Superhero sequels are always more of the same, and “Deadpool 2” continues the practice smoothly, transitioning into something more gory, bizarre, offbeat and even obscenely funny than the original, which opened in 2016 to quite justified acclaim and stratospheric profits. While the protagonist, a smart-mouthed, obnoxious, unkillable mutant assassin, is a runt of the Marvel litter, his absurdly violent comedies know how to bark and bite and wag a tail for attention.
This is a very self-aware bag of tricks. Most films are self-aware, but they work hard to keep that out of sight. “Deadpool 2” revels in its self-referential perspective, relishing jabs at old John Hughes movies, “The Passion of the Christ” and, most of all, its own “lazy writing.”
It stays true to the mission of lampooning earnest comic-book action movies with enormous creative chutzpah. It embraces everything that should make it lousy, calling out itself for aping the genre’s bad ideas and then shattering the fourth wall with meta precision. We’ve seen superhero satire before in films like “The Mask” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but this is different, cross-the-line material by shock jocks and provocateurs.
It delivers so much over-the-top mayhem that we wonder if the crew was rising to a dare, and the title character’s fast, cheeky, very funny commentary covers every inch of the convoluted plot. A refresher course on old Marvel comics isn’t needed to sharpen your appreciation of what’s happening on-screen. When the fertilizer hits the fan, as it frequently does, it’s pretty clear what’s happening.
Ryan Reynolds plays Deadpool, whose special power is quickly healing to cartoonish effect when he’s sliced, diced, shot or subdivided by a hand grenade. Reynolds introduces us to his character’s typical day, traveling from Japan, across Europe, to his nameless Hometown to jump down buildings, crash through windows and relentlessly lay carnage on evildoers like a steamroller in overdrive.
Wearing scar makeup to hide his typical pretty-boy looks, Reynolds radiates a bizarre charisma. Throwing his impish Alfred E. Neuman smile at the camera to make us feel weird, he sails through each nonstop raunchy verbal riff. He is like a swizzle stick continually stirring up a double Mickey Finn.
The story at hand is breathtakingly simple, yet complicated to the point of lunacy. Bad guys separate Deadpool from his love, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), putting him in a suicidal funk. At least very briefly, because of that instant healing, remember? Trying to construct a substitute family, Deadpool becomes a trainee at the X-Men academy, where almost every studio-valuable character hides from him and the gallery of heroic portraits on the wall includes an impressive image of Karl Marx.
Deadpool tries to mentor another mutant academy’s defiant teen fire starter, Firefist (delightfully played by Julian Dennison, so fine in the charmingly odd “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”). Grappling with orphanhood, 14-year-old angst and a chubby physique, he hasn’t found a mentor to help him control his abilities because, as he says, there’s no demand for plus-size superheroes.
They wind up side by side in a Supermax prison where a Terminator-like soldier from the future, Cable (Josh Brolin), arrives to eliminate Firefist before he reaches his destiny as a supervillain. And then things begin to get a bit complicated. Joining the mess is Domino (Zazie Beetz), whose superpower is, basically, luck. She adds such a delightful performance that you feel the movie was lucky for getting her.
On the surface, “Deadpool 2” follows the antihero’s crime-fighting antics. One layer down, there’s a lot more going on. It launches an indictment of pop culture and its addicted fans. The film mocks sincere good taste, showing us terrifying things we should not feel comfortable about while sophomorically asking, “Are you enjoying this?” and scoffing, “Of course you are!” The movie addresses topics as diverse as rampant gun violence and how gloomy DC superhero movies have become.
There are perhaps two believable human moments in the script. Otherwise, most of it is focused on samurai sword slicing, putting dirty lyrics in a Carmina Burana-style doomsday choral piece and “how did they afford him?” celebrity cameos. If you love films that keep you guessing, laughing and surprised on the edge of your seat, this is a must-see.
★★★½ out of 4 stars
Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material.