MERC WITH A MOUTH

‘Deadpool 2’ Takes Aim at Jared Kushner, ‘Fox & Friends,’ and Marvel Itself

The supercharged sequel, in theaters May 18, boasts everything you loved (or hated) about the first installment and Ryan Reynolds’ wisecracking superhero.

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Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds’ foul-mouthed Marvel assassin with the burnt-toast face, flippy ninja skills, magical healing powers, polysexual tendencies, and penchant for self-deprecating quips, pop-culture references, and fourth wall-breaking asides, is not a character about whom people have mixed feelings.

Courtesy of 2016’s record-breaking Deadpool (the second highest-grossing R-rated hit in U.S. box-office history), the comic-book antihero immediately became a love-him-or-leave-him proposition, revered by some as the profane slap in the face the stolid superhero genre needed, and detested by others as a smug pest excessively pleased with his own puerile sense of humor.

Deadpool 2, both camps will not be surprised to learn, won’t radically change those assessments.

That said, as someone who remains fond of its predecessor, the Merc with a Mouth’s eagerly anticipated sequel—directed by Atomic Blonde’s David Leitch (here listed as “One of the Guys who Killed the Dog in John Wick”)—is a superior sort of tongue-in-cheek men-in-tights work. Amplifying the crassness, gruesomeness, and melodrama (no, seriously!), it delivers round after round of ridiculous stunts, out-of-left-field allusions, vulgar one-liners, and sharp cameos, which are wedded to a story that, for all its scattershot focal swings, remains coherent and electric.

From a suave title sequence scored to the dulcet tones of Celine Dion’s voice, to self-aware post-credit scenes that are too perfect to spoil here, this follow-up manages the not-inconsiderable feat of placating die-hards by playing a collection of greatest-hits gags while simultaneously expanding the series’ scope—and silliness—in unexpected ways.

Deadpool’s (and, by extension, Reynolds’) wink-wink shtick is so indiscriminate that, as before, there’s no way to get a beat on his—or his film’s—moral compass.

As Reynolds’ protagonist states at the outset, Deadpool 2 is a tale about death and family—the former of which comes early for Deadpool, who wants to prove that, after Logan, his idol Wolverine isn’t the only one who can perish in an R-rated affair. There’s more to the killer’s suicide than just one-upsmanship, however; Deadpool’s dire impulses are born from a tragic loss that he blames himself for both causing and not stopping—and which costs him a shot at the family he craves.

Alas, as a man bestowed with unbelievable regenerative properties, the great beyond remains just out of Deadpool’s reach. After wallowing in pity and peeing himself in public, much to the chagrin of bartender-buddy Weasel (T.J. Miller), he gets a pick-me-up from steely old friend Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), who convinces him to join the X-Men (“a dated metaphor for racism in the ’60s!”)—which he does, albeit in a mesh yellow football jersey that announces his status as a “trainee.”

Trouble arrives in the form of Russell (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison), a flame-throwing 14-year-old intent on killing the headmaster (Eddie Marsan) of the mutant rehab facility where he lives. Tasked with disarming a combustible situation, Deadpool naturally screws things up, and, for his mistakes, lands in prison alongside Russell, saddled with electronic collars that restrict their mutant powers. To survive amidst the roughneck inmate population, they’re left to rely on Russell’s trusty pen, which he’s snuck into the facility in his “prison wallet” (I’ll let you figure out what that term really means).

No sooner have they acclimated to their new surroundings than the duo finds itself thrust into conflict with Cable (Josh Brolin), a warrior with a robotic left arm and a gun that dials all the way to 11, who’s traveled back in time from the future to kill Russell before he can grow up to be a monster with a taste for bloodshed. It’s a superhero variation of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and true to form, Deadpool 2 makes sure to have Reynolds’ wisecracker refer to Cable as “John Connor.” He also calls him “Thanos” (in a nod to Brolin’s current big-screen role as Avengers: Infinity War’s baddie) and “One-Eyed Willy” (in a shout-out to Brolin’s participation in The Goonies). And then for good measure, he spends considerable time labeling him a racist.

Jokes about discrimination, cultural appropriation, gender dynamics, and many other of-the-moment subjects abound in the ensuing saga. When Deadpool first meets Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and her girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna) in the X-Men mansion, Colossus objects to Deadpool’s excitement over this lesbian coupling—and Yukio. In response, Deadpool tells Colossus, “Pump the hate brakes, Fox and Friends.” Marsan’s evil headmaster, meanwhile, has a creepy right-hand man whom Deadpool calls “Jared Kushner.”

Deadpool soon assembles his own squad, X-Force, in order to save Russell from Cable. It’s there that Deadpool 2 truly hits its stride, largely because Reynolds’ wacko renegade is funniest when playing off of contrasting personalities. Even more than director Tim Miller’s maiden outing, Leitch’s sophomore film expertly exploits Deadpool’s rat-a-tat-tat rapport with a cast of weirdos. Alongside weak-kneed Weasel, newly homicidal cabbie Dopinder (Karan Soni), and still-sightless Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), that group now includes Brolin’s gruff Cable (who develops into a sterling foil by adventure’s end) and Zazie Beetz’s Domino, a bushy-haired X-Force member whose extraordinary skill is “luck,” which no matter Deadpool’s skepticism, turns out to be a handy ability during chaotic skirmishes.

Deadpool’s (and, by extension, Reynolds’) wink-wink shtick is so indiscriminate that, as before, there’s no way to get a beat on his—or his film’s—moral compass. Random, inappropriate absurdity is all that matters in Deadpool 2, regardless of its narrative through-line about its main character’s attempts to become a father figure to a surrogate clan all his own. Fortunately, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, and Reynolds’ script is surefooted in that regard, delivering so many imaginative expletive-laden phrases, and so many lunatic scenarios (as well as choice digs at both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its dour DC Comics-based rivals) that the proceedings rarely flag, or fall into the typical sequel trap of merely regurgitating prior bits.

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If anything, the film’s biggest weakness is the very thing one might have expected to be its greatest strength—namely, its action choreography. Whereas Leitch’s John Wick and Atomic Blonde confirmed his gift for staging inventive and brutal genre clashes, Deadpool 2’s set pieces are constructed with so much cross-cutting between various players that the auteur’s trademark combat lucidity is somewhat lost. There’s no moment that’s quite as thrillingly sustained and sharp as the first Deadpool’s climactic fight, although it must be said that Cable’s entrance is marked by limb-snapping of a decidedly creative, crunchy variety.

Invariably, there’s a bit less electricity to Reynolds’ audience-addressing antics, since such rule-breaking has now become the franchise rule. It’s thus a testament to the star’s charisma that nothing about this second go-round feels the least bit stale. Through it all, Reynolds’ Marvel motor-mouth grows up a little bit (quite literally, in one stunning CGI scene) while remaining a brash, belligerent badass with a heart of gold. Those who can’t stand him won’t find much to change their minds in Deadpool 2. The rest of you, however, will no doubt appreciate his maximum effort.