A major element of Deadpool’s appeal was how its R-rating transformed the superhero genre in a parody with the liberty to truly give no fucks. With its worldwide success, the Ryan Reynolds blockbuster demanded a just as bonkers sequel with Deadpool 2, and apparently a censored version for the minors who couldn’t see it in theaters last spring. So here comes Once Upon a Deadpool, a movie that’s one-part TV edit, one-part DVD extra, and a whole lot of WTF.
Below there are spoilers for both Deadpool 2 and Once Upon a Deadpool.
The plot is the same. Devastated by the murder of his beloved Vanessa, Deadpool is suicidal and acting wild when he crosses paths with furious teen fire-starter Russell (Julian Dennison), and Cable (Josh Brolin), a slab of muscle and metal determined to kill the kid before he grows to be a murderous menace. Reluctantly, Deadpool dedicates himself to rescuing the young mutant from his would-be murderer and a path of violence that could ruin his future. But to slice out this sequel’s most “mature” bits, Twentieth Century Fox has inserted the bookend device from The Princess Bride. So rather than the explosive opening that has Deadpool kicking things off by blowing himself to bits, Once Upon a Deadpool begins with a grown Fred Savage awaking in a recreation of the bedroom set from the 1987 family-friendly fantasy film and discovering he’s been kidnapped by Deadpool, who is giddy to share his story.
“The only f-bomb we’re allowing is Fred Savage!” Deadpool chirps to his captive audience. But that’s not strictly true. There’s an f-bomb, flipped birds, and a surprising amount of “shits” dropped in this sanitized sequel. Other curses are erased with obvious overdubs (“What the fudgsicle!” “Freak off!”), or by cutting in alternate takes, which offers some new punchlines. However, Deadpool 2’s jokes about prison rape, drugs, and erections have been cut or tamed. For instance, the hidden bags of “Wade’s cocaine” are now labeled “booger sugar.” The ultra-violent opening montage is almost entirely chopped. Gone is the Yakuza shootout, the mafia funeral massacre, and the bloody sauna slaughter. And while there’ll still be fatal shootings, a high death toll, spine-snapping and dismemberment, the MPAA has approved all of the above thanks to an edit that cuts away from delivered blows, frames out the most brutal bits, and pulls back the blood from buckets to a shot glass’s worth. This version hurts the clarity of a number of stunt beats, but at least kids will be gifted the unrealistic expectation of how a gunshot to the face is bloodless! (The MPAA’s standards are horrid trash.)
All these changes make viewing Once Upon A Deadpool feel like watching an edited-for-TV version, minus the ridiculous pleasures of such outlandish dialogue swaps as “You see what happens when you fight a stranger in the Alps!” Still, the movie offers a satisfyingly outrageous censorship bit with Savage, which he plays with a hilarious gusto. There’s also the requisite callbacks to The Princess Bride. But mostly, the Savage sections offer new gags that are as sophomoric and self-aware as we expect from this franchise. A bit about the sequel’s other celebrity cameos is stupid and fun, or maybe stupid fun? But when Savage gives voice to complaints of the film’s fridging of Vanessa, it’s the same kind of lamp-shading Deadpool does when he calls out “lazy writing” in the script. It’s funny in the moment, but then annoying because the self-awareness doesn’t actually fix the flaw. Other new additions include a bonus scene from Deadpool’s time crashing at the X-mansion and a manic montage of his other suicide attempts (all offscreen, you know for kids!)
Even with these sanitized aspects, these new gags are sure to delight Deadpool fans who are hungry for more, be it a Celine Dion featurette, a Bob Ross tribute, or a Twitter account for his Sugar Bear. But in the end, I was frustrated over Once Upon A Deadpool because this new cut undermines Deadpool 2’s biggest moments. In the original version, the death of Vanessa is followed by a mournful opening title sequence done in a James Bond style. While we might have giggled at Deadpool posing like a pin-up girl, or the silly credits that mocked cast and crew, the ardent emotion of “Ashes” gave a space to process the huge loss of that character. Here, that sequence is gone. And so the harrowing inciting incident is never grounded, but brushed past with a Savage bit. Other moments of shock and awe also lose their bite, when we cut back to the persnickety pair for wisecracking.
Ultimately, Once Upon A Deadpool is a strange creation, likely born of studio greed, but developed with a seemingly earnest aim to award fresh thrills to a devoted fanbase. As a film, it’s a mess. As a meta-commentary, it’s not as clever as it thinks. Still, it’s better than I expected for a PG-13 cut of an R-Rated spectacle. Even if you know the plot and can recall Deadpool 2 line for line, there’ll be new pleasures here. And if you’re just looking for a stupid fun time, you could definitely do worse.