Note: This article contains plot revelations for Deadpool 2—though, honestly, if you haven’t seen that by now, why are you reading a whole piece about a PG-13 recut of it?
Once Upon A Deadpool knows you’ve already seen Deadpool 2. Actually, it pretty much insists upon it: If you go into this newly PG-13-ified version of the blockbuster meta-superhero movie without having previously caught the R version, you’re going to be confused.
Unsurprisingly, it turns out a lot of the exposition-heavy scenes from the first iteration must have had the word “fuck” peppered liberally throughout, because they’re gone now. To put it another way: Let’s hope you remember that Wade Wilson was dying of cancer before he became Deadpool, and that the collar placed around his neck upon entering high-tech prison site the Ice Box (accompanied by his troubled teenage frenemy Russell Collins, a.k.a. Firefist) mutes his healing ability, meaning his cancer comes roaring back in jail and could rapidly overtake and kill him. Because when this iteration of the movie jumps from Firefist’s capture to their stint as incarcerated roommates, that connective tissue of the narrative has been excised, along with quite a few other small moments like it. But what Once Upon A Deadpool dares to propose is, who the fuck cares?
Sorry, more like “who the [bleep] cares?” (You only get one “fuck” and a few “shit”s in PG-13 land.) Because honestly, what this odd little experiment demonstrates more than anything is just how malleable a framework the Deadpool films are as cinema, redacted dialogue and all. Half charity fundraiser (star Ryan Reynolds agreed to this revamping of his film in order to direct a portion of the proceeds to the nonprofit organization Fuck Cancer) and half strange exercise in editing, Once Upon A Deadpool breezes by much more quickly than its original version, or at least it feels like it does. It’s a demonstration of what the franchise values—namely, fourth wall-breaking comedy at the expense of all else. It knows that anyone paying good money to sit through a film they’ve already seen—and more specifically, a trimmed cut of said film that makes no pretensions about being art—is there to see the good stuff enhanced with bonus content. It’s the cinematic equivalent of just playing the hits, a chance to fast-forward through some of the parts of the movie no one much cared about anyway. It’s a late-night rewatch of the film with friends, only the jokes and running commentary are up there on the screen, and they’re a lot funnier than what your companions would say.
As the ads and trailers promised, the movie offers a Princess Bride homage as framing device. It opens with Fred Savage kidnapped and bound to a bed in an exact recreation of the room from the classic family film; from here, the actor-director proceeds to sit through a retelling of Deadpool 2 straight from the merc’s masked mouth, complete with periodic interruptions by the two of them to comment on the story. Again, a good number of moments will be lost on anyone who hasn’t experienced The Princess Bride (up to and including a great beat following Wade and Vanessa’s first kiss early on, in which the superhero pauses the narrative, lowers the book, and looks expectantly at Savage to chime in with a protest), but it works well as a tactic for peppering in a barrage of new jokes, as well as some pointed deconstruction of the movie. After Vanessa’s early death, there’s a quick and cutting discussion of “fridging” and misogyny that plays well, and Savage’s later breakdown of using jokes about lazy writing to conceal actual lazy writing is a winning self-own.
What makes this exercise in fan service a bit odd is precisely its presumed reason for existing—namely, the studio’s desire for a PG-13 version of a Deadpool movie that would allow them to theoretically wring more profit from the foulmouthed protagonist. Because while it turns out that hacking the narrative into a streamlined but somewhat less comprehensible arrangement actually solves some of the movie’s jarring tonal issues, it also means a good chunk of what fans ostensibly want is no longer there. Gone are the gruesomely depicted murders and more violent battle moments, banished to the same locked cage as the fusillade of f-bombs and other foul language (though an early demonstration of bleeping bad words plays like an extended riff on one of Jimmy Kimmel’s unnecessary censorship clips). But sometimes less is more, as the gorier beats actually play a little better for taking place off screen, keeping the playful vibe of the movie more consistent, and consistently fun.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the coherence of those action sequences. No matter how nimble the execution, they’re still just chopping up choreography and staging that was meant to run in a certain order. The film does its level best to keep these scenes looking good, and while some of them maintain the overblown and kinetic sense of fun director David Leitch brought to them (the mid-film truck hijacking is the most unscathed, and therefore the best), at other points you can’t help but feel the absence of those frames. The entire enterprise suggests there’s a remix potential built into these films—maybe they’re as supplement-friendly and reworkable as any Judd Apatow comedy. But lacking additional footage to shore them up, the recut action scenes stumble.
Regardless of the weaknesses, I’m almost tempted to rewatch Once Upon A Deadpool, missing gore and all, instead of Deadpool 2 going forward. It’s not a PG-13 way to watch the movie. It’s a PG-13 way to watch the movie again, and what it brings to the party largely makes up for what it lacks. In other words, it’s less a film than a made-for-cable (not Cable, mind you) cut of one as viewed by an audience from the MST3K generation. And the framing device is a funny and clever way to rewatch a movie so overtly about the postmodern commentary, a built-in method of treating a light-hearted repeat screening (and let’s be honest, it would be hard to watch Deadpool 2 repeatedly and take it seriously) with the meta silliness it deserves. To quote Once Upon A Deadpool’s secondary source material, if you want to have some fun checking out that self-aware superhero movie again, only without a need for close attention or clarity, then hey: as you wish.