When it was announced that there would be a PG-13, Christmas-inspired version of Deadpool 2, it came as a shock to everyone. While the theatrical release of the film came earlier this year, the subsequent home video release also saw an additional extended version. The “Super Duper” cut actually improved on the theatrical cut in numerous ways, ultimately proving to be the superior version of the movie. As the third cut of the film to be released within 7 months, Once Upon a Deadpool is easily the worst of the three versions. Not only this, but it gives us a greater appreciation for the flawed theatrical cut of Deadpool 2.
The premise of Once Upon a Deadpool essentially tries to frame the events of Deadpool 2 through a so-called “child-like prism.” Using a framing device that includes a detailed re-creation of The Princess Bride bedroom set that includes an adult Fred Savage, the film is re-contextualized as a storybook fairy tale told by Deadpool himself. It’s no spoiler to say that Savage – who is playing the older version of his character from that movie – is essentially being held against his will in what the film calls an “unsolicited location enhancement.” Although it’s up for debate as to whether the filmmakers lifted this idea from a fan, there’s no doubt that this is the most Deadpool thing ever. It’s just too bad that there’s not enough new material to justify a theatrical release for Once Upon a Deadpool so soon after the original.
In terms of new footage, the additions in Once Upon a Deadpool equate to roughly 5-7 minutes of new material. Even though there are minor alterations to existing scenes – and several excised scenes altogether – most of the additional footage comes from this framing device. The dynamic between Savage and Ryan Reynolds easily provides some of the biggest laughs in the movie, but it serves absolutely no storytelling function whatsoever. In terms of the writing, it’s hard to tell what the filmmakers were trying to add to the story with this new material – or if they were trying to add anything at all. Although it’s clear that the latter is probably the case, it would have been better if there had been some semblance of a story thread through these new scenes.
Watching the movie, it’s clear that the PG-13 rating has created a dumbed-down, lighter version of Deadpool 2. Simply put, Once Upon a Deadpool finally proves that this character needs an R-rated edge to thrive. In order to achieve the family-friendly rating, the filmmakers have made a number of changes. Almost all of the blood and extreme violence have been taken out, the James Bond-esque opening sequence is cut entirely, and all of the F-bombs are gone. Although Once Upon a Deadpool finds a fun way to subvert the amount of language in the original cut, this literal device isn’t used to its full effect in the movie itself.
Rather than making this device a more prominent part of the movie, Once Upon A Deadpool decides to curtail the language almost entirely. Thanks to the fact that Deadpool wears his mask more often than not, the filmmakers were able re-dub entire lines. There are also new voiceovers, which made the transition to PG-13 surprisingly easy. As smooth as the audio work is, the movie is an absolute mess from an editorial perspective. While trying to shoehorn the Fred Savage framing device into the narrative is an interesting exercise in editing, it is a missed opportunity to make this a uniquely different movie. At roughly the same length as the theatrical cut, Once Upon a Deadpool feels like a bloated story that should have ultimately been condensed into a shorter runtime.
Most of the new scenes are front-loaded in the first act, throwing the balance of the movie off both in terms of tone and overall pacing. This creates a sort of snowball effect, and Once Upon a Deadpool feels even more lopsided by the time it’s done than when it began. It’s almost as if the editors fell asleep after the first act, only to wake up at the end of the story to bring it home with no sort of pay off whatsoever. This cut brings nothing new to the table, and often detracts from the original impact of Deadpool 2.
While Cable’s lack of presence was certainly felt in the theatrical cut, a lot of his scenes are dramatically neutered in Once Upon a Deadpool – something that’s vindictive of this cut as a whole. Similarly, one of the film’s crucial scenes featuring the X-Force is absolutely slaughtered, killing most of the effectiveness that sequence originally had. By cutting around the intended violence, the overall shock of this moment was taken away. That made it a much less effective version of the story.
It’s honestly disingenuous to even call Once Upon a Deadpool a separate movie, because it’s really just a slightly shorter, castrated version of Deadpool 2. In other words, there’s no reason why this cut should have seen a theatrical release – other than greed. To play devil’s advocate, this version of Deadpool could serve as a gateway for new sectors of the audience to discover the character. While this is true, it’s also a much more ineffective version of his journey in Deadpool 2. To be fair, a dollar for every ticket sold for Once Upon a Deadpool will go to charity, which is a noble cause in itself. At the same time, this “movie” is a massive, shameless and unabashed cash grab on the part of everyone involved.
Although it’s been speculated that this essentially a trial run for a more Disney-friendly version of the character, the lack of edge in Once Upon a Deadpool leads to much larger problems. As a matter of fact, the character, along with his journey as a whole is re-contextualized in an unsuccessful manner. Indeed, it’s an experiment that largely blows up in the filmmakers’ collective faces – proving the old adage that if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Had this cut had been released next year rather than now, it might have felt a little more genuine. It’s true that Once Upon A Deadpool is playing on the fact the people won’t realize that they’re paying for the same movie twice. It will be hard to tell if this release will hurt the goodwill that the franchise has gained, but Once Upon a Deadpool ultimately dilutes the brand significantly in the process.