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Despite plenty of surprises, 'Deadpool 2' struggles to live up to its predecessor 

No spoilers

The first Deadpool, released in 2016, was a gamble. No one had attempted to release an R-rated film adaptation of a major comic book character before. Star and producer Ryan Reynolds had championed the project for years, despite serious missteps in the character's portrayal in 2009's criminally bad X-Men Origins: Wolverine and flagging confidence from Fox after Reynolds' turn in the disastrous 2011 DC project, Green Lantern. The slim budget 20th Century Fox gave the project resulted in a lean script that had to rely on Deadpool's fourth wall-breaking snark to win over audiences.

But it worked. The film became the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time, as well as the highest-grossing film in the entire X-Men franchise. So now that Deadpool's a proven success, does the increased budget make Deadpool 2 a bigger, funnier version of the original? Well, it's bigger, anyway. Reynolds collaborated on the script with original screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick to craft a story that's got plenty of room for jokes, but not a lot of heft otherwise.

Set in the months after the events of the first film, Deadpool 2 finds the Merc With a Mouth working contracts and coming home to one-true-love Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). After an unexpected turn of events, Deadpool finds himself interning with the X-Men under the leadership of steel-skinned Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), whose strict no-killing policy strikes Deadpool as short-sighted. Enter Cable (Josh Brolin): a time-traveling mutant from the future out to exact pre-emptive revenge on Russell Collins (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), a mutant teenager who – according to Cable – grows up to be a terrifying assassin.

In order to protect Russell – for reasons that don't go much deeper than "spite" – Deadpool assembles X-Force, a new team of mutants that includes film highlight Zazie Beetz (Atlanta) as the super-lucky Domino and returning scene-stealer from the first film, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) – unfortunately completely underused in this sequel. The roster is rounded out by strongman Bedlam (Terry Crews), the sword-slinging Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), acid-spitting Zeitgeist (Bill Skarsgård), the mostly invisible Vanisher, and the powerless Peter (Rob Delaney), but each of those members are only really used for a gag or two before being mostly forgotten.

Brolin brings an impressive amount of dedication to the role of Cable, a fan-favorite character from the oft-maligned '90s-era comics, whose convoluted backstory (it involves a lot of time travel and cloning) is wisely ignored in favor of a simple revenge story. Sadly, the script doesn't give Brolin nearly as much breathing room to create a living, breathing character as he had for his lauded depiction of Thanos in the recent Avengers: Infinity War. Cable is instead routinely set up as the straight man against whom Deadpool unleashes one-liner after one-liner.

And that brings us to the comedy. Deadpool 2 is funny. Maybe not quite as funny as the first film, but the barrage of jokes – some obscured because the audience was still laughing at the last one – should stand up to multiple viewings. One repeated trope – Deadpool breaking the fourth wall to point out action-movie clichés like foreshadowing and big fight scenes ¬ would have fewer diminishing returns if those clichés had been subverted somehow. As it is, we have a character telegraphing the script's moves to the audience and then following through with those predictions, which doesn't really count as a joke after the third or fourth time.

In a way, Deadpool 2 would be the perfect send-off for 20th Century Fox's years of spotty adaptations of Marvel's mutant characters. When it works, it's pure popcorn-movie summer excitement. And when it doesn't, it reminds you how desperately this franchise needs new ideas. (And Deadpool riffs on the Avengers franchise so much in this film, it's clear that Reynolds would like nothing more than to start making his jokes within the MCU.) Here's hoping the grass really is greener on the other side of that proposed Disney-Fox merger.

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