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Once Upon a Deadpool Movie Review

Once Upon a Deadpool (2018) movie poster Once Upon a Deadpool

Theatrical Release: December 12, 2018 / Running Time: 120 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: David Leitch / Writers: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Ryan Reynolds (screenplay); Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza (Marvel Comics)

Cast: Ryan Reynolds (Wade Wilson/Deadpool), Josh Brolin (Nathan Summers/Cable), Morena Baccarin (Vanessa Carlysle), Julian Dennison (Russell Collins/Firefist), Fred Savage (Himself), Zazie Beetz (Domino), Stefan Kapicic (voice of Colossus), Leslie Uggams (Blind Al), Shioli Kutsuna (Yukio), Brianna Hildebrand (Negasonic Teenage Warhead - NTW), Jack Kesy (Black Tom Cassidy), Karan Soni (Dopinder), T.J. Miller (Weasel), Eddie Marsan (Headmaster), Brad Pitt (Vanisher), Terry Crews (Bedlam), Lewis Tan (Shatterstar), Bill Skarsgεrd (Zeitgeist), Rob Delaney (Peter), Juggernaut (Himself), Alan Tudyk (Redneck #2) / Uncredited: James McAvoy (Professor X/Charles Xavier), Evan Peters (Peter Maximoff/Quicksilver), Tye Sheridan (Scott Summers/Cyclops), Nicholas Hoult (Hank McCoy/Beast)


One day soon, Once Upon a Deadpool will just be a bonus feature. But right now, it stands as one of the biggest curiosities in film of this -- or any -- year.

Unless you've been living under a rock the past three years, you know about Deadpool. The character of modest Marvel Comics fame, first introduced on the big screen in a supporting role in 2009's X-Men: Origins - Wolverine, became a passion project for Ryan Reynolds, who produced and starred in the 2016 film that exceeded all commercial and critical expectations. Integral to Deadpool's appeal was its hard R-rated content,
something Reynolds and others had to fight for in an effort to remain true to the comic books. R-rated superhero movies -- Watchmen, Kick-Ass -- were few and far between and they almost always underperformed at the box office no matter how big they opened. If 20th Century Fox was going to give an X-Men character a spin-off movie, they were going to want it to make money. That, Deadpool did, outgrossing every X-Men movie ever both domestically and worldwide.

After generating such big numbers and moviegoer enthusiasm, a sequel was inevitable and it arrived in May, with Reynolds adding writing to his list of contributions. Even just two years after the original, Deadpool 2 may not have been quite as much a novelty, but it drew strong reviews and put up really big numbers not far from its predecessor's. It seemed like that might be where this franchise ended, as Reynolds sounded unusually opposed to a threequel in the weeks leading up to Deadpool 2's opening.

In the seven months since then, Disney's plan to buy Fox became cemented, raising all sorts of questions for excitable fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Then in late September, exhibitors' release schedules were updated with a mystery release billed "Untitled Deadpool Film." These days, news of superhero sequels is all over the Internet before deals are even signed and surely not enough time had passed for a film to have been produced in secret and completed for release by Christmas. In time, we got our answers. Once Upon a Deadpool, whose title became official just barely a month ago, would be a PG-13 version of Deadpool 2 with toned-down violence and language along with some newly-produced material.

In "Once Upon a Deadpool", Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) reads a PG-13 storybook version of "Deadpool 2" to a kidnapped, grown-up Fred Savage.

The bulk of the new material, as laid out in trailers and posters, is a new frame story, which sees fully costumed Deadpool (Reynolds) retelling Deadpool 2
in storybook fashion to one Fred Savage. Just as in the classic 1987 film The Princess Bride, the former child actor wears a long-sleeved Chicago Bears shirt and lays in bed (faithfully reproduced, like the rest of the room) reluctant to hear a story. Whereas in Princess Bride, he was sick, here he is a captive, his legs bound to the bed with duct tape. Exuding his signature snark rather than the warmth of Peter Falk's Grandpa, Deadpool presents the film with most F-bombs removed and a good amount of violence softened.

Even with the edits, this is no Disney movie, a topic that comes up as Savage and Deadpool argue over the classification of the movie. Savage says he prefers Marvel movies. Deadpool points out this is Marvel. Savage explains that it's "Marvel produced by Fox", which he likens to "the Beatles produced by Nickelback." This new material is funny, particularly if you're among the millions of people who know and love The Princess Bride. The interruptions are minimal, as they should be in a properly executed frame story. But they create some of the biggest laughs, particularly if you enter having already seen Deadpool 2. A gag in which Deadpool repeatedly bleeps out Savage's use of a different F-word is as racy as anything in a PG-13 movie, but it falls within the MPAA's increasingly tolerant PG-13 guidelines.

