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Mock Trials 

Deadpool 2 and the perils of satirizing the thing you want to be.

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click to enlarge Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds, center) and X-Force in Deadpool 2 - 20TH CENTURY FOX STUDIOS
  • 20th Century Fox Studios
  • Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds, center) and X-Force in Deadpool 2

How does parody work, when what the parody really wants is to be the thing it's making fun of? That was the weird dynamic on display in 2016's surprise hit Deadpool, and just as prominent in the new follow-up, Deadpool 2. For all of its winking, fourth-wall-breaking, self-aware gags about superhero movies—including star Ryan Reynolds' own ill-fated turn in Green LanternDeadpool also was a superhero movie, sometimes more successful when embracing genre formula than when exploiting its R rating and making jokes about how it was above the formula. It was akin to the way nerdy high-school kids might roll their eyes at the party the cool clique is throwing, but would totally go if they were invited.

Deadpool 2 is, as sequels are wont to be, more of the same only more so. Our titular nigh-indestructible mercenary anti-hero Wade Wilson/Deadpool (Reynolds) has been dispatching bad guys around the world, until a personal tragedy sets him on a collision course with an angry young mutant named Russell (Hunt for the Wilderpeople's Julian Dennison). And there's someone else who's interested in meeting Russell: a time-traveling warrior called Cable (Josh Brolin). Well, not so much "meeting" as "killing."

Cable has his reasons, of course, for wanting Russell dead, which involve his own personal tragedy, and it's repeatedly disorienting every time Deadpool 2 tries to pretend as though anything that's going on here matters on an emotional level. Deadpool takes it as his personal mission to help Russell and somehow save him from giving in to his anger—directed at the director (Eddie Marsan) of a cruel program that serves as the mutant equivalent of anti-gay aversion therapy, I guess—so there's some kind of redemption angle for the wise-ass protagonist. The script keeps occasionally making us try to care about the fate of these characters, then laughing at us for being foolish enough to give a shit.

There's a lot of laughing at a lot of stuff in Deadpool 2, and just like with the original, your mileage will vary depending on how much of that stuff you find actually funny. It's a movie that wallows in making sure you're clear about its movie-ness, which includes copious references to other movies—The Terminator, James Bond opening credits sequences, Say Anything, Basic Instinct, Green Lantern yet again—and self-deprecating allusions to its peripheral role in the wider X-Men universe. Reynolds gets a screenwriting co-credit along with original Deadpool scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, and you can bet that plenty of his character's riffs are his own creations. Sometimes, those jokes are genuinely clever, and fired out at such high volume that some of them are bound to land; sometimes, they give off the same "check out what a taboo-busting rascal I am" vibe as Ricky Gervais smirking through a standup routine.

Mostly, though, it's a superhero movie, no matter how much it protests to the contrary or gives its violence all the consequence of an R-rated Road Runner vs. Wile E.Coyote cartoon. Directing duties have been passed from Tim Miller to David Leitch—or, as the opening credits put it, "One of the Guys Who Killed John Wick's Dog"—so it's noteworthy that the résumé priority was action chops, rather than a background in comedy. And there are plenty of action set pieces here, from a shootout in a high-security mutant prison, to an assault on a convoy to rescue Russell, to a final battle involving Colossus (Stefan Kapii) and a well-known villain from the X-Men universe. It's a nice twist that Deadpool 2 finds a way to subvert the superhero sequel formula of adding to the cast of characters—like the super-lucky Domino (Zazie Beetz) and other members of Deadpool's X-Force crew—but it's not subverting so hard that it won't reap the benefits of being part of the Marvel Comics-crazy cinematic world.

Deadpool 2 features a mid-credits sequence that's plenty of fun in its gleeful mockery of ... well, too many things to name. Maybe it's a sly poke at the way we've all been trained now to wait through the credits of superhero movies. Or maybe it's another way the Deadpool movies want to match their popularity and get audiences clamoring for another chapter. That's the tricky part of a collection of jokes that feel like equal parts satire and ingratiation.

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