Deadpool 2 review: “remains true to the original’s middle finger-brandishing spirit”

It's time to feel the X-Force, as the potty-mouthed superhero returns – and brings some new pals with him… 

Zazie Beetz as Domino, Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool and Josh Brolin as Cable in Deadpool 2 (20th Century Fox, HF)

★★★★

“Deadpool 2 is a family film,” Ryan Reynolds’s fourth-wall-breaking protagonist assures us. And, as preposterous as that might seem, in one sense anyway, he ain’t kidding.

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The follow-up to the highest-grossing R-rated film in history finds the eponymous antihero contemplating fatherhood, bringing together a rogues’ gallery of a crew who bicker and bond like kin, and become a surrogate papa to a troubled teen.

Reynolds reprises his Golden Globe-nominated role as the wisecracking mutant for hire, paid to batter even worse guys than himself and now accepting commissions internationally. David Leitch takes the directorial reins from Tim Miller, and Reynolds joins original scribes Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick in the writing team.

Its predecessor buried its audience in an avalanche of knowing humour that sometimes came across as smug and sexist, but Reynolds sold the snark overload as only an actor with his charisma can. The film’s adult approach to sex and violence also made a welcome change to the bloodless, 12A-rated antics of most comic-book fare. Its shock value and subversion lent it a certain frisson, but  could such a formula work a second time round?

The temptation might have been to go brasher yet, rather boldly, Deadpool 2 goes deeper and expands its core cast appealingly, making for a sequel that’s not only funnier but more ambitious and satisfying. Rather than simply rehashing the first film, we get a good look at the man behind the mask, so to speak, as Deadpool emerges from emotional upheaval and goes from being a lone wolf to a leader.

The film takes time to find its groove but there’s plenty going on, with various twists and turns that shouldn’t be discussed here without spoiler warnings; suffice to say, it sees Deadpool taken on as an X-Men trainee, befriend 14-year-old mutant Russell (played by Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison) and assemble his own superhero team, the X-Force, when things go awry.

Among the initial recruits to X-Force (a “forward-thinking, gender-neutral” group) are Zazie Beetz’s Domino, Terry Crews’s Bedlam and Bill Skarsgård’s Zeitgeist – there’s also a character called The Vanisher, who may or may not have shown up. Meanwhile, Morena Baccarin returns as Vanessa, and Deadpool’s love-hate relationship with the sanctimonious but kind-hearted Colossus is, once again, the gag that keeps giving.

As far as antagonists go, despite some pointed jibes about his height, Josh Brolin’s Terminator-like time traveller Cable is a significant improvement on Ed Skrein’s Ajax. Fresh from troubling the Avengers but freed from the full-body CGI of Infinity War’s Thanos, Brolin is the perfect fit for a comic-book character made flesh, combining square-jawed muscularity, grizzled weariness and high-tech parts, with a taciturn communication style that makes a welcome contrast to Deadpool’s verbal diarrhoea.

The sequel ups the ante action-wise, too, and former stuntman Leitch (who helmed Atomic Blonde and was the uncredited co-director of John Wick) is very much the man for the job, giving such scenes punch and flavour to add to their comedic edge, distinguishing them from standard effects-driven destruction. A truck heist through screeching traffic is wonderfully surging (allowing Domino to showcase her lucky streak in spectacular style), the team parachuting into action is unforgettable, and the fist fights are palpable in their impact.

The cameos also amuse without providing too much of distraction, with digs at Wolverine, DC and the Avengers (poor Hawkeye) present and correct, and, as our petulant man-child hero learns to play nicely with others, it all evolves winningly into an ensemble film. The story may spend time in some unexpectedly touching territory, but fans can rest assured that Deadpool 2 remains true to the original’s middle finger-brandishing spirit.

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Deadpool 2 is in cinemas now