When it was announced that 21st Century Fox, and by default 20th Century Fox, would be merging with Disney, comic book fans had a variety of reactions. Some were overjoyed: The Avengers can fight the X-Men now! But some had reservations. One of the notable successes of 20th Century Fox and Disney having split custody of Marvel characters was the originality of the “Deadpool” films: R-rated, gory, lewd outings that would be decidedly disavowed from Disney’s family-friendly Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Fans were fearful that Disney’s ownership of Deadpool would mean that the “Merc With a Mouth” would have to start watching his language and lose all of his appeal in the process. It’s a fear that “Once Upon a Deadpool” — a PG-13 theatrical re-release of “Deadpool 2” — partially realizes. Though this version of the sequel is still enjoyable, it suffers from its censorship and serves as a necessary reminder to any Disney executives watching that a watered down Deadpool is only about half as fun.
“Once Upon a Deadpool” is framed by a ludicrous premise that somehow works — Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) reciting the story of “Deadpool 2” to his captive, a now fully grown Fred Savage, à la “The Princess Bride.” These are the only new scenes in the film not from the original “Deadpool 2,” and they’re a lot of fun. Deploying some of the metafictional humor that made Deadpool infamous, Savage complains about “Deadpool 2” throughout, calling out Deadpool for “fridging” Vanessa and for joking about “lazy writing” instead of just making that writing better. The funniest sequence comes when Savage gives a long speech about how much he wants to “fight” Matt Damon, but Deadpool thinks he’s using a different F-word; censored hilarity ensues.
But while the newly written material works, the modified comedic material from “Deadpool 2” only half works. Some jokes survive the cuts, but others are rewritten to be less crude or removed altogether; it’s undoubtedly still a comedic film, but one that serves up fewer laughs than it did the first time.
The action, however, is what suffers the most from the alterations. In an effort to fit Motion Picture Association of America requirements, all of the gory moments from the original version had to be cut out — resulting in relentlessly choppy editing that makes every fight scene feel hollow. What originally made Deadpool’s character novel is the fact that viewers got to watch him gleefully and graphically eviscerate the baddies. Removing that element seems pretty counterintuitive.
“Once Upon a Deadpool” really shouldn’t exist. Everyone who could see it saw the superior version last May, and watching Deadpool be self-aware about the cash-grab remake of this sequel is kind of exhausting. But with an open December slot and no project to release, 20th Century Fox needed something cheap, quick and guaranteed to make a little extra money: the circumstances from which all Christmas miracles are born. At least this recycled endeavor will do some good: $1 from every ticket sold will go to the charity Fudge Cancer (playfully renamed in honor of the film).
At the end of the day, “Once Upon a Deadpool” proves that Deadpool can work in a less violent, less explicit, semi-kid-appropriate PG-13 film — but he’s at his best when he’s not forced to. Hopefully, Disney’s taking notes.
Contact Grace Orriss at [email protected].