"Once Upon a Deadpool" Review

Title: Once Upon a Deadpool
Director: David Feitch
Starring: Ryan Reynolds
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Genre(s): Comedy
Rated: PG-13 (For intense sequences of violence and action, crude sexual content, language, thematic elements and brief drug material)

I’m not sure if the efforts to make a PG-13 rated version of “Deadpool 2” are sincere ones or something to be taken as an elaborate joke.  It will certainly make money (how much, I’m not willing to guess), but the final product is so unusual, so uneven, that it will likely inspire more debates behind why it exists than whether or not it succeeded in entertaining despite being heavily neutered.  I didn’t write a review for “Deadpool 2.”  I was losing interest in this site and writing a review for a movie that hit all the right notes without the surprise wasn’t something I was particularly keen on doing.  Since I neglected my duties as a critic then, let’s take a moment to briefly try to rectify that:

“Deadpool 2” contains just as many laughs for this outing as the first one did.  It doesn’t have the element of surprise nor does it have a story that is objectively better (it may be a tad worse), but we pay to see these movies because the writing is more than witty and Ryan Reynolds performance is still one for the ages.  That remains the case here, and with a better villain in the form of Cable (Josh Brolin) to give the action sequences more excitement, fans of the first should be more than happy with the final product (as will Fox, who has packed the film with enough jokes, references, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos, that it should require more than one trip to the theater to catch them all).

There’s my abbreviated review of “Deadpool 2.”  Chances are, it wasn’t a particularly interesting read.  You’ll noticed it lacked the nuance of my longer reviews.  You’ll notice that it felt like it was doing just enough to get by without feeling like it was really trying to do anything special.  That is because it was just a snippet of what makes for a good review.  In that sense, it is fitting that I must do that, because “Once Upon a Deadpool” feels like a compromised version of a much better movie.  At times it doesn’t.  The movie opens with a lot of promise with Deadpool (Reynolds) kidnapping Fred Savage (playing himself, obviously), and holding him hostage in a recreation of the room from “The Princess Bride.”  He explains that the executives at Fox wanted a “family friendly” version of “Deadpool 2,” and what better way to show that this is a family friendly movie than to recreate a scene from one of the most famous family films of all time?  It is also laid out that they are only allowed one use of the f-word, a certain amount of uses of the s-word, and fewer naughty jokes.

The blood and gore has also been almost completely removed from what I remember, but I guess Deadpool just forgot to mention that one.  There are several scenes in which the movie cuts to Savage and Deadpool, with Savage getting more time to point out flaws in the films script, how simplified the villain was compared to the comic (even though a joke like that was already made in the original movie) and being a foil to the ‘Merch with a Mouth.’  These scenes are the highlight of the film as they are funny, witty, and show that Deadpool can, in fact, be funny in a PG-13 format.  Problem is, there aren’t very many of these scenes (less than 10 minutes if we’re being generous).  Another problem is that part of the reason these scenes are funny is because they are acknowledging how raunchy the original movie was (and how tame this version is in comparison).  It also creates a unique problem because these scenes are funny because they are organic, shown as originally written, and don’t have studio tampering.  When they are the framing device for a movie that has been nothing but tampered with, you may start to see where “Once Upon a Deadpool” starts to go very wrong.

Because when the movie itself plays it’s just not very funny.  It’s not biting.  It’s not scandalous.  I’ve always said that a good measuring stick for comedy is to remove the swear words and see if it’s still funny, but not only are they removing the naughty words, they’ve messing with the timing and visual aspects of the comedy as well.  It’s almost like watching the movie equivalent of death by a thousand paper cuts.  The original “Deadpool 2” has over 300 uses of the f-word.  More uses of the s-word and countless other swear words.  It has numerous sexual jokes and even some comedic male nudity.  It proudly uses race and sex in many of the jokes in the #MeToo era.  It is the kind of movie my mom raised me to avoid, and now I have given two installments four stars.  ALL of this must be changed, deleted, or tampered with in some way!

The only possible way to save it would be to make the edit so obvious and distracting that the entire release comes off as one big in-joke to prove a point to the studios.  This is where I thought the edit would go with the new Fred Savage scenes being the perfect way to make this obvious.  Yet the film edit itself seems devoid of obvious scorn, and within the first half hour I realized that this was a sincere effort to make a PG-13 version of “Deadpool 2.”  That sincerity robs the new edit of the campy and self-aware humor of the new scenes and creates a film that is generic and average.  Sure, it’s still funny at times.  The original was so clever that some of that magic was still going to show up in the new edit regardless, but just watching it you can tell the experience is just always a few degrees off.  A pack of “special sugar” is only funny if you knew the original show was Deadpool grabbing cocaine, and if you didn’t know that…well, then the bit passes by without much of a reaction.

I did greatly enjoy the new scenes and hope that they are made available on a future BluRay release, but the overall project is surprisingly too serious and sincere for its own good and seems like it can’t decide what it wanted to be.  Did it want to be an elaborate joke on the futileness of converted a hard R rated film to a fairly tame PG-13?  If so, it didn’t go nearly far enough.  Or was it a sincere effort to actually make a PG-13 product out of a hard R film?  If so, the movie itself doesn’t flow like a real movie, and in that sense the film has failed.  Which means the final product is one whose true intent is one I’m unsure of.  Regardless which of the two products it was ultimately trying to be, I can safely say that it accomplishes the goal of neither, and is truly just a vanity project.  The best part is actually at the end after the credit’s role, in which the late Stan Lee is given one of the best tributes I’ve seen, if there is a reason to see “Once Upon a Deadpool” in theaters, it would be to share that tribute with the rest of the audience.  You know, provided they stick around long enough to realize it’s there. 

Parents, despite the heavy editing, this is still not exactly a "family friendly" movie.  There is still lots of swearing, lots of killing, lots of sex jokes.  It's just...less so?  I don't know, I think "Once Upon a Deadpool" is more family friendly for your parents, but not really for kids.  Recommended for ages 14 and up.