The sequel to 2016’s “Deadpool” has a very tough act to follow but not in the way you might think.
The franchise’s marketing, spearheaded by star Ryan Reynolds, has turned film PR on its head. That’s a very good thing. Reynolds blurred the lines between star and co-writer so effectively it’s hard to say where the actor starts and his antihero ends.
It worked wonders the first time around. Reynolds improved on his shtick for the sequel. The movie itself? That’s a step backward with one colossal caveat.
You won’t see a funnier film all year than “Deadpool 2.” It’s subversive, silly and totally meta in every way possible. The gags run right through the end credits, featuring one final bit sure to make fanboys howl with glee.
Reynolds returns as Wade Wilson, the scarred mutant with supernatural healing abilities. His true super power? His way with a wisecrack.
Our story opens with Deadpool looking ready to settle down. He’s happily committed to his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin). They’re even talking babies.
Disaster strikes too close to home, and suddenly all that cutesy talk gets shoved aside. Enter Cable, a villain without a backstory (it comes later … way too late) or real reason for existence. He’s simply part robot, part Josh Brolin.
You’d think that would be enough. Wrong.
FAST FACT: The first “Deadpool’s” budget? A mere $58 million, a minuscule sum compared to most superhero efforts. The budget for “Avengers: Infinity War?” Try $316 million.
Cable threatens to wipe out both Deadpool and a mutant teen (Julian Dennison) unable to corral his fiery powers. You see, Deadpool is a misfit just like this lad. He can’t help but try to save the kid from his own destructive talents.
Yes, “Deadpool 2” tries to pluck your heartstrings. Ironically, the film’s heart isn’t in it. Nor is the script. Reynolds and co-scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are so busy mocking, well, everything humanly possible they failed to write a compelling story.
The sequel still packs so many killer lines you need to see it twice to savor them all. Doing that might be a burden, though. No amount of sardonic banter can make us forgive an anemic villain and way too many bungled attempts at empathy.
The former is a buzz kill. Brolin’s Thanos villain made “Avengers: Infinity War” a bona fide event. Here? You’ll be bored by him mid-movie. Jim Carrey’s Cable Guy is more threatening.
Nor does Cable pose any real threat to Deadpool. Nothing does. He’s virtually indestructible.
Early on we see Deadpool suffer grievous wounds that would cripple any superhero type. Not this Merc. He’s fine. A similar sequence leads to a very funny sight gag (milked too much, but forgivable).
As a result, the stakes here are rock bottom. So is the tension and conflict.
And then there’s the comedy portion of our show. The gags are meta to the core, brimming with pop culture asides and pokes at Reynolds’ sketchy film resume. Deadpool barks about “lazy writing” more than once and spends half the movie talking to the audience.
Funny, funny stuff … even if some of it could age badly. Naturally, last year’s “Logan” is a target for good-hearted gags.
Other bits may be met with a groan by half the country. Deadpool name checks “Mission Accomplished” for a quick Bush bash circa 2003. He compares one villainous type to “Jared Kushner,” President Trump’s advisor and son in law. He also mocks “Fox & Friends.”
Does Deadpool hit any left-of-center targets? Not really. The closest he gets is name checking cultural appropriation. It makes Reynolds’ recent “Late Show” shtick look like part of a larger, oh, so Hollywood plan.
The film also showcases a pair of young female X-men who, in their microscopic screen time, make it clear they’re dating.
Even Cable gets into the act, referencing a nightmarish future earth the result of us “f***ing the planet into a coma.”
A woke Deadpool? Really?
Still, it’s all done with a grin and a wink. That makes even the duller jokes less painful.
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) May 9, 2018
Wade also notes the X-Men’s mutant abilities serve as a “dated metaphor” for ’60s era racism. It’s one of several swipes at those mutant heroes, represented here once more by a poor CGI attempt at Collosus (Stefan Kapicic). The CGI, weak on the first round, is equally tepid here.
Are they shooting for consistency or just a lower price tag?
Another outstanding element in this stew of R-rated humor? A gaggle of X-type heroes, who won’t necessarily earn their own sequel. No spoilers as to why, but it’s another blazingly funny detour.
Director David Leitch (“John Wick: Chapter 2”) fails to match this dizzying excellence of the first film’s action sequences. It’s all competently arranged, but nothing comes close to that magnificent burst of mayhem that greeted us in the first film’s opening.
He shows a far steadier hand with the one-liners, though. Maybe “Deadpool 3” should ditch cinemas and hit the stand-up circuit.
HiT or Miss: “Deadpool 2” brings the funny again and again. You’ll still be bored by the lackluster story and quips that lean in a decidedly familiar direction.