The numbers should speak for themselves: over the course of just two films, the burgeoning “Deadpool” franchise has made Fox over $1.5 billion. It’s a cash cow! A strange, twisted, violent, weird cash cow that manages to exist both inside of and wholly removed from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Fox licenses the Marvel superhero from Disney, much like Sony does with Spider-Man) and the X-Men’s own convoluted cinematic canon. No other current superhero franchise is as invested in its own meta machinations, its own foul-mouthed digs at its place in the superhero world, or its adherence to violence that could only come with an R-rating.
And yet, apparently, a billion and a half bucks is just not enough. That’s why “Deadpool 2” has been edited down, chopped up, and stuck inside a strange (though not entirely unlikable) framing device, all the better to earn a PG-13 rating and get served right back up to an audience that presumably liked it just fine the first time around.
A surprise close-out to Fox’s fiscal year, “Once Upon a Deadpool” brings to life the dream of anyone who believes that one dollar could absolutely stand to turn into two. This toned-down version sits inside the narrative framework of the beloved Rob Reiner fairy tale classic “The Princess Bride,” complete with a now-adult Fred Savage literally taped into a child-sized bed that sits inside a set made to look exactly like the one he occupied in the 1987 film. This is a very “Deadpool” gag: that Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) has kidnapped the grown Savage so that he might help the superhero retrofit this summer’s “Deadpool 2” into a film built for kiddie consumption.
The metatextual implications make sense in the demented world of the Fox franchise, and they certainly allow both Deadpool and Savage to unload a number of digs about the film itself (a perennial favorite: how the film isn’t actually a Marvel film, and those are always better).
And yet the best joke that the new scenes manage to cook up is based on Reynolds bleeping Savage during a particularly funny rant about one of the film’s other co-stars. It’s funny because you’re meant to imagine that Savage isn’t saying “fight” when he talks about what he wants to do to Matt Damon (who appears in a brief, appropriately weird cameo in “Deadpool 2”), but another, quite naughty word that also begins with “F.” Again: the best joke in the PG-13 recut of “Deadpool 2” is one that only works because of its R-rated connotations.
The film has been cut down throughout to accommodate the new Savage scenes and to jettison some of the more vicious action sequences, an editing choice that gives this version a jittery, stilted quality that wreaks havoc on its existing narrative flow. At any moment, Deadpool and Savage might break in with another unnecessary tongue-in-cheek observation, and thus it’s nearly impossible to enjoy the best parts of the film, which are the existing pieces of the original film.
When “Deadpool 2” opened in May, IndieWire’s B review made note of its compelling violence, and this critic wrote that “the film is as violent as its predecessor — at some point, someone needs to count how many bones are broken during the film’s running time; my guess is triple digits — but now there’s a refinement to the bloodshed. The film’s action sequences run from large-scale, city-smashing adventures to hand-to-hand combat inside an apartment. Former stuntman Leitch knows his way around a challenging sequence, and it shows.”
Saddled with a PG-13 mandate, those scenes are either sanitized (a gruesome opening number has been cleaned up so that Deadpool never lands a punch, even when dozens of men fall at his feet) or snipped into incoherence. The first film’s most bonkers sequence, involving the unceremonious unveiling of the X-Force on their first big mission, has been edited down into a diluted version of its former snappy, strange glory. It’s all a shell of itself, with Fred Savage on hand to occasionally note how weird this all is.
The limitations of the original film’s script are also laid bare, from a strip-mined introduction to Josh Brolin’s Cable to a chuggy pace that doesn’t quite kick in until well into the second act. “Deadpool 2” is somehow both better and worse when trapped in the awkward constraints of “Once Upon a Deadpool,” though at least the first film can stand on its own merit and not resort to cheap tricks to lure an audience.
Its long-standing adherence to those R-rating bonafides nearly kept the “Deadpool” franchise from getting made in the first place, and yet $1.5 billion can’t be wrong: it works for this nutty franchise, no cut-down cash grab required.
Fox will release “Once Upon a Deadpool” in theaters on Wednesday, December 12.