Deadpool Ups His Game In Vastly Superior Sequel

“Can beauty come out of ashes?” wails seminal songstress Celine Dion in a new original song over the 007-inspired opening titles of “Deadpool 2.” In the case of the follow-up to 2016’s dismal R-rated megahit, the answer is a pretty hearty “yes.”

Tim Miller’s original film torturously imagined Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefield’s comic book antihero Wade Wilson (aka Deadpool) as Dane Cook in red leather. Wanton bloodshed congealed with Ryan Reynolds’ smug title performance to form an amoral morass destined to be the all-time favorite movie of Juggalos everywhere.

Enter stuntman-turned-director David Leitch (“John Wick,” “Atomic Blonde”). He and returning writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Reynolds, too, gets a co-writing credit this time around) imbue the sequel with actual heart – and fewer lame one-liners. Better yet, the action carries some much-needed weight and the screenplay is even intermittently clever. Although never laugh-a-minute, the pic lands enough jokes to satisfy even the most jaundiced Deadpool skeptic, improving on its predecessor in every way imaginable.

Wade Wilson may be an ugly son of a bitch, but his fiancée Vansessa (Morena Baccarin) has learned to love him that way. When an assassin’s bullet interrupts their pre-marital bliss, our immortal protagonist ironically loses his will to live – and then finds it again in the form of a tubby teenage mutant named Russell Collins (Julian Dennison, “Hunt For The Wilderpeople”).

Russell, self-dubbed Firefist in accordance with his as yet untamed powers, is on a path to self-destruction. In him Wade sees a chance for redemption; if not for himself, for a kid like him – an outcast who’s been abused by the system. The upshot to Deadpool giving a damn is us giving a damn, making everything hit so much harder than in the original film – laughs, violence, and melodrama all.

Also vital is the moderate but important expansion of Deadpool’s world, both as it relates to the X-Men and his ragtag assembly of wannabe heroes he names X-Force. The returning Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) still represent the majority of the X-Men’s screen time (the latter once again steals all of his scenes), but there’s a great visual gag involving a few other fan favorites. And X-Force’s big mid-film introduction lives up to its comedic promise. And then some.

Zazie Beetz (FX’s “Atlanta) is radiant as X-Force’s Domino, Deadpool’s de facto second-in-command. As luck would have it, her superpower, which is met with hilarious incredulity from Wade, is luck. It makes for several uniquely thrilling moments in a spectacular setpiece in which she and Deadpool fight for control of a prisoner convoy (containing Russell) with the film’s big bad.

That villain, Cable, sees actor Josh Brolin return to the role of comic book movie antagonist less than a month after knocking out of the park in Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War” as genocidal E.T. Thanos. Cable isn’t quite as impressive – a flesh-and-blood time traveler can’t help but fall a little flat in comparison to a towering purple alien – but it’s a mind-blowing double act all the same.

Brolin only seems to get more charismatic with age, making his cool and collected Cable – whose arc here is as strange as the character’s comic book history might suggest – an ideal foil for this movie’s take on its title character. Moreover, his steely, unyielding screen presence grounds some of the pic’s dumbest scenes, like a gag about Deadpool’s regenerating legs that goes on minutes too long. Brolin’s deadpan reaction saves it.

Fans of the first movie should have no trouble tuning into all the positive adjustments, and its detractors just might find themselves having a surprisingly good time. Disgraced comedian T.J. Miller’s return as Wade’s best friend Weasel is an unwelcome one, and the pop culture references are too much at times, but not enough to sully all the effort that plainly went into making a harder, better, faster, stronger “Deadpool” movie. Chimichangas all around.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: May 18, 2018
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: David Leitch
Screenwriter: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Ryan Reynolds
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Zazie Beetz, Josh Brolin, Julian Dennison, Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić, Karan Soni
MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material)