Anyone worried that the follow-up to 2016’s utterly over-the-top “Deadpool” might disappoint after the first movie’s director bailed out of this one because of “creative differences” can relax (or maybe get excited).
David Leitch, charmingly described in the opening credits here as “One of the Guys Who Killed the Dog in John Wick,” takes the reins from Tim Miller and pulls off that rarest of Hollywood feats — making a sequel that’s actually better than the original. “Deadpool 2” has more action, more laughs and more story than its predecessor. It also tosses in enough heart to sweeten things up, without getting too sickening about it.
This R-rated ridiculous romp somehow perfectly complements last month’s more earnest and epic “Avengers: Infinity War,” with Josh Brolin portraying the uber-antagonist in both movies. His worlds-weary giant Thanos has nothing but grim gravitas in common with the heavily weaponized and partially cybernetic future soldier Cable, who has returned to our era in a “Terminator”-style attempt to alter the future by making a targeted kill.
Ryan Reynolds is even more manically entertaining this time around as the cheerfully demented title character, a Marvel super-anti-hero whose fourth-wall-breaking zingers mock everyone from fellow comics characters to the Fox studio to actor Reynolds himself. Also, now that Deadpool’s very painful first-flick origin story that led to his frightening disfigurement is out of the way, there’s a lot less excruciating torture and sadism distracting from the movie’s more cartoonish carnage.
Getting that silliness-to-savagery mix right is a real accomplishment. While “Deadpool 2” admittedly is full of high-bodycount shootouts, bone-breaking beatdowns, casual beheadings and limb-lopping dismemberments, even its bloodiest scenes are more “Itchy and Scratchy”-style graphically goofy than painfully horrific. “Deadpool 2” is ultimately more screwball comedy than anything else, taking nothing (including itself) seriously.
The steel-bodied powerhouse Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapičić) and the amusingly deadpan beauty Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) are back as X-Men hoping to get Deadpool to straighten up and join their team. After an aside to the audience about how successful his first movie was, Deadpool complains that “you’d think the studio would throw us a bone” by letting him include more than two members from that franchise, followed by a priceless visual gag.
Realizing he could use help fighting the seemingly unstoppable Cable, Deadpool runs an ad to recruit morally-flexible heroes for his own merry band he calls X-Force. Making the cut are Zazie Beetz as the breezily charming and luck-powered Domino, Terry Crews as the electric-field manipulating Bedlam, Lewis Tan as the better-at-everything Shatterstar, Bill Skarsgard as the acidic-vomit spewing Zeitgeist, and the invisible Vanisher. Plus there’s Rob Delaney as the good-naturedly no-powers Peter, who only answered the ad because he thought joining sounded like fun. The outcome of their first aerial assault at bat is, of course, a side-splitting disaster.
Julian Dennison is the rage-filled and revenge-minded Russell Collins (aka Firefist), a “plus size” teenager who rightfully revolts against the staff at a mutant-rehab institution. Sent to a high-tech prison with Deadpool, who let his own sense of justice get out of hand when they first meet, he eventually becomes X-Force’s main procure and protect priority.
Also new to the cast is Shioli Kutsuna as Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s manga-adorable pink-haired girlfriend Yukio, possibly making those two the first lesbian hero-couple in a big-screen funnybook flick. Unless some of those Amazons in “Wonder Woman” count, that is.
Morena Baccarin is back as Deadpool’s loving girlfriend Vanessa. When she presents him with a box containing her recently removed IUD because she wants to get pregnant, he is giddily (as opposed to ironically) enthusiastic about the prospect of fatherhood. Like a similar potential-parenthood bit between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts in “Avengers: Infinity War,” the scene feels a little off, by injecting such a conventionally grown-up element into such a freewheeling sophomoric fantasy. What next, Deadpool going to church, opening an IRA and getting a colonoscopy? (Okay, the third one might work.)
Also returning are T.J. Miller as Deadpool’s courage-challenged best friend Weasel; Karan Soni as his adoring cab driver Dopinder, who has decided that he wants to become a contract killer; and Leslie Uggams as sometime-roommate Blind Al.
Although filled with cultural references ranging from dubstep to “Say Anything” to dating apps, the movie wisely steers clear of anything political, except for a Jared Kushner look-alike joke and a “George W” mission-accomplished comparison. Many of the funniest self-aware cracks make fun of the creators themselves and comics in general, such as jabs at Reynolds’ film résumé, at Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld’s inability to draw feet, and references to characters from Batman to Hawkeye to the Hulk.
Like Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man, Reynolds is so irresistibly entertaining as Deadpool that it’s pretty much impossible to imagine anyone else playing the role as well as he does. Reynolds also co-wrote this installment, with returning screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. As the first movie proclaimed, they are “The Real Heroes Here.”
Stick around for end-credits scenes offering even more evidence that Reynolds has a sense of humor about himself that’s laugh-out-loud hilarious.