Back in 2016, the gleefully R-rated sensibility and meta-commentary of the first "Deadpool" felt like a breath of anarchic fresh air in a genre that was starting to suffer from a certain sense of cookie cutter sameness.
The practically unkillable, fourth wall-breaking mutant mercenary Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is a superhero who's aware that he's in a superhero movie. This attribute allowed the film around him the chance opportunity to poke fun at the clichés that have built up over decades of comic book movies, while still functioning as exactly the thing it's attempting to parody. With a scrappy charm and a stellar performance from Reynolds, the first film was an unexpectedly massive hit.
Now comes "Deadpool 2," a frustratingly by-the-numbers sequel that squanders its potential and does little to build off the first film. Without the original's freshness, the foul-mouthed humor feels strained, and its incessantly snarky tone and splattery mayhem quickly wears thin.
The new film's plot (as much as there is one) begins with the murder of Deadpool's fiancée, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) at the hands of one of his foes, and already we're off on the wrong foot. The death of a wife or girlfriend to further a male character's story is a trope so overused in comics that a term was even invented for it: "fridging." The name references a 1994 "Green Lantern" comic in which the hero's girlfriend was murdered, her body stuffed into his refrigerator for him to discover.
After the tragedy Deadpool has to lay low, and decides to crash at the X-Men's mansion. There, he's left to mope in existential agony until being roped into the team's latest mission: battling Cable (a gruff Josh Brolin), a heavily-armed, time-traveling warrior on a mission to murder a troubled mutant youth named Russell (Julian Dennison, "Hunt for the Wilderpeople").
His vendetta, we learn, originates in some action the adult Russell takes on his future path toward villainy. But there's still hope for the boy, and Deadpool, Colossus (Stefan Kapicic), and a fleet of new recruits must stop Cable before he succeeds in murdering the still-innocent child.
The script has some earnest moments and finds a bit of heart in Deadpool's attempts to become something of a mentor to Russell, as a theme about the power of makeshift families gradually begins to emerge.
Reynolds still makes for an appealing lead, channeling his goofy, deadpan charm to solid effect. And the film does get some additional pep thanks to some appealing new co-stars, though the highlight is Zazie Beetz as Domino, a superhero with the power of luck.
Director David Leitch lends the film some of the action chops he brought as co-director of the first "John Wick" and "Atomic Blonde," but the access of CGI imagery and overly enthusiastic editing makes it difficult to appreciate.
With ho-hum action and recycled jokes, it all starts to grow tedious. A bigger budget is no match for a script (written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, along with Reynolds) that's content to rehash what worked for the previous film. By the time Deadpool starts yelling, "That's just lazy writing!" during some of the plot's later contrivances, it just feels like an easy way for the film to excuse exactly what it is. In the end, "Deadpool 2" can't help feeling like a huge missed opportunity.