Even for a good cause, ‘Once Upon A Deadpool’ is only barely worth it

 By Douglas Davidson

December 14, 2018

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 whenever 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 continues with this new PG-13 rendition of Deadpool 2, now under the new title Once Upon A Deadpool.

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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, audiences would cry foul. 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). This version’s differences 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.

Fred Savage and Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Once Upon A Deadpool is the combination of footage from original DP2, from the home video’s Super Duper Cut, and things you’d expect from a cable (ha!) broadcast edition. It’s an 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 Once Upon 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 new experience. This isn’t to say that diehards won’t enjoy it either (at least if the screening I 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 overstay their welcome, and all of the good stuff has not been given away in the advertising. That said, for the rest of us Deadheads out there, 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 through the removal of sound effects. Entire sequences that made Deadpool 2 stand out are removed, replaced, or ignored altogether. Granted, the narrative is never sacrificed for the PG-13 rating, but the film as a whole is noticeably different. 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 – Deadpool never gets the back of his hand blown off during the convoy sequence – the aftermath of some of the missing scenes are still in the rest of the film, making these choices feel slapped together without any thought to checking the rest of the film for consistency.

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Despite the The Princess Bride-like narrative device via Fred Savage, Once Upon A Deadpool still 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 young folks whose age prevented them from seeing either Deadpool film in theaters, this will be a major treat. For their parents or guardians, luckily there are some new jokes to help the story occasionally feel fresh. (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 (Automatic Dialog Replacement), 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 to catch a film.

Star Rating: 3 out of 5

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