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Deadpool 2 kills all expectations, if you ignore the first half

Spoiler-free review: Deadpool 2 takes too long to get to its best meta jokes and gleeful violence, but once it does, it proves to be a worthy sequel.

In a Hollywood era dominated by franchises and superheroics, Deadpool made for a refreshing, if imperfect, palette cleanser. It was the X-Men franchise interpreted through the lens of Adult Swim, a passion project for star Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller that actually conveyed the passion behind it. Now, two years later with new director David Leitch at the helm, Deadpool 2 (eventually) recaptures the original's manic mix of comedy and action.

Given its impulsive main character and the loud marketing campaign preceding it, you'd think Deadpool 2 would be more confident about the kind of movie it wants to be. As a whole, it's a better film than the first Deadpool, but it has to work through some kinks before it gets there.

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If you're not at least somewhat amused by this, Deadpool 2 isn't for you.

20th Century Fox

Things start off with a typically Deadpool-y montage of what he's been up to since the first film. But a jarring early incident buries the movie in a hole it spends way too long digging itself out of, and the tone it temporarily sets fails to mesh with a cast of characters that revel in ultraviolence, adolescent profanity and an extended joke about prepubescent appendages.

Yes, Deadpool 2 swiftly pokes fun at the event in a lengthy title sequence that painfully drives those jokes into the ground, but that doesn't make up for the narrative vacuum the movie struggles to compensate for. The goal of giving Deadpool 2 a tragic heart is noble, but the execution is lacking.

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After that rocky introduction, there's melodrama. Self-discovery. On-the-nose trippy sequences. A prison ripped straight out of Face/Off. Some X-Men. Josh Brolin skulking in the background as telekinetic time-traveling super-soldier Cable. What could be the last time you see TJ Miller in a Deadpool movie. By the time all the pieces are in order, you're left tapping the theater seat waiting for things to happen instead of being about to happen. Sad Deadpool and plot setup have their places, but both outstay their welcome.

A whole lot of Deadpool 2 revolves around Russell, seen here in a less-than-ideal situation.

20th Century Fox

To avoid spoilers, here's the stage that's set after Deadpool's done moping. Laid low by dramatic circumstances, Deadpool has to rediscover his resolve and learn what it's like to be part of a family. To do so, he has to rescue the angsty teen mutant Russell Collins (Julian Dennison) that could have a pretty serious impact on the future. Cable brought himself from a potential future to resolve the Russell situation in his own way, and conflict, comedy and self-referential winks ensue.

Brolin makes for a fine Cable -- he looks the part and has perfected the gruff demeanor of a man with little else left but his mission. But he's given less space to play in than he gets as Avengers: Infinity War's Thanos. 

Where Thanos struggles with his relationship to his daughter through interactions with her and decisions he makes through the film, Cable carries a teddy bear. And despite the movie's warning, you should look up Cable's ludicrous backstory. Knowing the ins and outs of the X-Men's convoluted history is essential for getting the most out of some of Deadpool 2's sharpest jokes and references. There are plenty of nods to jokes X-fans have been sharing for years. And yes, that includes some jokes at Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld's artistic ... choices.

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One sequence in the middle of the film encapsulates Deadpool 2 at its best. Backed by a squad of fellow mercenaries (and one notable non-mercenary), Deadpool forms X-Force and launches headfirst into rescuing Russell. What ensues is the kind of escalating gag that Deadpool excels at, going in such unexpected and creative directions it makes you wonder why it took so long for a scene of its caliber to actually happen. Leitch knows how to frame action (he did direct the first John Wick) even during the few instances where the limits of his CGI budget fail him.

From that set piece onward, the film introduces its literal Big Bad Guy and finds its rhythm. Deadpool 2 picks up the pace, ramps up the frequency of its jokes and dials back on the melodrama. Best of all, the supporting cast has more opportunities to interact with each other. Domino, played by an effortlessly cool Zazie Beetz, takes a larger role, serving as a refreshing middle ground between Deadpool's lunacy and Cable's perpetual scowl.

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The way Domino's luck-based powers manifest on screen is a highlight of Deadpool 2.

20th Century Fox

The script leans harder into jokes that are built up and earned instead of the "Deadpool says random thing, scene continues." And the fights of the first film are topped by such a wide margin it's hard to go back after seeing what Deadpool 2 cooks up. It's easy to forget the first Deadpool basically ended with a sword fight and a brawl. But while the climactic final battle at the end of Deadpool 2 might not be the best superhero fight ever, it's close, and by far a step above the familiar "heroes fight swarms of minions while a beam shoots into the sky."

It's a superhero movie in 2018, so the ending stacks sequel setup atop the plot's resolution. But thankfully, it's done tastefully: don't expect any half-measures or dangling threads requiring you to return for Deadpool 3 or an X-Force spinoff to feel complete. But do expect some excellent end-credits sequences. They're not essential, but they are hilarious.

Taken as a superhero movie, Deadpool 2 is a sufficient sequel that builds on the original in the expected ways. The action's bigger, the cast expands (with some fun cameos) and the stakes are heightened. But taken as a comedy, Deadpool 2 is a greater success, dispelling the curse of comedic sequels being largely terrible. You may be annoyed at first, but like its star, Deadpool 2 will irritate you until you're endeared to it.

First published May 14, 8 p.m. PT. 
Updated May 19 at 11:38 a.m. PT. 

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