For the uninitiated, Deadpool is a comic book character unlike any other. It’s not that he’s indestructible thanks to a mutant healing factor or that he’s a highly trained assassin, it’s that he knows he’s in a comic book. Having this knowledge means he can break all the rules other stories follow when he engages with other characters or the audience. All of the marketing for the original Deadpool and its subsequent sequel have capitalized on the puckish Deadpool’s reputation for shamelessness, which includes a new PG-13 rendition of Deadpool 2 under the moniker Once Upon A Deadpool. Featured as a two-week limited-time engagement, Once Upon a Deadpool will donate $1 from every ticket sold to raise money for cancer research partner Fuck Cancer, to be known as Fudge Cancer for the duration of the theatrical engagement. If any other studio tried to repackage a film they just released in theaters 7 months ago, let alone one which they are pushing in 15 different awards categories, audiences would cry foul. The question is: is this just a cash grab, promotional stunt for awards season, or is it something more?
The core of Once Upon A Deadpool remains the same as Deadpool 2: Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) splits his time between taking contracts on bad guys across the globe under the name “Deadpool” and spending time with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), the love of his life. Out of nowhere, soldier-from-the-future Cable (Josh Brolin) crash lands in the present intent on hunting a kid named Russell (Julian Dennison). The changes take shape when Deadpool kidnaps Fred Savage, straps him to a bed, and begins reading him the story of Deadpool 2 in the vein of The Princess Bride. Why? Because this way he can adjust or skip the parts of Deadpool 2 that earned it an R-rating in the first place.
And boy do they make changes.
Once Upon A Deadpool is the combination of the original DP2, the Super Duper Cut, and what you’d expect from a cable (ha!) broadcast edition. All of this culminates in the most amazingly awful, stupendously terrible theatrical experience that only Deadpool could pull off. Truly, mileage is going to vary depending on what the audience brings to the table. The explanation for OUAD is that 20th Century Fox’s been hounding Reynolds to release a PG-13 edition which would expand their demographic reach and add to their coffers. Without question, audiences who’ve never seen Deadpool at full-force will be absolutely delighted by the OUAD experience. This isn’t to say that diehards won’t enjoy it either if the screening this reviewer attended is any indication. There’s plenty of new material so that OUAD isn’t just a straight rehash, the additional scenes featuring Fred Savage never over-stay their welcome, and all of the good stuff has not been given away in the advertising. That said, OUAD is a strange and utterly neutered experience.
Curse words are reduced or altered. Violence is either hidden through the use of clever editing or altered through the removal of sound effects. Entire sequences that made Deadpool 2 stand out are removed and either replaced or ignored altogether. Granted, the narrative is never sacrificed for the PG-13 rating, but the film as a whole is noticeably altered. Oddly, some of the more disgusting jokes that were only included in the Super Duper Cut make it into OUAD, an inclusion which makes the otherwise sanitary film feel even grosser than the standard R-rated edition. Not to mention that while some scenes are edited to reduce violence – DP never gets the back of his hand blown off during the convoy sequence – the residual impact is obvious for the rest of the film, making these choices feel slapped together without any thought to altering the rest of the film for consistency.
Even using the new narrative device of The Princess Bride via Fred Savage, Once Upon A Deadpool just seems like a gimmick made to pad 20th Century Fox’s Q4 earnings and keep Deadpool 2 in front of audience’s minds. That said, for the folks who never got to see either Deadpool film in theaters due to their age, this will be a major treat. Luckily, for their parents or guardians, there’re some new jokes to help the story occasionally feel fresh. There’s even an amazing post-credit tribute to Stan Lee which is absolutely worth the wait. Frankly, if Once Upon A Deadpool had just gone all in – given us their version of “yippe kay yay mother falcon!” or “I’ve had it with these monkey-fighting snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane?!” – instead of just fast cuts and terrible ADR (dialog replacement dubbing), OUAD could’ve been something truly special. But, as it is, it’s a fine family choice if you want to head to the cinema for a film.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.