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'Deadpool 2' review: Crude, violent - but not as subversive as it thinks it is

Ryan Reynolds stars as Deadpool in "Deadpool 2." Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox

For fans of Deadpool, this is red meat, a signal that the anti-hero’s snarky, self-aware persona — which made the first film a $780 million success — has not changed. He’s still the sick-humored schoolboy of the Marvel universe, the defacer and debaser of self-serious superheroes and their box-office vehicles. He’s a hard R in a PG-13 universe.

But wait — how can Deadpool be a satirical figure...

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For fans of Deadpool, this is red meat, a signal that the anti-hero’s snarky, self-aware persona — which made the first film a $780 million success — has not changed. He’s still the sick-humored schoolboy of the Marvel universe, the defacer and debaser of self-serious superheroes and their box-office vehicles. He’s a hard R in a PG-13 universe.

But wait — how can Deadpool be a satirical figure when he comes from the very Marvel machine he’s ostensibly spoofing? He can’t. Like the first film, “Deadpool 2” is filled with crude jokes and bloody violence, but it isn’t genuinely subversive. Deadpool himself breaks the fourth wall by speaking to the audience (pointing out foreshadowings and clumsy plot points) and sometimes addressing an unseen movie crew, as when he yells, “Hit it, Dolly!” before killing a roomful of people to the strains of Dolly Parton’s upbeat hit “9 to 5.” Let’s face it, though: These movies aren’t nearly as daring as, say, the “Air Pirates” comics of the 1970s, which gleefully defiled Mickey and Minnie Mouse, or Mel Brooks’ hot poker to the butt of the American Western, “Blazing Saddles” (1974). The “Deadpool” movies occasionally push the bounds of taste, but they don’t take real comedic risks.

Viewed as more of an action-comedy, then, “Deadpool 2” works passably well. Reynolds, the amiable Canadian actor (he also co-wrote the script), has clearly found his inner id as a foul-mouthed mutant. There’s an appealing new character, Domino (Zazie Beetz), whose deceptively simple superpower is being lucky. Josh Brolin glowers capably as Cable, a time-traveling cyborg who — with very little credit to “Terminator” — is trying to assassinate a mutant kid named Russell (Julian Dennison). Director David Leitch brings at least some of the stunt-driven energy that made his “Atomic Blonde” so thrilling.

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Deadpool’s many jokes about comics and film franchises make it hard to care about the story’s themes of teamwork and sacrifice, but surely that isn’t what audiences came for. When Deadpool taunts Cable by calling him Thanos, the role Brolin just played in “Avengers: Infinity War” — now, that’s the payoff.