‘Once Upon a Deadpool’: Film Review

Marvel’s filthiest hero goes PG-13 in ‘Once Upon a Deadpool,’ a re-edited version of this spring’s hit sequel.

Back when I was a kid, the solution to not being able to see R-rated movies (assuming you didn’t just sneak in, or get your parents to take you) was to wait for the video release. Deadpool 2 has been out on various discs and streaming platforms since late summer, available to those digital-era youths who were too upstanding to simply torrent a pirated version after David Leitch’s film was released in May. In theory, though, there remains a small number of teenage fanboys who both a) are such rule-followers they won’t sneak a peek at an R-rated Blu-ray, and b) harbor a sinful desire to see Ryan Reynolds’ money-minting antihero do his thing. For those people, we now have Once Upon a Deadpool — which edits out enough violence and filth to be released with a PG-13 rating.

This being Deadpool, though, the cash grab comes with a wink and an elbow to the ribs. Reynolds and his pop culture-savvy collaborators here offer the mayhem of Deadpool 2 as if it were a Princess Bride-style bedtime story, being told to a full-grown Fred Savage. In scenes that were reportedly shot all in a single day, Deadpool sits at the bedside of Savage, having kidnapped him for this purpose, and reads to him from the “King James Edition” of a Deadpool storybook. It’s a fun conceit that gives the writers one more avenue for meta-movie humor, and while some of the bits work better than others, it’s something the character’s biggest fans will want to see. Given how generous the filmmakers have been with non-movie footage, though — multiple teasers for the sequel hit the web before its initial release, each packing as much wit as has gone into this version’s new material — it’s not such a treat that it demands another trip to theaters.

The Bottom Line

A few good new jokes don’t make up for what’s missing.

RELEASE DATE Dec 12, 2018

Savage is a great sport about the whole thing, playing along with the film’s references to his most enduring onscreen performance while reminding his captor (and us) that he’s now a veteran director and producer of episodic TV. His best lines leave Princess Bride behind, though, and mock the differences between Disney’s take on the Marvel Universe and that of Fox, which is behind the X-Men and Deadpool films. His insults are spot-on and too funny to spoil here. We could’ve used more of them, but soon Savage moves on to critique not the film’s tone but its plot points — like how it handles Wade Wilson’s girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).

But the snark from Savage sometimes comes at the expense of the star’s own enjoyable self-deprecation: In May’s version of the film, we were hearing Cable (Josh Brolin) explain his time machine’s limitations when Reynolds turned to the camera and complained, “That’s just lazy writing.” Now Savage gets that line. And the film’s time-outs to return to the new framing device sometimes interfere with the original version’s pacing and balance.

Here, without the bracing shock of Deadpool 2‘s nastier elements, the script’s corny bits are a little harder to swallow. Without the extended focus on Wade’s grief-fueled attempt to kill himself (and that sequence’s great jabs at Wolverine), the movie doesn’t earn its indulgent scenes in the quasi-afterlife.

What remains of Deadpool 2 isn’t as dramatically neutered as you might expect. Those tallying curse words will find all the “shit” they want, but a tight ration on words the prudish MPAA associates with sex acts. Violence has been largely A-Team-ified — lots of fighting, that is to say, with much less blood than one would expect. And a baggie that once was labeled “Wade’s cocaine” now gets a cutesy euphemism.

A couple of bits that didn’t make it into the first version are plugged in here — the film’s villain, played by Eddie Marsan, has a line echoing the racist chants of alt-right protesters at Charlottesville — but nothing’s really worth noting.

In the end, the whole clean-up project is as shrug-worthy as most of the “Unrated Director’s Cut!” edits that go the other direction on home video, promising more nudity and gore but changing little of consequence. Reynolds’ incarnation of Deadpool, surely the best version fans could hope for, is never going to be acceptable to the kind of parents who use MPAA ratings as a child-rearing tool. Thank God.

Production companies: Kinberg Genre, Maximum Effort, Twentieth Century Fox
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Josh Brolin, Morena Baccarin, Zazie Beetz, Julian Dennison, Karan Soni, T.J. Miller, Stefan Kapicic, Brianna Hildebrand, Eddie Marsan, Fred Savage
Director: David Leitch
Screenwriters: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Ryan Reynolds
Producers: Simon Kinberg, Ryan Reynolds, Lauren Shuler Donner
Executive producers: Stan Lee, Jonathon Komack Martin, Kelly McCormick, Rhett Reese, Ethan Smith, Aditya Sood, Paul Wernick
Director of photography: Jonathan Sela
Production designer: David Scheunemann
Costume designer: Kurt and Bart
Editors: Craig Alpert, Elisabet Ronaldsdottir, Dirk Westervelt
Composer: Tyler Bates
Casting directors: Marisol Roncali, Mary Vernieu

Rated PG-13, 117 minutes