In a unique ad campaign, Once Upon A Deadpool arrives this December as a toned down, PG-13 version of this year’s Deadpool 2. The film is repurposed as a tall tale told by our central character to a tied up Fred Savage (playing himself) in a Princess Bride (1987) reference that will likely go over the heads of half the target audience. Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), the sarcastic SOB with a heart of snark, and his self-aware machinations help lace the interaction with Savage as a forum for a trunk full of insider references and enough added material to justify the re-release.
Many of you have probably already seen the original cut of Deadpool 2, but a quick recap doesn’t hurt – after the events of the first film, Wade Wilson/Deadpool and his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) want to start making babies! But after a personal tragedy that puts an end to his would-be family, Wade is left alone and broken. After visiting the X mansion to reunite with Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), he languishes in self-pity while trying to get his life back on track. Deadpool consistently bickers with NTW, while Colossus tried and often fails to turn Deadpool into a better hero.
But the real turning point of the plot is when the team encounters a troubled mutant named Firefist (Julian Dennison). Displaying his fiery mutant powers as a danger to everyone near him, Firefist is a pissed off and emotionally tormented kid, the victim of abuse (including what is implied to be sexual abuse) by the adult figures in his life. Deadpool wants a chance to save and reform Firefist – and hopefully in the process he can finally have a family. Complicating things further, the time traveling mutant Cable (Thanos) arrives to try to kill Firefist, Sarah Connor style, to prevent something horrible from happening in the future.
While it can seem like Deadpool 2 has too much going on, it’s surprisingly well paced, and the characters remain true to themselves and the tone. The Deadpool films are basically Family Guy, but if Freakazoid was the main character. This is further established with the framing device involving Fred Savage – which is the biggest reason to see this version if you’ve already seen Deadpool 2. Reynolds seems to have chemistry with just about everyone, but he and Savage hit it out of the park. It’s especially enriching to see Savage go from bring creeped out by being held hostage by this lunatic, to casually accepting his fate, to finally getting invested in the story. He’s probably one of our most underrated and under-seen comedic talents, and gives an extra punch to what could have been a completely pointless artistic exercise.
But perhaps it still is, if you’ve already seen the original film. If not, the film is definitely worth a shot. Beyond the comedic sketches involving Fred Savage, Once Upon A Deadpool is also gloriously shot, with the vivid color palette and kinetic camera work and action many have hoped the main X-Men films would adopt. The violence is thrilling, particularly in scenes involving The Juggernaut (who has a cruel burn on Professor Xavier that also doubles as one of the film’s funniest lines).
In addition, these group of misfits, including Wade’s X-buddies, and Domino (Zazie Beetz), feel like they can go toe to toe with the Guardians of the Galaxy in terms of off-beat likability. The one downside in the character department may be Cable himself, who’s so underwritten that even the movie jokes about how much his backstory is left out. I also believe the chemistry between Reynolds and Josh Brolin isn’t quite there. They’re obviously going for an absurd contrast with Cable’s stern, serious-as-a-heart-attack demeanor matched against Wade’s wacky antics and vulgarity. But it never quite comes together like the rest of the dynamics in the film because Cable’s role as an absurd parody of dark and serious 90s comics is somehow underplayed.
One gripe I have with the re-release is the failure to incorporate Christmas into the framing device, but the holiday is barely referenced. What could have propelled this cut into a holiday staple is ultimately wasted. It’s unclear if Once Upon A Deadpool will have a home video release. But some of the proceeds from theatrical release will go towards the Fuck Cancer charity, providing an additional incentive to see the film that doesn’t support corporate greed. December is a crowded month, so there are many other options to choose from at the movie theater. But if you need your smartass superhero fix, this is still the way to go, even if it is a rerun.