The good news is that if you loved “Deadpool,” you’ll love “Deadpool 2,” too. The better news is that if, like me, you did not like “Deadpool,” you still might sort of enjoy the sequel.
It’s a little smarter and a little more exciting. It stars a lot more Zazie Beetz and Josh Brolin, and on occasion the film even shuts Ryan Reynolds up long enough for his co-stars to get a word in.
The bugs of the original remain, but “Deadpool 2” benefits from a few fresh features (most notably its new characters, as well as the funniest and most meta post-credits sequences of any comic book movie thus far).
Though “DP2” is essentially more of the same — it is the peeing Calvin decal of the superhero movie universe — it’s a better version of it, with a slightly sharper script (co-written by Reynolds) and a markedly more capable director (David Leitch, helmer of “Atomic Blonde”).
It’s been just a little more than two years since the first “Deadpool” came along and changed the game. The surprise smash rescued Reynolds’ flailing career and opened another avenue for comic book franchises — it turned out that superhero movies could be hard-R and potty-mouthed and still make a lot of money. The original “Deadpool” grossed $363 million domestically, making it the second-highest earner of any R-rated movie, behind only “The Passion of the Christ” — a fact that Deadpool himself acknowledges within the first five minutes of his new movie.
In fact, the motor-mouthed merc manages to fit in a “Family Guy” episode-worth of references (some self-referential) before the opening credits roll: Deadpool nods to the death of Wolverine, makes an “Ace Ventura” homage and takes a shot at “Batman v Superman.” Fans will be rolling in the aisles. I was mostly just exhausted.
From there, we see what our unkillable mutant hero Deadpool (aka Wade Wilson) has been up to — mostly just murderin’ folks — and get reacquainted with the boring supporting characters from the first film: girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), sidekick Weasel (T.J. Miller) and X-Men B-teamers Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
For a while, it appears that “DP2” is going to be just a lazy rehash of its predecessor. But then a few things happen.
First, the action kicks in. Leitch has made significant improvements in this area, with fluid fight choreography and a handful of setpieces that integrate some impressive stuntwork into the CG mayhem. The quality of the violence is well above average for a superhero movie.
But where “DP2” really excels is its new additions, beginning with the film’s antagonists. The first is Cable (Josh Brolin), a metal-armed time-traveler who carries a metal gun and a fanny pack — with Cable and “Avengers” villain Thanos, Brolin is all over various Marvel movie universes this summer. The second is Russell (Julian Dennison, of “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”), a teenage mutant who can shoot fire from his hands.
In 2018, Russell is just a scared child with superpowers. In the future, he’s a murderous villain, and Cable means to kill the kid before he can grow up to be the bad guy. (It is exactly the plot of “Looper.”)
Along the way, Deadpool stumbles into Russell’s life and becomes his reluctant protector. On the outs with the X-Men, our loquacious antihero builds a team of misfit superheroes. And this is where it gets fun.
The team includes Bedlam (Terry Crews), a guy who can control electrical fields; Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgard), who vomits acid; the invisible Vanisher (I’ll leave his casting a surprise) and Peter (Rob Delaney), a sweet, chubby guy with no superpowers. He just saw the ad for the team and thought it sounded like fun. Peter, though underused, is the film’s comedic masterstroke.
Most of all, the team includes Domino, who is played by Zazie Beetz (Van on “Atlanta”). Because of the character’s superpower and because of the effortlessly charming and hilarious actress playing her, Domino is one of the best new superheroes I’ve seen on the screen in some time.
Domino’s power is good luck. She dodges bullets and punches without even trying. When she drives a truck off a bridge, she walks away from the wreck without a scratch. Beetz’s carefree attitude to the death and destruction around her is a joke that never gets old.
I can’t say that for the rest of the jokes in “DP2.”
It’s not that Reynolds isn’t funny or that he doesn’t land a few great lines in the film. It’s just that he (and many of the other characters) just. Keep. Talking. Like a comedy troupe working out the kinks of a sketch that isn’t quite there yet. By the end, the film has pummeled even the good gags into the ground.
This series’ most fruitful strain of humor remains its continual undermining of its own genre, offering a meta-textual criticism of the very film we’re watching. If you think I’m being overly critical of “Deadpool 2,” you should go after “Deadpool 2,” too, which is its own harshest critic.
When Deadpool makes an aside that a plot detail is “lazy writing” or says there’s a “big CGI fight coming up,” yes, it’s amusing that the film is self-aware and willing to comment on its flaws. But they’re still flaws. The film still has lazy writing. The big CGI fight is still dull and unengaging. “Deadpool 2” is still just an OK example of the thing it’s poking fun at, no matter how much salty language or self-deprecation it brings to the table.
Though I found a lot to like in the latest “Deadpool” movie, I still can’t get behind this series’ central conceit, which is this: Over and over and over again, the movie will take an earnest swing at something — an honest emotion, an interesting idea — and then the film will let out a loud fart, say the F-word and look right into the camera with a wink and a smirk.
I can’t stand it. And yet I know many of you love these movies for this very reason and that by the end of May the “Deadpool” series will have grossed $1 billion and counting, so what do I know?