Releasing a second- or third-tier superhero flick, especially an ultra-violent, superhero comedy over the Valentine’s Day weekend seemed like a joke in and of itself, a joke financed to the tune of $60 million (modest for superhero flicks, a significant chunk of change for anything else), but that’s exactly the gamble 20th-Century Fox decided to take two years ago with the R-rated, Ryan Reynolds-starring Deadpool. More than $780 million dollars later and Fox’s gamble didn’t look a gamble at all. It looked like a low-risk, high-reward perfectly rational, perfectly reasonable decision. A sequel – the first of many presumably – was inevitable (movie studios are for-profit corporations after all), but with Reynolds, here taking a co-writing credit in addition to slipping back into Deadpool’s red-and-black spandex outfit, and some smart, clever lifts from Deadpool’s extensive comic-book history, the result, Deadpool 2: When Deadpool Met Cable (And Fell into a Mutual Admiration Society), gives fans more of the same (as expected), but also gives the same fans far more (definitely unexpected).

When we catch up with Wade Wilson / Deadpool (Reynolds), he’s at a low point in his nearly immortal life. Sure, he’s still the “Merc with a Mouth.” Sure, he’s also the “Merc with a Heart” (he only takes contract kills where crime bosses are involved). And sure, he’s still caught up in the “happily ever after” of hanging monogamously with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), but all that goes sideways fast. Because someone has to get fridged to get Deadpool properly motivated, the loss of that someone leaves Deadpool so down he’s ready to give up fourth-wall-breaking, meta- and pop-culture jokes and end Deadpool 2 right then and there. Luckily for Deadpool (and moviegoers), Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) walks – not rides – to the rescue and tries to convert Deadpool into a proper X-Men, starting with the “no kill” rule Deadpool can’t help but break at every opportunity.

As an “X-Men trainee,” Deadpool steps into a potential firestorm when he intervenes to save Russell (Julian Dennison, Hunt for the Wilderpeople), a damaged mutant firestarter from blowing up a city block. For his trouble, Deadpool ends up in a max-security prison for mutants with Russell and Cable (Josh Brolin), a time-traveling, pouch-loving, cybernetically enhanced warrior who wants to terminate a dystopian future caused by an out-of-control Russell. When Deadpool realizes he can’t stop Cable and his mega-gun alone, Deadpool decides to create a super-team of his own. But since this is Deadpool and Deadpool doesn’t do serious, Deadpool 2 treats moviegoers to a series of in-person interviews for the new X-Force team, starting with Domino (Zazie Beetz, Atlanta), a probability-controlling mutant, and ending with Peter (Rob Delaney, Catastrophe), an everyday, non-mutant who hasn’t seen the inside of a gym for a decade.

While Deadpool 2 plays the X-Force recruitment for genre-busting laughs, some hitting harder than others (the Vanisher maybe not, Shatterstar [Lewis Tan]) without a doubt, especially for diehard comic-book readers who grew up in the ‘90s), they’re the light, more slight, non-serious jokes before Deadpool 2 goes directly into full-on, black comedy of the Final Destination kind before shifting back onto more familiar superhero terrain, with Domino emerging as Deadpool’s near equal in the quip and comeback department. Domino’s mutant superpower proves to be far more “cinematic” than Deadpool originally imagines, but then again Deadpool 2, working with a bigger budget and stunt-choreographer-turned-director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, John Wick) at the helm, feels far more cinematic in general. Leitch took over for Deadpool’s director Tim Miller (Miller left for “creative differences” that apparently involved budget concerns too) without missing a beat. Leitch shoots and edits the action scenes cleanly – unsurprising given his background (moviegoers should see his stunt team’s stellar work as clearly as possible) – but also shoots and edits with an eye toward creating visually engaging images, scenes, and sequences. More than that, Leitch understands he’s directing a superhero meta-comedy, not just another superhero action flick and gives each rapid-fire joke (most courtesy of Deadpool) just enough time to hit before moving on to the next set-up and punchline.

No one’s going to give props for originality to Deadpool 2 for its Terminator-meets-Looper plot, but that almost doesn’t matter, not when the hit-to-miss joke ratio is so high, the plot doesn’t stagnate in endless dude-bro digressions like the first entry or when Deadpool – and Reynolds – allow other characters (Cable, Russell, Domino) their moments in the sun (or in Cable’s case, the DCEU-inspired dark). Reynolds even manages to find the heart in Deadpool’s constant, cynical wisecracks (a movie-length emotional arc helps too, of course), though Deadpool 2 missed out on a golden opportunity by not folding a “family-first” Fast & Furious reference into the story, but maybe Reynolds, Leitch (if he returns), and co-screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick can work a F&F reference into the sequel, Deadpool 3 or X-Force (whichever comes first).

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