Should Once Upon a Deadpool even count as an actual movie?
I’m torn. On the one hand, as the parent of a young child who is quite fond of Deadpool, I’ve often secretly hoped for a “cleaner,” PG-13 version of these films — even though, as Once Upon a Deadpool demonstrates, these ratings themselves are usually arbitrary and quite silly. But what actually happens if Hollywood fully starts down this path? Will we have to contend with a whole wave of studios regularly recutting their blockbusters in all sorts of clever ways for subsequent rereleases? And maybe even producing them in such a way as to make such versioning easier? These movies already suck all the air out of the room when they come out. Do we really need the same ones to keep doing it over and over again?
The basic concept of Once Upon a Deadpool is surreally stupid and yet somehow still inspired: Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has kidnapped the now-middle-aged actor Fred Savage and is forcing him to re-create his part from the 1987 classic The Princess Bride, as a cynical kid stuck in bed whose grandfather reads him an old-fashioned romantic adventure. Only this time Savage has been duct-taped to the bed, and the guy doing the reading is Deadpool himself, recounting the plot of Deadpool 2 “filtered through the prism of childlike innocence.” And thus, we are treated to a bizarrely cleaned-up version of that blood-soaked, foul-mouthed action hit from earlier in the year, with occasional interjections from Savage — who really is a very good sport about all this, since the implication here is that he hasn’t done anything particularly memorable in 30-plus years.
The results barely hang together as a movie. Removing the darker elements of the action scenes has done some indescribable damage to them — they feel fragmented and inchoate, almost theoretical. You half expect an “Add action scene here” or “Add better shot that explains what’s happening” title to come up now and again. An early sequence of Deadpool killing child traffickers is now basically gone. And several moments whose entire raison d’etre was to serve as the buildup to a grotesquely violent punch line now just hang there, listlessly. That said, the lengthy sequence where Deadpool’s companions, the X-Force, are almost all killed in various ridiculous ways during a parachute jump gone wrong, makes it through mostly fine. In fact, without all that blood and gore, the scene now feels even stranger — as if you’re dreaming it.
And several new moments had me in stitches. That’s partly because, as with so many movies, the power of suggestion can sometimes make things cruder than ever before. This Deadpool has a remote control that allows him to bleep out offensive dialogue, and in the new film’s best gag, he uses it to bleep out an entire monologue from Savage about how he’d like to fight Matt Damon, so that the lines become more hilariously filthy: “I want to f-[bleep] Matt Damon so bad! I would f-[bleep] him in a big arena so everyone could watch me f-[bleep] him!” It just goes on and on, all about how hard Fred Savage would f-[bleep] Matt Damon. I did not say this picture was smart.
But there is a certain pointlessness to the whole endeavor, in part because Deadpool 2 was already a fourth-wall-breaking, fashionably meta superhero flick that couldn’t stop winking at its audience. So now it’s winking again — but it’s winking through its own winks. It feels like overkill. It is overkill. But then again, isn’t that what the Deadpool films are all about? Once Upon a Deadpool, in that sense, feels very much of a piece with the overall series. It’s a sick, dumb joke that you can’t help but laugh at. And as soon as you do, you feel bad about falling for the gag. I wish I could f-[bleep] this movie.