“Deadpool 2” is the latest installment in X-Men movie world, aka the “Marvel but not THAT Marvel” universe, and like its 2016 predecessor it glories in profanely and hilariously mocking the clichés of comic books and action movies.
But in this sequel, star Ryan Reynolds (co-writing with the first movie’s scribes, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick) and director David Leitch (“Atomic Blonde”) raise the emotional stakes — and the level of potential wink-wink satire — by deploying one of the nastiest tropes in the comics canon.
Welcome to “Deadpool: Women in Refrigerators Edition.”
The phrase “women in refrigerators” was coined in 1999 by Gail Simone, a comics writer (who actually wrote Marvel’s “Deadpool” comic for a spell), to describe the tired plot device of killing a character’s wife or girlfriend to give the hero incentive to kick butt. Examples of “fridging” in recent comic-book movies include Maggie Gyllenhaal in “The Dark Knight” and Emma Stone in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
So can “Deadpool 2” have it both ways? Can it raise the emotional stakes for its indestructible hero, while also allowing him to be his tart-tongued self? Can the fridge and the F-bomb exist in harmony?
The answer is yes, but it takes a while, and the path is bumpier than Deadpool’s unmasked and fire-scarred head. (By the way, if you went “harrumph” about making fun of Deadpool’s burn scars, you are clearly not the audience for this movie, and we should part company here.)
The movie begins with Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, living the good life as a hyperviolent masked vigilante. He’s dispatching gangsters and killers all over the globe, then coming home to the open arms of his lady love, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).
Skipping ahead a bit, Wade finds himself helping his X-Men pals from the first movie, the metal-clad Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and the always-sullen Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). They’re trying to contain a young mutant, Russell (Julian Dennison, the young discovery from “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”), with fire-throwing powers and a beef against the headmaster (Eddie Marsan) of the orphanage where he’s being held.
Soon, Wade is locked up, without his powers, in a maximum-security mutants-only prison, reluctantly sharing a cell with Russell. They’re not there long when the prison is under siege by Cable (Josh Brolin), a cyborg assassin from the future. And, because the jokes often break the walls between movie franchises, Deadpool refers to Cable once as Thanos, the supervillain Brolin portrays in “Avengers: Infinity War.”
The movie gets frisky with the X-Men themes, as Deadpool forms his own “forward-thinking, gender-neutral” team, X-Force, which includes the dynamic Domino (Zazie Beets, from FX’s “Atlanta”), whose superpower is luck, and Peter (comic Rob Delaney), a dad-bod guy whose superpower is … well, he doesn’t have one. (It’s not a spoiler if it’s in the trailer.)
Leitch, as he did directing “Atomic Blonde” and in his long career as a stunt coordinator, pours it on during the clever and breathtaking action sequences. The capper is a hellacious car chase/fight scene that has Deadpool fighting Cable while Domino takes the wheel. (By the way, there’s a lot of dirty talk through “Deadpool 2,” but none of the salacious material that put the first movie afoul of Utah’s liquor cops.)
“Deadpool 2” is, like the first one, Reynolds’ show, and he runs with it. From start to finish — and especially through the now-mandatory post-credit scenes — Reynolds delivers every punch, kick and hard-edged witticism with conviction and relish. He turns some of the best jokes on himself, which is fitting for a movie that doesn’t take anything, even “fridging,” too seriously.
The “merc with a mouth” returns for more head-crushing and wise-cracking, this time facing a powerful enemy and brushes with — gasp — real emotional stakes.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, May 18.
Rating • R for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material.
Running time • 119 minutes.