- NEVER DIE: Ryan Reynolds and Zazie Beetz co-star in "Deadpool 2," an X-Men installment stacked with so many jokes it feels like a pinball machine about to tilt.
Deadpool is the perfect character for people who've seen 15 Marvel movies and still will say they're not really all that into Marvel movies. He's vulgar, orgiastically violent, R-rated and flat-out hilarious. That's why reading the nigh-ubiquitous Marvel card before a "Deadpool" movie takes some of the sting out of the subversion. It's a bit like when two arms of Harvey Weinstein's production empire (Miramax and Dimension Films, respectively) distributed "Scream" and then, a few years later, its send-up, "Scary Movie." Or maybe it's like when your parents give you a beer before you turn 21. Sure, it's a beer, but what's even the point now, right? "We get you," says Marvel. "Our movies are too uptight, so here they are deconstructed and aggressively raw!" Cue Dr. Evil voice: "I'm hip. I'm with it."
Trouble is — for the haters, anyway — "Deadpool" is actually really damn funny, and in "Deadpool 2" the writers (Rhett Reece, Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds) cram such a quantity of jokes into the script that you feel your ears pop if 10 seconds pass without crazy shit going down. Someone is constantly wisecracking or getting blown up or shot or dismembered or catching fire or advancing the story marginally, with a bit of dialogue interspersed with fourth-wall-breaking in-jokes and innuendos. Or, doing all of the above. Stuntman-turned-director David Leitch ("Atomic Blonde," co-director on "John Wick") gives the movie the feel of a pinball machine about to tilt. He may as well be Tex Avery dangling Bugs Bunny through wry repartee with the audience while he barely survives, again and again, in a gleeful miasma of superviolence.
In this go-round, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds, smartassily) is stacking up the corpses of dispatched gang members around the world, until he goes after a particular scumbag too close to his home. At the moment, he's actually, for a change, demonstrably happy — trading anniversary gifts with his lady friend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin, playing every Deadpool fan's up-for-anything dream girl), planning to make a baby. Then goons bust in and shoot up the place. Vanessa bleeds out on the floor, and Deadpool decides he'd rather be plain ol' Dead. Trouble for him, though, is his outrageously active healing ability; aside from running his mouth and a healthy amount of cartoonish acrobatics, about all he's good for is never dying.
Depressed, he falls in once again with the X-Men, or at least the couple of X-Men who will hang out with him: the Boy Scout-earnest metal giant Colossus (pure CGI voiced in Ruskie accent by Stefan Kapicic), with the angsty Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) and her girlfriend Yukio (Shioli Kutsuna). For a hot second Deadpool joins them (as a trainee, anyway) to intervene when a fire-throwing teenaged mutant named Russell (a kiwi named Julian Dennison) is threatening to torch his skeevy mutant reform school. One thing leads to another, and both 'pool and the kid wind up stripped of their powers and sent to a mutant prison. This is, for Deadpool, a death sentence: His cancer roars back, and he waits for tumors to overtake him. Then, a steel-armed gunslinger from the future, by the name of Cable (Josh Brolin, gruffly), tracks them down, aiming to kill the kid.
What follows, you could argue, undermines the chipper nihilism of the franchise: Deadpool fighting Cable for the next hour-plus on behalf of some troubled youngster. There are earnest discussions of family and love and loyalty and all that. I'll spot you that a bit of Mothership Disney creeps in, yes, but if you're so down on it, perhaps you could find a better plot device to nudge Deadpool to form X-Force, his ragtag X-Men spinoff? Doing so gets us two key things. One: the superhero Domino, played by the inestimable Zazie Beetz, whose only power, aside from blasting onto the screen like a Pam Grier/Beyoncé hybrid, is a perpetual string of one-in-a-million luck, which is played for a relentless string of laughs. Two: watching the X-Force try to deploy. I'm not that into Marvel movies, despite having seen probably 15 of them, and all I can say is it's the perfect encapsulation of what makes "Deadpool" such a subversive, absurd lark. You'll be hard-pressed to find smarter stupid at the movies this summer.