If you are watching this primarily for the new content (which also includes some bits that apparently were shot for Deadpool 2, cut, and then presented as deleted scenes on the Blu-ray), you will want to stay until the very end of the end credits, which adds a touching little tribute to the recently deceased Stan Lee to the riotous mid-scroll tags.

Beyond that, you mostly get Deadpool 2 in an only mildly watered-down state. This sequel, starring Josh Brolin as Cable, a powerful man traveling back in time to prevent the future murder of his wife and daughter, is big on wit and creativity. Whereas the first film was largely a showcase for shock comedy with the wall-breaking, invincible antihero disarming you with inappropriate barbs and asides, this one is pretty committed to telling its own story, one which sees Deadpool round up a team he calls the X-Force to stand up to Cable, a humorously humorless time traveler he razzes for wearing a fanny pack.

Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) gets a shot to be an X-Men trainee at a tense boarding school stand-off.

Plenty of innuendo remains intact here and the narrative that finds Deadpool grieving for his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), killed off in the first act, and repeatedly trying to off himself is rather dark and mature when judged against the PG-13 plots of Black Panther and the like. I did notice a few enjoyable bits from Deadpool 2 getting cut here, including Celine Dion's big original song and the reflective opening that fired shots at Logan.

After seeing this, I remain uncertain of the intended audience. If you think this marks the first time that kids under 17 are getting to see Deadpool's antics, then you're back under that rock again. While no doubt some parents will object less to their offspring seeing this version than the R-rated alternative, it doesn't really make sense to jump into this without seeing the original Deadpool first. And then there is the fact that the Princess Bride bits will play best with kids of the '80s and '90s who grew up watching that William Goldman-penned, Rob Reiner-directed fairy tale. Surely not many of those kids, who today range from their late twenties to early forties, would have avoided Deadpool because of its R-rated content.

Nonetheless, seeing Fred Savage, himself now in his early forties, back up on the big screen and still a sharp comic talent, sort of reprising his Princess Bride role right before Christmas is something I very much enjoyed and would have even if there weren't comfortable reclining chairs topped by cinnamon roll-scented seat covers at my advance screening.

Colossus, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), Cable (Josh Brolin), Domino (Zazie Beetz), Firefist (Julian Dennison), and Dopinder (Karan Soni) walk heroically away from their big action climax.

There is not a long lineage of alternate edits of hit films. There was a period after Avatar when classics like Titanic, The Lion King, and Pixar movies were given 3D makeovers. Avatar itself got released in an extended special edition, sort of like how the original Star Wars trilogy got updated in 1997. But in terms of editing down graphic content to increase mass appeal, there is just one prominent example. One year after Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ,
a controversial film no major studio wanted anything to do with, shattered all kinds of box office records (prompting a name drop here from a fellow R-rated blockbuster), the director edited out six minutes of violence and rereleased it to nearly 1,000 theaters as The Passion Recut. The edits weren't enough to earn the film a PG-13 rating, so it went out unrated...and bombed spectacularly. Its 28th place debut stands as the fifth-worst wide release opening weekend in history.

Once Upon a Deadpool opens today in 1,500 theaters and it seems very likely to suffer a similarly ignominious fate. As if to pre-empt the fanboy groans that might well greet this curious re-edit otherwise, $1 of every ticket sold will be donated to a charity that for the purposes of this release is being renamed "Fudge Cancer." There is an obvious thematic link to the material, with Wade Wilson being a cancer victim. Of course, you can always skip the movie and donate any number of dollars to the organization "dedicated to prevention, early detection, and providing emotional support and guidance to those affected by cancer."

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse • Mary Poppins Returns • Dr. Seuss' The Grinch • Ralph Breaks the Internet • Creed II
Deadpool 2 • The Princess Bride
Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick: Zombieland • Life • G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Ryan Reynolds: Woman in Gold • The Proposal • Buried • Adventureland • Criminal | Josh Brolin: Men in Black 3 • The Goonies
Kick-Ass • Black Panther • Kingsman: The Golden Circle
Directed by David Leitch: Atomic Blonde

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Reviewed December 12, 2018.

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