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Deadpool 2: Slightly bigger sequel finds hearts and loses edges

Posing madcap moxie and self-aware sappiness, Deadpool 2 is alternately wilder and tamer than its predecessor.

Deadpool 2 ambitiously tries to juggle three balls. And like that ball-juggling act, the movie always leaves one ball in the air to hold the other two, but that's not the fundamental problem to its self-confidence and self-indulgence. While doubling down on the original 2016 movie's farce (like Hot Shots!, Naked Gun, and Kingsman sequels) and improving on a successful maxim of comic ingenuity (like 22 Jump Street), this antihero of a movie goes deeper into the most grounded and humane aspect of Deadpool/Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds): his admirable relationship with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).

The romance seems ever more profound in the later scenes where Wade and Vanessa communicate through soulful glances and sweet, confusing silence. Despite the good intention and nuanced development, it falls into a controversial pit of mistreating female love interests. Also, by introducing Vanessa in the mix, these movies anchor and re-contextualize Deadpool, a demented vagabond by nature, in a loving home. Though not without its emotional merit, what Wade and Vanessa share eventually serves as an excuse to provide a framework for saturation comedy.

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Three-fourths of the Deadpool creative team—screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, plus star/producer Reynolds now as a co-writer—return in fine forms while David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) fills in the director seat for Tim Miller, whose vision was to utilize the bigger budget and make the sequel much bigger. It turns out Reynolds' resolute guidance is effective and suitable for this story. You'll see drastic changes in the last act, with a set smaller than Miller's semi-Helicarrier locale.

If Deadpool was a fresh breeze smack-dab in a field of repetitive superhero flicks, this sequel comes like a hailstorm of exalting, shamelessly offensive antics. From the spoof intro credits in the artful vein of Bond movies to its brazenly top-notched mid-credits, Deadpool 2 throws in rapid-fire jokes, cheesy flashes, and many cool cameos. Leitch's tonal execution is flawed but acceptable, with the ultra-violence and romantic saccharine emerging from contrasting sources. Many oversentimental moments are drawn out longer than they should be while a few gags land messily.

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That said, the comedic quality stays high. Nothing is immune to Deadpool's crass, irreverent meta-humor. Not his creator. Not his fellow mutants and their equipment. Not MCU hero mantles. Certainly not white men of history. Even Fox's beloved Logan, which followed Deadpool's R-rated approach to major success, is poked fun at and, surprisingly, learned from. Reynolds, under light make-up, continues his self-effacing, deadpan voice performance in the narration and snappy, sardonic retorts. But Pool's nutsack face also receives considerable screen time to show Reynolds' emotional chops when Pool runs and pole-dances his way into mishaps. His running gag with "racism" is a smart jab at the petulance of online left-wing activists.

Recent superhero movies fit themselves into various genres that compliment the strong suits of their main cape-and-cowl'd do-gooders while testing the creativity for future expansion. Deadpool movies, however, sarcastically find a common ground between accessibility and R-rated presentation. After the first one—a rom-com and revenge tale, Deadpool 2 is confirmed to be a family movie, which methodically begins with grisly murders. As viewers find out, the excellent marketing hyped the movie to its most optimal by withholding its major conflict.

The gist is that Pool must with badass one-man army Cable (Josh Brolin) from the future and prevent him from killing young mutant Russell aka Firefist (Julian Dennison, Hunt for Wilderpeople) while the mutant-oppressing business DMC runs their operation on the side. That's far from the full picture, which sees Pool seeking a right place for his disturbed heart. The script takes on family movies' plot points and stock characters, then puts a comic book-y spin on life lessons about solidarity, mutual trust, and hope in the direst calamities. The situation shines a light on human-mutant societal relations with the environment in which Russell grows up and a DMC prison called the Icebox.

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To save Russell from the mayhem between Cable and the DMC, Pool assembles a variegated group of mutants (plus Peter, played with heedless innocence by Catastrophe's Rob Delaney) via basement interviews. Derivatively named X-Force, the team includes 90s mutants, among which Domino (Atlanta's Zazie Beetz) stands out. Fitting Beetz's strength for playing annoyed at silliness, Domino's personality is driven back to nonchalance—unlike her comic book counterpart, who is more fierce and assertive with her merc background. Her ability to manipulate luck creates more fun action and takes up half of the crowd-pleasing shots of the last act. Yeah, Pool, the power looks and feels very cinematic.

Pool's entourage of old acquaintances is more entertaining. Cab driver Dopinder (Karan Soni) idolizes Pool and aspires to follow his path into merc jobs. The screenwriters must've given this fan-favorite cousin-abductor more screen time after the positive response regarding his goofiness. Blind Al (Leslie Uggams) is still unaware of, eh, the sight and her housemate's invaluable stash under the floor, which is brought in with a hilarious callback to Pool's words in the first movie. And I don't know if it's due to TJ Miller's recent accusations, but his character Weasel is a simple coward outshone by newcomers. As Russell, Dennison is a bit too tense, but his comic delivery opposite Reynolds is laudable.

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Like in Guardians of Galaxy and Fast and Furious franchises, a certain F-word appears a lot. Among thematic articulations, the intimacy between Pool and the altruistic Colossus (in the calm voice and facial expression of Stefan Kapičić) deepens itself on their past conversations, sometimes leaning on frisky bromance. Negasonic Teenage What's-her-head (Brianna Hildebrand) won over fans in her first cinematic appearance by angsty reactions to Wade's mean-spiritedness, but now she shares the frame with her girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna), a new X-Girl (is it appropriate?) who adorably trades greetings with Pool.

With banal alterations to Cable's backstory, it's intriguing to see how future X-Men installments incorporate him into bigger stories without full-blown outrage from fans. Brolin plays Cable, here a cheeky riff on Terminators, with hard-nosed precision, similar to the way he brought to life Avengers: Infinity War big bad Thanos last month.

The script keeps jokes coming and maintains a flow of levity to ease in the fourth-wall-breaking asides about story structure and mandatory cliches. In a thrilling chase, Pool displays one of the most impressive car-driving showcases since that Mr. Bean episode. Other physical gags are also tastefully handled in harmony with important plot beats, like the times Pool's healing factor kicks in to save him from broken bones or churning intestines. Those scenes unfold superbly in the presence of a straight-faced Cable (plus Domino and Colossus).

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While Pool's massacres are fun to watch, Leitch's kinetic eye for shifting action isn't evident. The director employs average choreography and medium/close-up shots for most of Cable's melee fights with the DMC soldiers, which are choppily edited, even though the first act has a hilarious tracking shot of a panicked Russian gangster (an important character) and the elaborate staging behind his back. Jonathan Sela's cinematography captures the production design in an industrially unhindered look that facilitates both natural light and ostentatious colors. Tyler Bates (300, John Wick) replaces Junkie XL to insert a rousing score between eccentric choices of songs by Leitch, who imbued the mood of his Atomic Blonde with 80s pop-rock. The VFX on Colossus is more polished than in the first movie, but rest assured he isn't the biggest CGI lump here.

Even with the most revered films of meta-commentary like Fight Club, there's always a question about the innate reliance on their targets of criticism. Reynolds developed the characters and hit several high notes, but for all of the ribaldly character-driven trashtalk and small-scale determination against a May release date, Deadpool 2 spoils itself on a one-time recipe that isn't as original and easy to refresh as it thinks. Posing madcap moxie and self-aware sappiness, this sequel is somehow alternately much wilder and tamer than its predecessor.