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More meta mayhem – ‘Deadpool 2’

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Superheroes are big business at the box office. The biggest cinematic successes of the past few years have involved CGI explosions and spandex. Hell, 2018 alone has seen “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” taking their places atop various all-time lists.

And yet … there’s more than one path to victory.

We got a glimpse of one such path with 2016’s “Deadpool,” the hard-R Ryan Reynolds passion project that brought the unorthodox and profane titular character to the big screen in all of his fourth wall-breaking metatextual glory. The critical and commercial acclaim with which it was met ensured that we’d see another installment.

“Deadpool 2” is … more. More of the self-awareness. More of the snark. More winking jokes and nods. More curse words. Just … more. It is broad and crude and unapologetic. And while it’s maybe a little messier and unfocused than its predecessor, it also opens up and shows some unexpected heart – albeit in Deadpool’s specific and very peculiar way.

Deadpool has embraced his place as one of the good guys, spending his time tracking down and brutally killing leaders of a variety of criminal enterprises all over the globe. But when one of his targets escapes his grasp, only to return and exact revenge in perhaps the only way that could truly hurt Deadpool.

Despondent and lost, Deadpool casts about searching for some kind of meaning, drinking away his sorrows and generally unsettling his friends Blind Al (Leslie Uggams, TV’s “Empire”), Weasel (T.J. Miller, “Ready Player One”) and Dopinder (Karan Soni, “Creep 2”). He winds up reconnecting with his old X-Men friends, the earnest Colossus (Stefan Kapicic, TV’s “Counterpart”) and the snarky Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand, “Tragedy Girls”) for a mission to help a young mutant named Russell (Julian Dennison, “Chronesthesia”) – a mission that ends less than ideally. Deadpool and Russell wind up getting sent to the superpowered prison known as the Icebox; the power-dampening collars they’re forced to wear give Deadpool hope that he might finally be able to die.

But then, cybernetic mutant super-soldier from the future Cable (Josh Brolin, “Avengers: Infinity War”) shows up, determined to set right the events that led to the death of his family in his own time. Unfortunately, this determination places him squarely at odds with Deadpool.

Knowing that he can’t fight Cable alone, Deadpool starts recruiting for a new team – electronic field disruptor Bedlam (Terry Crews, TV’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”), alien fighter Shatterstar (Lewis Tan, TV’s “Into the Badlands”), acid-spitting Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgard, “It”), sassy luck-powered Domino (Zazie Beetz, TV’s “Atlanta”), the invisible Vanisher (REDACTED) and the just-saw-the-ad-on-LinkedIn Peter (Rob Delaney, TV’s “Catastrophe”). It’s up to Deadpool and his new teammates to try and stop Cable from committing the atrocious acts that he believes he must in order to save the future.

Does that all sound a little vague? That’s by design; the truth is that you don’t need to know any more than that as far as the plot is concerned. That isn’t to say that the narrative isn’t important – it is, but there’s no need for me to spoil anything by revealing too much. However, for a movie like this one, it’s the connective tissue that really makes the whole thing pop.

Deadpool’s whole shtick is built around an awareness with regards to his status as a comic book character. The film wields that awareness like one of the character’s ubiquitous katanas; it whirls and slices and glitters in the sun. The audience is invited into the world via direct address – Deadpool talks to us as often as he talks to the people around him. It’s not an occasional throwaway, either, which is why it works so well. His constant awareness of us creates an intimacy that simply doesn’t exist in most other superhero fare.

It also contributes to the jokes - and oh man, does “Deadpool 2” have jokes. Sight gags, throwaway lines, callbacks – all built around a steady skewering of movies in general and comic book movies in particular. This is a movie that is happy to throw the genre’s sacred cows right on the grill, with barbs thrown in all directions. Sometimes, the rapid-fire references threaten to become a little too thick, but for the most part, it all works.

It works largely thanks to the work being done by Ryan Reynolds. As someone with a well-documented and longstanding antipathy toward Reynolds, it pains me to talk about just how excellent his work in this role is. He embodies Deadpool in a way that I honestly don’t believe any other Hollywood name could pull off. The gleefully anarchic spirit of the character comes alive thanks to Reynolds; when you add in the willingness of Reynolds to make anyone (including himself) the butt of the joke, and you’ve got a note-perfect Deadpool.

Josh Brolin’s Cable is an ideal counterpoint to Deadpool; his understated stoicism juxtaposes wonderfully against the madcap energy Reynolds brings to the table. He growls his way into a couple of pretty funny moments as well. The rest of the supporting cast sparkles as well; there’s not a bad performance in the bunch. Miller, Soni and Uggams are all great as they reprise their roles; so too are Hildebrand and Kapicic as Deadpool’s sole X-Men compatriots (there’s a phenomenal sight gag that addresses this very issue – I won’t spoil it). Among the new heroic cronies, Beetz is the real breakout – she’s equal parts wide-eyed and cool in a way that’s great fun to watch – but they’re all solid.

“Deadpool 2” is a wonderfully subversive take on the blockbuster superhero movie while also being an excellent example of a blockbuster superhero movie. It is foulmouthed and funny, unafraid to be genuine in its emotional engagement while also doling out the violence and viscera with unabashed joy. All in all, one hell of a good time at the movies.

[5 out of 5]

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