When the original Deadpool arrived in theaters, it was a breath of fresh air. Comics fans may have already been familiar with the smart-assed “merc with a mouth,” but in the context of modern superhero movies, both the character and the self-referential style of the 2016 film were a subversive delight. 

Deadpool‘s creators clearly knew how silly superhero movies had become, recognized that audiences also knew it, and mixed it all up into an R-rated romp that brought in more than $780 million worldwide while costing just a fraction of the price tag on an average DC or Marvel tentpole.

But studios and filmmakers learned the lessons of Deadpool quickly, with James Mangold’s Logan embracing the visceral intensity an R-rating can allow, and Marvel practically lampooning itself with Taika Waititi’s hilarious Thor: Ragnarok. We now live in a post-Deadpool world, and with the element of surprise no longer part of its arsenal, the inevitable Deadpool 2 has to go about the more traditional business of crafting a sequel that delivers on fan expectations, while also giving them just enough of a fresh twist that the entire thing doesn’t feel completely cynical. The result isn’t as novel as the original, or as effortlessly kinetic, but it is nevertheless a joke-packed action film that continues to deliver on the character’s potential, while opening up the door to an even bigger series of sarcastic superhero adventures.

Warning: mild spoilers for Deadpool 2 below.

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Even though the film is about a character who’s all swagger and almost no smarts, Deadpool 2 heads in an unexpected direction early on: it makes Deadpool — also known as Wade Wilson — doubt himself. After a personal setback, Wade (Ryan Reynolds) begins to question the point of the superhero business, and it’s only after Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) bring him in as an X-Men trainee that he begins to come around. Deadpool is Deadpool, however, and his arrogant bravado is able to turn even the simplest mission into a complete and utter disaster. Soon, Wade is rendered powerless and thrown into prison alongside a young pyrokinetic mutant named Russell (Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s Julian Dennison). With his healing abilities gone, Wade would prefer to wallow in his angst and simply fade away, but when a time-traveling cybernetic soldier named Cable (a grim Josh Brolin) arrives from the future with murder on his mind, Wade is drawn into donning the Deadpool mask once again. This time, however, he decides to recruit some allies to fight alongside him in his own superhero group: X-Force.

Some members of X-Force have already been highlighted in the film’s trailers, but those quick two-minute clips don’t reveal that the X-Force shenanigans make up some of the film’s strongest moments. (Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz, as Domino, is particularly memorable.) Where the original movie was able to upend all expectations about what a superhero film should be, Deadpool 2 upends expectations about superhero team-ups. And coming off the heels of Avengers: Infinity War, the satire couldn’t be more perfectly timed. It’s no spoiler to say that the X-Force sequences are hilarious, unexpected, and utterly outrageous at times, displaying a freewheeling willingness to cross every line imaginable, in ways that provoke as many cringes as laughs.

The meta jokes the first film delighted in are all there and accounted for — Deadpool calls out DC movies, The Goonies, Batman, and Ryan Reynolds’ own less-stunning career performances, among countless others. But they don’t pack quite the same punch this time around. They’re expected at this point, table stakes for the Deadpool character, and many of them have already been spoiled in the movie’s many trailers. Instead, Deadpool 2 feels most confident when it gleefully does the exact opposite of what the audience expects — or, in many cases, what the audience wants — while snarking and smirking the entire way.

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

It’s a mission statement that the film delivers early, in a James Bond-esque credit sequence that literally incorporates the imagined reactions of an outraged audience into the visuals themselves. It plays almost as a dare for the audience to play along, and whenever the film is able to zig when the audience expects a zag, it simmers with palpable energy. What detracts from the proceedings is that sometimes Deadpool 2 does exactly what viewers should expect, resulting in a movie that feels decidedly uneven at times. One moment the character, and the film, are actively surprising the audience, squeezing out laughs at a rapid clip. Other times, it’s like watching yet another Deadpool commercial or TV spot, with his bro-humor schtick growing less interesting with every passing quip. Deadpool, it seems, is hilarious in doses, and the constant marketing barrage has the side effect of making the actual film feel a little less special.

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