I always found it fascinating how often the Deadpool movies use its main character’s meta-ness as a defense mechanism against its own issues. When a Deadpool script opts for lazy writing, Ryan Reynolds can look at the camera and say, “that’s lazy writing,” and the issue is winked away. If a scene uses too much CGI, there’s Deadpool crackin’ wise about there being too much CGI. And if the writers go for a notoriously sketchy comic book trope in their storytelling—like, say, fridging a main female character—the movie is right there with a funny title sequence, calling out their own BS. Which is why I find it equally fascinating that at no point in Once Upon a Deadpool—Fox’s PG-13 cut of Deadpool 2—does anyone joke about a PG-13 cut of Deadpool 2 being, say, a waste of time or an obvious money grab. You expect that walking in. The marketing touched on it a tad. But nope, not in the movie itself, and when an issue is too glaring for even Deadpool to point it out, you know it’s serious.
Once Upon a Deadpool is, for the most part, just Deadpool 2. If you’d like a review of Deadpool 2, here is Matt Goldberg’s take from back in May. I liked Deadpool 2; it’s exactly the bit of ultra-violent meta-comic madness you want from these movies but it also had a real heart to it, Zazie Beetz as Domino is the best, and Josh Brolin‘s Cable added some genuine menace to the proceedings. What makes Once Upon a Deadpool a new thing is, of course, the removal of all the “fucks” and most of the blood-spray, and the addition of a framing device that sees Deadpool kidnap Fred Savage, tie him to a bed in a Chicago Bears jersey, and read him the story of Deadpool 2 à la the style of Rob Reiner’s 1987 classic, The Princess Bride.
Make no mistake, the Fred Savage stuff is great. As an admitted lifelong Princess Bride devotee, this hit of nostalgia is pure and uncut. And Savage is incredibly game to banter back and forth with Reynolds; there’s a play on the “is this a kissing book?” line that’s genuinely hilarious, and a bit with a censorship button and the name “Matt Damon” that will most likely delight anyone who is all about that specific Deadpool-style of humor. But the thing about the Fred Savage throughline is that there is so, so little of it. Trailers have promised 20 minutes of new footage but it certainly doesn’t feel like it, and there are large stretches of the film—like, 40 minutes at a time—where it doesn’t cut back to the framing device at all.
So, again, what you’re left with is simply…a PG-13 Deadpool 2 with a few scant scenes extended from the “Super Duper $@%!#& Cut.” Really, you are the only person in this life who can decide if seeing a movie you’ve already watched with the f-words and the dismemberment cut out is worth your time. But even that is a fascinating decision; the graphic arterial spray might be gone but Once Upon a Deadpool is still incredibly violent and there’s still plenty of “shits” to go around. This movie still isn’t for kids, so I guess it’s targeted at the extremely specific 13-17 range who—if we’re being honest with ourselves— have probably already seen the R-rated cut, for the most part.
Basically, Once Upon a Deadpool is for A) The Princess Bride diehards, B) Deadpool diehards, or C) a very specific group of young people. And that’s fine! A portion of whatever the film makes at the box office is going toward Fuck Cancer—re-branded Fudge Cancer for this particular purpose—and that’s a fantastic cause, and reason enough for this entire endeavor to exist in my book. But I do also think Fox is shooting itself in the foot a bit by branding Once Upon a Deadpool as something new, and a few moviegoers are going to leave the theater disappointed. Life’s short, and it’s a perfectly fine option to just donate to a charity of your choosing and pop in your Deadpool 2 Blu-ray at home, giving all the fucks in more ways than one.