Once Upon a Deadpool sounds like a terrible idea. Let’s take this violent, crass film about an unbalanced superhero slash killer-for-hire and his homicidal little buddy and make it into something palatable for a PG-13 audience. Yikes.
At worst, it seems like a ploy to make more money for relatively little work. At best, the re-release of Deadpool 2 (but family-friendly) seems like a lazy way for Fox to fill out its release schedule over the lucrative holiday season. And both are true. (It’s also true that writer, producer, and star Ryan Reynolds only agreed to retool the film if Fox would donate $1 of each ticket to the Fudge Cancer charity.)
So, of course, I had to see Once Upon a Deadpool, but there was no way in hell I was going to show up alone to see a film I’d already seen in theaters twice. I borrowed my friend’s kids (who are 13 and 10), telling myself it would be totally fine if the film was pointless because I would be taking children to the movies. (Plus, now I’m the coolest person these kids know. “Want to see an R-rated film that was slightly changed?” Yeah. I’ll be an awesome parent.) My skeptical hackles raised, I braced myself for a watered-down version of one my favorite superheroes.
I have to say, though, I was pleasantly surprised.
The over-the-top violence, which I love but which is overwhelming for many viewers, was keyed back significantly, yet the story itself was still intact, with the delightful addition of a supercritical Fred Savage.
As you may recall, Deadpool 2 (and thus, Once Upon a Deadpool) shows a damaged, suicidal Deadpool join the X-Men as a trainee after the death of his love, Vanessa. While on the team, Deadpool meets an angry young mutant named Russell. After several twists and turns, Deadpool sets out on a mission to save Russell, not only from the vengeful Cable but from Russell’s own murderous intent. Even in the original cut, Deadpool assures viewers that this is a family film, and honestly, he’s right, even if only by Deadpool’s f*cked-up definition.
There’s also a whole subplot about Deadpool and his relationship to the X-Men, particularly Colossus, but it’s a whole thing that gives some very mixed pansexual messages. While I view their relationship as romantic, the fact that audiences tend to laugh when Deadpool is affectionate toward Colossus indicates that Deadpool’s queerness is having a different effect than I would like to see.
In Once Upon a Deadpool, a fair amount was removed. Much of the cursing is absent, though the use of “shit” abounds. Likewise, many violent scenes were left in, but without the splattering blood Deadpool is known for. Both shifts give the film a more whimsical feel—and spare the viewer the darker parts of that cringe-inducing skydiving sequence.
Removing violence and profanity aren’t the only changes, thankfully. Alternate lines, cut scenes, and different takes are peppered throughout the film, preserving the overall Deadpool-ness but treating the film like a fraternal twin to the original. They have a lot in common, but they’re not the same person or, in this case, film.
The main difference, and the one that has the greatest impact, as you’ve probably gathered from the trailers and promos, is the inclusion of actor and director Fred Savage. In scenes meant to frame the narrative, Deadpool holds a naked-from-the-waist-down Savage hostage while he reads him a story, the plot of Once Upon a Deadpool. The whole setup is a nod to The Princess Bride, and, despite my reservations, it works.
As the film progresses, Savage becomes a stand-in for the audience, asking Deadpool about all the plot holes and unclear histories and, frankly, bad writing. In a brilliant move, Savage interrupts Deadpool right after Vanessa dies, exclaiming, “You fridged Vanessa?!” Taken aback, Deadpool tries to plead not guilty, but Savage quickly and hilariously explains the history of fridging and why it’s such a problematic choice. Savage’s interruption is clever not only because it situates Savage as a comic book expert, but also because it shows that Reynolds is willing to listen to and acknowledge feedback from fans.
Of course, what Deadpool meta-joke would be complete without implied queerness that makes you think, “Is that queer? Is that queerbaiting? Is it both?” And Savage is no exception to that rule.
When he finds out that Matt Damon is in the film, he says he’d like to fight Damon. While Savage expounds on his vision for a battle with Damon, Deadpool bleeps every time he uses “fight,” which makes it seem like Savage has elaborate plans for having sex with Damon. Once he realizes why Deadpool is bleeping the word “fight,” Savage whines and Deadpool backs off, but before cutting back to the film, in a twist Deadpool creators have loved throughout his history, Savage coyly looks at Deadpool and asks, “Did he ask about me?” The line serves a dual purpose. Of course, it’s meant to be funny, but the way it’s delivered makes it seem like a serious question the Savage-of-the-film wants to know the answer to, perhaps because he, too, is a little queer? I’ll leave that to viewers to decide.
Once Upon a Deadpool is not required viewing. It is a fun, light take on a very violent character. If you love Deadpool, you’ll enjoy the extra gags and bits that will make you feel like you’re in on some big joke. If you’ve never seen a Deadpool film or don’t have a penchant for violence, it’s a great way to see what all the buzz is about. If you’re like me, feel free to borrow someone’s kids (with permission, you delinquents) and laugh at the dirty jokes that go way over their heads.