“Deadpool 2” gets most of its ugliness out of the way in the first five minutes. In a flashback sequence, explaining events that led up to our hero’s attempted suicide, we see him showing up in various locations and killing everybody. Like a mass shooter or other homicidal maniac, he presents himself unexpectedly and lays waste to a nightclub, to a boardroom, etc. He always has his reasons.
Finally, after shooting lots of people and cutting lots of throats, Deadpool tries blowing himself up, something he probably should have done first. And with that, the movie shifts. “Deadpool 2” becomes less violent and a lot funnier. It becomes a much better movie than the original “Deadpool,” not an action bloodbath with laughs, but a knowing spoof of the superhero genre.
Better still, the jokes extend beyond the insulated world of superheroes. There are historical references, allusions to current events and surprising moments of absurd humor that make it seem as though screenwriters Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Ryan Reynolds were riffing off of each other. The movie has a free-flowing feeling to it, as though it were being made up on the spot, except that it moves quickly, like something that has been planned well and trimmed to the essentials.
The new “Deadpool” takes a page from the X-Men series. Russell (Julian Dennison) is a teenage mutant, in a school for mutants, who freaks out under the stern hand of the schoolmaster and starts throwing fireballs everywhere. That’s his special power, being able to fling destruction. Meanwhile, an all-powerful, time-traveling mutant named Cable (Josh Brolin) has arrived to kill the young mutant.
For some reason, Deadpool, who has never really cared about anybody but his girlfriend (Morena Baccarin), takes a sympathetic interest in the young man, despite the kid’s being a pretty nasty character. He decides that he wants to protect young Russell, and to that end he sets out to assemble a crack team of superheroes — except this is a “Deadpool” movie, so the superheroes aren’t all that super or heroic.
In the original movie, Deadpool was obnoxious, crueler and more mentally ill than arch, but “Deadpool 2” smooths out some of his rough edges. Director David Leitch introduces a lighter tone, and the story completes the effect. This time Deadpool is an underdog, fighting a force greater than himself, in order to protect someone who maybe deserves it and maybe doesn’t. It’ll be interesting to see how the admirers of the first movie react to this switch. This time it’s possible to root for “Deadpool” without wanting to take a bath afterwards.
At one point, Deadpool is in a bar, drowning his sorrows, as he talks to Weasel (T.J. Miller), his bartender and partner in crime. He is depressed to the edge of suicide, lamenting the various rock stars that have died. “But,” he says, “at least we have Bowie.” Oh, yes, the filmmakers actually figure out a way to get a laugh out of the death of David Bowie, as Weasel and another bar patron exchange glances and decide that, in Deadpool’s current state, it’s best not to break the bad news.
That’s the sense of humor at work here, caustic and unexpected. A thin, pale young man enters the room, and “Deadpool” starts calling him Jared Kushner. Someone asks Deadpool if he’s completed a task. He answers, “Mission accomplished? Well, in a George W. sort of way.” In one scene, he’s thumbing through superhero resumes, and the first one in the pile — not in close-up, but in medium shot, so you can easily miss it — is a picture of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Despite the fast pace, there are stretches in the movie’s hour that drag in terms of interest. But “Deadpool 2” gets better as it goes along. It introduces a winning new character, Domino (Zazie Beetz), whose superpower is being lucky, thus making a virtue out of any unlikely good thing that might happen to her. Best of all, there’s the parachuting sequence, in which Deadpool takes his new superhero team out on a test run — with hilarious results.
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz
Rating: R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material
Running time: 1 hour, 59 minutes
Theaters: Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Mueller, Alamo Ritz, Alamo Slaughter, Alamo South, Alamo Village, Barton Creek, Cedar Park, City Lights, Evo, Flix, Galaxy, Gateway, Hill Country, iPic, Lakeline, Metropolitan, Moviehouse, Pflugerville 20, Round Rock, Sky, Southpark, Stone Hill, Westgate. IMAX: Barton Creek, Bullock, Gateway