Chuck Koplinski | 'Deadpool 2' too much of the same

Chuck Koplinski | 'Deadpool 2' too much of the same

One of the secrets to the success of the character Deadpool is that he's the ultimate vicarious instrument.

Much like Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, he says what we'd like to say and responds to crises in a violent, straightforward manner. They're not handcuffed by the social niceties most of us feel compelled to obey; there's no filter where they're concerned; and we can't help but revel in the catharsis provided by these two as they buck the rules.

While the "Dirty Harry" films and others of their ilk required that viewers admire their characters' rebellious behavior from a distance, "Deadpool" and its sequel invite the audience to be as much a part of the mayhem as possible. The "Merc with a Mouth" breaks the fourth wall continually to allow the audience to be on equal footing with him, a partner in crime to all the mayhem that ensues.

It's this approach, as well as its ironic humor and copious amounts of violence, that propelled the first "Deadpool" to a worldwide gross of nearly $800 million. Part 2 contains more of the same, this time upping the ante where supporting characters are concerned.

From the start, mauled mercenary and resident smartass Deadpool lets us know that his second foray on the big screen is a family film. And technically, he's right, as it focuses on the titular character taking a bunch of misfit mutants under his wing, though this band of outsiders is more likely to inadvertently raze a city block than sit down for a meal together.

The plot revolves around Russell (Julian Dennson), a teenage mutant who cannot control his powers whom Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds, grinning all the way to the bank) decides to mentor and ends up in a jail for superhumans for his trouble. Along the way, our anti-hero crosses paths — or not, in a brief, hilarious cameo involving the X-Men — with a wide variety of mutants, creates a group with a limited shelf-life (X-Force) — and provides snarky commentary on all things pop culture.

Two new characters share a great deal of time with Deadpool, one of them making an auspicious debut, the other just taking up space. Domino's power is that she's lucky. Yes, you read that right — she's lucky, and it holds her in good stead as chaos rains down around her. Like a modern-day Buster Keaton, she's the calm in the middle of every storm, blissfully unaware of just how far her good fortune goes in saving her skin. Zazie Beetz steals every scene she's in as Domino, her innocence a welcome respite to the heavy-handed cynicism that abounds.

Josh Brolin's Cable is less successful in winning us over or proving to be unique. Cut from the same cloth as the "The Terminator," he's a warrior that has traveled back in time to kill Russell, whom he claims is responsible for the death of his family and thousands of others. The character is an obvious knock-off and so poorly written, the actor simply can't bring any life to him.

My response to this entry is much the same as it was to the first. This is a one-joke exercise (Deadpool's a smartass!) that spins wildly out of control, propelled by a constant stream of condescending snarky comments that get old fast. The first half-hour struggles to recreate the energy of the first and only eventually finds its stride. Equally objectionable is the brand of violence on display, all far too realistic for the romp that this is. It jars with the humor and never really gels.

I will say that the cameos are inventive, and the post-credit moments are among the best I've seen, Reynolds throwing himself on a post-modern bonfire that's genuinely clever and funny.

Too bad the rest of the movie panders to its audience, delivering one obvious gag after another, rather than employing any genuine wit or brains.

'Deadpool 2' (★★ out of four)

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Betz, Brianna Hildebrand, T.J. Miller, Julian Dennison, Leslie Uggams, Terry Crews, Rob Delany and Lewis Tan.

Directed by David Leitch; produced by Simon Kinberg, Lauren Schuler Donner and Reynolds; screenplay by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Reynolds.

A 20th Century Fox release. 125 minutes. Rated R (excessive and constant violence, language). At AMC-Champaign 13, AMC-Danville Village Mall 6, Harvest Moon Drive-in and Savoy 16 IMAX.

Also new in theaters

Powerful message at core of troubled 'You Were Never Really Here' (★★★ out of four). In order to help Joaquin Phoenix prepare for his role in "You Were Never Really Here," director Lynne Ramsay gave the actor an audio recording of fireworks and gunshot blasts to listen to repeatedly. She said this was to give him an idea of what was going on inside his character's head.

Keep this in mind while watching Phoenix in "You Were Never Really Here," a difficult film to take in as it deals with a troubled Gulf War veteran named Joe who is tortured by traumatic memories from his past, experiences he can't put to rest and that are only exacerbated by his line of work. Specializing in recovering girls who are victims of sex trafficking, he continues to witness acts of depravity that only increase his paranoia and pain.

"You Were Never Really Here" is not a movie you enjoy as much as admire. Its examination of mental health is bracing, and as a result, it leaves you unsettled throughout. Obviously, this is Ramsay's intent, and she does a remarkable job, as does Phoenix, in helping us see the world through Joe's fractured and tortured perspective.

Jagged editing is used when he's in the throes of a breakdown, quick flashes of childhood and wartime memories that have left him in a state in which he can no longer function. Phoenix embraces Joe's pain and renders it in a raw manner that's uncomfortable to witness.

While this is a violent film, much of it occurs off screen or is implied. There's no glorification of what Joe does; rather, Ramsay focuses on how it affects him, how he develops tunnel vision while he's dispatching the various lowlifes that cross his path, and pays the price later once he remembers what he has wrought.

This is a very effective approach and one that's used far too rarely, contributing to the deadened approach our society has toward violence.

The plot is really of little consequence, and frankly, the particulars of it don't hold together. Ramsay is far more interested in the issue of mental illness, which she has touched on in one way or another in all of her features ("Rat Catcher," "Morvern Callar" and "We Need to Talk About Kevin,") each using an approach that could be misconstrued as dispassionate.

Rather, her intent is to present this problem in a way that it can be examined and hopefully understood, leading to empathy for those afflicted.

The film's final scene is not one of closure. Imagining that Joe's problems have been solved would be disingenuous and an insult to viewers, as well as those walking in the character's shoes.

He has worsened, and the path he's on seemingly leads to nowhere. More than anything, "You Were Never Really Here" is a cry for help; albeit there are times when it's sloppily executed.

However, that does not negate the power of its message or the plea it contains, one that needs to be heeded now more than ever.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter (@ckoplinski). He can be reached via email at chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.

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