‘Deadpool 2’ Gleefully Roasts Marvel Universe While Saving the World

Deadpool is the grand jester of the Marvel films. While dueling with villains he takes the time to slice and dice the superhero genre itself with the passion of an arsonist. It is precisely the attitude of the franchise that saves “Deadpool 2,” which brings back Ryan Reynolds as the gun-toting, joke dropping vigilante. In trying to outdo the hilarious original in scale, it tries to pack too much plot and characters, but the gags have such great energy and blood-soaked subversion that you simply revel in the madness.

Wade (Reynolds), also known as Deadpool, opens the proceedings sitting atop barrels of fuel he prepares to blow up (himself included). Just why is explained when he recounts how his crime-busting spree led to a standoff  with some thugs. The tragic result is the death of Deadpool’s fiancé, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). Determined not to live, Deadpool decides it’s best to end it in pieces, literally. But he’s scooped up by X-Man and goody two shoes Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), who is convinced Deadpool can become one of the X-Men if he changes his attitude. X-Men member Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) is also back to get annoyed at Deadpool’s attitude. The feisty vigilante can’t help himself while on a training mission, blasting away with his usual banter and shade. They soon come across an angry, out of control young mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison) who conjures fire and hates the abusive private institute where he’s lorded over by a creepy school master. After the training mission goes awry, Deadpool and Russell are imprisoned in a mutant jail. From a distant future arrives Cable (Josh Brolin), who looks like “American Sniper” crossed with “Robocop.” Cable is here to track down Russell to prevent a major tragedy from ever taking place.

Even more than the first film, “Deadpool 2” mocks itself and its genre while flaunting a taste for the grotesque. It’s as if Rabelais decided to write a superhero script. The first shot is a miniature of an impaled Wolverine as Deadpool whines about the furry X-Man stealing his thunder by dying in last year’s “Logan.” What follows is an introduction that is a brilliant, satirical version of the classic openings featured in James Bond movies, where a grand ballad plays over stylized graphics. As guns stand-in for the usual parade of models, Deadpool does a tribute to “Flashdance” and the featured tune is a new one, “Ashes,” performed by Celine Dion. It’s an obvious jab at the opening for “Skyfall,” where Adele sang an Oscar-winning theme. The rowdy screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (“The Real Villains” according to the opening credits) is full of viciously fun winks at countless pop culture references (“Yentl” gets particular attention), but it’s never funnier than when it turns on itself. When Deadpool visits the X-Men’s mansion he wheels around in Professor Xavier’s chair, bemoaning the budget not allowing more X-Men to appear. He notices the place is full of portraits of old white men (even Karl Marx) and blurts about getting his “rape whistle” ready. There’s a specific shot in this scene that would be a crime to spoil, but you won’t be able to miss it. No one is spared by Deadpool’s acidic wit, even Jared Kushner gets a mention.

Director David Leitch, known for stylish action films like “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde,” films massive action scenes that turn into raucous jokes. Deadpool and Cable will find themselves in a truck sliding off a freeway as Enya’s graceful “Only Time” plays over the destruction. A tragic flashback is scored to “Tomorrow” from “Annie.” People are blown up, knives go through skulls, at one point Deadpool is literally torn apart by a giant villain (“I can’t feel my legs! Oh, wait, here they are”). Extreme? Not really. “Deadpool 2” uses violence and gags, as well as his occasional breaking of the fourth wall, to roast the very absurdity of its own genre. How many action movies present the most absurd sequences, carnage, stunts and plot twists while taking themselves absolutely seriously? Deadpool’s obnoxious charm is that he is in on the joke. At one point he and loyal barista sidekick Weasel (T.J. Miller), start interviewing potential members for a superhero team. One of the standout characters here is a regular, chubby guy named Peter (Rob Delaney) who answered the ad because it sounded fun. “You’re in,” replies Deadpool immediately. This is also when a key new character, Domino (Zazie Beetz of “Atlanta”) is introduced. The whole scene, also involving Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård), the Vanisher (played by a surprise cameo), the vain Shatterstar (Lewis Tan) and Bedlam (Terry Crews), is a chortling take on the very idea of superheroes. What follows is a gut-busting sky diving sequence that spirals into unexpected carnage. It’s probably the best gag in the movie because it goes to the heart of it all. Even Russell bemoans, “have you ever seen a plus-size superhero?”

If there is a flaw in “Deadpool 2” it is that as it makes fun of its genre, it still tries hard to keep one foot in traditional franchise territory. There is a rush to pack in a standard plot and new characters next to all the jokes and gags. Instead of focusing on one villain we get two, with Cable thrown in as a wild card. When it comes to Cable we learn nothing about him, except that he’s from the future. This is established in one introductory sequence where he looks out at some futuristic city before traveling to our own era. There are also some odd editing gaps, especially in one moment where we see Weasel talking with Deadpool at the bar and then we cut to him tied up and captured by Cable. We know why Russell is angry, but there as a vagueness about where he comes from too. It can be assumed this is all set up for a third movie, but there is a feeling of the story struggling for attention with the satire.

Still, this is a wickedly fun time with some vivacious acting. Reynolds is again an enfant terrible of comic bookdom, happy to offend. Cable has some great moments where he’s written as a humorous take on Josh Brolin’s own rugged personality (“dubstep is for pussies”). Deadpool starts trolling him as some sort of racist, right-wing macho man, especially after he blows away a prisoner named “Black Tom.” The movie introduces a traditional comic book personality then proceeds to make fun of it.

After some big and quite good Marvel movies dominating the scene, here comes “Deadpool 2” to assault their very nature with a wink and savage grin. It pushes the envelope before setting it alight, because it knows that in the end, it really is just a movie.

Deadpool 2” opens May 18 in theaters nationwide.