make us think less of either movie. Rather, they give us the opportunity to explore how a similar story can transform through tone and genre to give us something familiar yet freshly fun with a bit of maximum effort.