Rating: 4 stars
In a recent interview, the star of “Deadpool 2” joked that his character probably wouldn’t like the actor who plays him very much, saying, “I feel like Deadpool can’t stand Ryan Reynolds.” And he’s probably right. There is, in fact, a scene in the new movie in which the foulmouthed contract killer with a heart of gold — and here I’m talking about Deadpool, not Reynolds — actually appears to kill the Canadian-born movie star, adding a snarky “You’re welcome, Canada” as he violently does him in.
But what would Deadpool think of the movie?
That question, however rhetorical, encapsulates the challenge inherent in reviewing this new Marvel sequel. The follow-up to the second highest-grossing R-rated feature of all time (after “The Passion of the Christ”) is, like the 2016 original, a meta-movie so self-referential that it’s like an infinite regression of facing mirrors. Even talking about it requires air quotes within air quotes.
At one point, Deadpool, his voice dripping with sarcasm, refers to the character of Cable — a time traveling, part-cyborg warrior from the future played by Josh Brolin — as “Thanos.” (Thanos, of course, is also the name of Brolin’s character in “Avengers: Infinity War.”)
It’s as if Deadpool exists simultaneously inside the movie and outside it: He’s both a character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and a highly jaundiced critic of it at the same time. Watching “Deadpool 2” is like having Deadpool sitting next to you with a bucket of popcorn, trashing whatever is taking place on-screen — and all of pop culture, really — like an R-rated version of one of the B-movie-loving robots from “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”
Of course, “Deadpool 2” is no B-movie, notwithstanding the frequent jokes (courtesy of Deadpool) about its “lazy writing.” “Deadpool 2,” it should be noted, was co-written by Reynolds, along with Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick of “Zombieland,” and directed by stuntman-turned-filmmaker David Leitch, who is identified in the opening credits — accurately, as it happens — as “one of the guys who killed the dog in ‘John Wick.’ ” Far from lazy, it is a fairly brilliant sendup of comic-book action movies, as well as also being an excellent example of one.
The plot in this second outing concerns Deadpool’s unlikely, and fairly reluctant, mentorship of a 14-year-old mutant named Russell (a.k.a Firefist, for his ability to — well, you can probably guess from the name, which sounds better than “Hothands.”) Played by Julian Dennison, the young New Zealand actor from “Hunt for the Wilderpeople,” Russell turns out to have been sexually abused by the headmaster (Eddie Marsan) of the mutant academy he attends.
Yes, this film is rated R for a reason. Several reasons, to be honest. It’s way darker than the first “Deadpool.”
To continue: Russell wants to kill his abuser, but Cable wants to kill Russell before he can do that. Apparently, if Russell is allowed to get a taste for blood, he will grow up to wreak havoc on Cable’s future world. Sound familiar? At another point in the film, Deadpool calls Russell “John Connor,” the hero from the similarly themed “Terminator” movies. Talk about lazy writing.
But Deadpool, who has grown a bit of a soft spot for the boy, wants to try to talk Russell out of his revenge plan, leading to a showdown between, ironically, diplomacy and assassination. On Team Deadpool is the mutant known as Domino (Zazie Beetz of “Atlanta”), whose superpower is unbelievable good luck. In a very funny but bloody sequence, she proves to be the sole survivor of an airborne assault by a team of hapless mutants, including characters played by — if ever so briefly — Terry Crews, Bill Skarsgard, Lewis Tan and one uncredited celebrity, making a delightful, if gruesome, cameo.
Nothing is sacred here, except comedy. At the same time that “Deadpool 2” mocks everything from superhero action to audition montages, it inoculates itself against any criticism that might come its way. That’s “Deadpool 2’s” real — and real subversive — superpower: the ability to laugh, unsparingly, at itself.
R. At area theaters. Contains strong violence, vulgarity, sexual references, smoking and brief drug material. 119 minutes.