It's not easy being a friend to Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, the costumed Marvel Comics mercenary with super-enhanced healing abilities and preternatural patter. And that's especially true for the women of the superhero sequel "Deadpool 2," opening Friday, May 18, who have to put up with his wisecracks, not-so-wise cracks, idiotic cracks, and cracks in walls and furniture where bullets hit and knives get lodged.
Fortunately, they give as good as they get. Whether it's Wade's love Vanessa ("Gotham" star Morena Baccarin), or his septuagenarian roommate, the aptly named Blind Al (screen and theater icon Leslie Uggams), or the sorta-superhero Domino (Zazie Beetz of "Atlanta"), "They can all, under the right circumstances, kick some serious ass," says Baccarin, 39. "Including," she adds, "Blind Al."
"These women are all badass," echoes Uggams, 74, using a word she never uttered in her Emmy-nominated role in the miniseries "Roots" (1977) or her Tony-winning turn in the Broadway musical "Hallelujah, Baby!" (1967). Even Blind Al proves highly handicapable with an automatic pistol. "She may not be running around with them" as Deadpool and his X-Force team try to protect — and protect themselves from — a fire-throwing teen (Julian Dennison) targeted by a time-traveling soldier named Cable (Josh Brolin), "but she can still kick some butt."
Yet for all that Pam Grier / Sarah Connor / "Atomic Blond" machisma, there's also a surprisingly feminine energy to a movie spilling Grand Guignol buckets of blood, and with a sneer by Josh Brolin that could curdle whatever's left. "It's obviously very masculine in the sense of all the action stuff," Baccarin says. "But it's not dude humor" like in a "Jackass" movie. "It's everybody humor. It's funny, and this movie ultimately has a very sweet message to it. We talk a lot about family and where your heart belongs. So in that way, it's feminine and maternal."
True enough. When Deadpool literally is ripped in two in the film, he still finds a safe haven and a comfy couch with Blind Al as he waits for his self-regenerative powers to regrow his bottom half. And then his friends come over, including bar owner Weasel (T.J. Miller) and cabdriver Dopinder (Karan Soni).
But it's this unholy trilogy of women that serves as Deadpool's id, ego and superego. The adventuress Domino goes toe-to-toe with his high-caliber carnage and non-sequitur nuttiness (id). Vanessa reflects his sense of truest self (ego). And wise Blind Al provides a sounding board along with subtle and sometimes insulting encouragement that Wade heed his conscience and become a better person (superego).
"That makes a lot of sense," muses Beetz, 26, when presented with this theory. "That really does, absolutely." But what do the women get out of their respective relationships with Deadpool?
"I think he brings out in Vanessa a fierce protectiveness and a possibility for a future," Baccarin believes. "And I think what they see in each other gives them hope in a very sort of grim world."
Blind Al, says Uggams, "had been a pretty good spy in her day," a part of her back story not made explicit in the movie but which informed the actress' performance. "But then she became blind and that ended the spy work. So she kind of lives vicariously through Deadpool's adventures. I don't believe she has any family, so he is her family — he's like the son she never had."
As for Domino, Deadpool's the brother she never had. Beetz says she "did a bunch of research on who she was" in the comics, where the character is a decade older and more hard-bitten that her own devil-may-care Domino. "She had a very dark past. She was part of this government program where they did a bunch of [genetic-modification] testing on this group of children [to weaponize them], and she was the only one who survived." Because of that extreme only-child syndrome, "I think Domino and Deadpool have a sibling sort of relationship," she says. "They have that back-and-forth banter where she is not dealing with his [expletive]!"
"For me, Deadpool is an incredibly flawed man who desperately seeks to do the right thing, except he rarely knows what the right thing is," says writer Fabian Nicieza, 56, who with artist Rob Liefeld created the character for Marvel Comics, and went on to write years of his adventures. "The Deadpool we get in the movie really is trying to grow up a little bit — trying to, in some strange way, be a functioning member of society. I've always described him as Bugs Bunny meets the Frankenstein monster: You need the Bugs Bunny aspect for the humor, but you also need the monster because the humor, when it's borne out of tragedy, only becomes deeper and stronger. And the tragedy allows you to do realistic drama and emotion — within the context of the fact," he says, laughing, "that he could lapse into Bugs Bunny at any moment!"
Yeah, but Bugs never had a trio of strong women watching his back — or, if need be, watching his back grow back.
Iron Man! Spider-Man! Captain America! You know them, you love them. Bedlam! Shatterstar! Zeitgeist! You have no idea who they are. In fact, neither do a lot of comics fans. But they're in "Deadpool 2" and it's our sacred task to tell you of them -- for we are … The Explainer!
BEDLAM (Terry Crews) He can project and disrupt electromagnetic fields. Plus, he's Terry Crews — that's gotta be a superpower in itself.
DOMINO (Zazie Beetz) In the comics. she's a genetically engineered mercenary and covert government agent, and there's intimation of that here.
FIREFIST (Julian Dennison) Like the name says — his fists shoot fire. Unlike in the comics, he’s plus-sized in the movie — so kudos to the movie for body diversity.
PETER (Rob Delaney) When Deadpool placed an ad for superheroes to take down soldier-from-the-future Cable (Josh Brolin), Peter thought it'd be fun to audition. He doesn't have powers, but since when should that stop someone from pursuing their dreams?
SHATTERSTAR (Lewis Tan) In the comics, he's an alien who can produce shock waves as well as teleportation portals. In the movie, he's an alien from a planet where everyone's just better than us.
ZEITGEIST (Bill Skarsgård) That's a better name than the Hurler. Or the Barfer. Or the Cookie Tosser. Or the Upchucker. Or ... you get the idea. I mean, there's a twist — and believe it or not, that's his actual power in the comics, too. — FRANK LOVECE