Deadpool’s distinction in the comic and superhero franchise worlds is predicated on its raunchy, saucy, and full-blown R-rated fun and chaos. And so it is both a surprise and also utterly in keeping with the fourth-wall breaking, self-referential delights of that a cleaned-up, PG-13 version of all that previously cuss and blood filled goodness would work so well. While Once Upon a Deadpool trades out some of its edge in this softer version, what it delivers in it its stead is a more confident play on its self-awareness. The experiment works and I think proves that Deadpool doesn’t necessarily need to be R-rated so long as the story is engrossing and Ryan Reynold’s perfection as the red hero is allowed to run with abandon through mocking everything about these creations and the world in which they exist.
The Production: 3.5/5
“Yeah, you know, but you’re Marvel licensed by Fox. It’s like if The Beatles were produced by Nickelback. It’s music, but it sucks.”
Wade Wilson, AKA Deadpool, is cleaning up the streets with his repertoire of foul-mouthed quips and fourth wall-breaking antics. When his unfinished work follows him home one day and murders Vanessa, the love of his life, he is despondent and suicidal. With a little help from his X-Men ‘friends’, he soon finds unexpected purpose protecting the life of a young mutant, Russell Collins from Cable, a solider from the future. Cable is a formidable opponent, seeking to destroy Collins and stop him from becoming the destructive force the future tells he will become. Wade’s only choice is to assemble a team to stop Cable and save the day. This rag-tag group of individuals with special powers, plus Peter, a man with no powers, put their lives on the line for the young Collins, whose future may not yet be set.
Once Upon a Deadpool is a modest and playful variation on Deadpool 2 adding in the very funny framing of Deadpool reading the film’s story to Fred Savage, recalling his role from The Princess Bride (where Peter Faulk reads him the fairytale story). This device allows Reynold’s Deadpool and Savage to trade barbs in scenes dotted throughout the story. They’re very funny and Savage steals every moment of these additional scenes. Besides the inclusion of the Fred Savage scenes, there are a number of changed lines and the excising of moments from scenes (lines of exposition, violence and gore). The new editing creates a brisker experience but a choppier one. Rather than a smooth narrative curve, we have a decagon-sharper turns that get us from a to z. Once Upon a Deadpool is a fun way to watch the sequel, but only if you’ve seen the original version of the sequel, which colors in more of the information than you find in this family-friendlier version.
Regardless of the version (the R or this PG-13 version), this sequel delivers on the promise from the first film; a cavalcade of irreverence, self-aware shenanigans that joyfully lampoon superhero movie culture, with masked smirks and winks at the audience as bullets fly. However, rather than turn itself on its side or head, this sequel enjoys the comfort of what worked the first time around. I can’t blame them (“if it ain’t broke”), though it means the freshness and thrilling spark of something different and new isn’t around (besides the Fred Savage device added to this version).
Ryan Reynolds is so uniquely gifted and qualified for the role of Wade Wilson/Deadpool, I can imagine no other actor on the planet who could do it more justice. Signing up to watch him do what we know he can so wonderfully do is a winning idea. The only hope is for the inevitable third outing, the sequel’s sequel, they can raise the stakes and bring more surprises than this enjoyable and funny follow-up does, that, for all its cheeky charms, can’t help but feel like it’s missing an ingredient or two.
The characters are all inhabited by a fine cast. Morena Baccarin, Deadpool’s heart and soul from the first film returns as Vanessa, and while her role seems abbreviated compared to the first film, she’s again very good here. T.J. Miller returns as Weasel, as does Karan Soni as mild mannered taxi driver Dopinder, both getting some good lines. The final members of the returning cast are Leslie Uggams as Blind Al (very funny again), Brianna Hildebrand’s Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Stefan Kapicic voicing the metallic Colossus (he is once again used to great effect). Negasonic’s appearance is less entertaining, largely relegated away from the action and used less effectively this time around. And of course, Fred Savage as himself is a scene-stealing delight.
The new additions to the cast are all standout. Cable was a wise decision for this sequel, and Josh Brolin in the role as straight man to Deadpool’s incessant smart mouth proves a winning combination. Zazie Beetz’s turn as the lucky Domino is so good that her relatively short screen time is one of the main disappointments of this sequel. Beetz gives a breezy, endearing performance as the casual, confident Domino. Young actor Julian Dennison, who was terrific in 2016’s Hunt of the Wilderpeople (directed by Taika Waititi), displays a believably disaffected quality, whose need for a friend or father figure puts his attachment to Deadpool into the comedy crosshairs. Eddie Marsan also makes an effective turn as the unpleasant Headmaster mistreating gifted youth.
One Upon a Deadpool is a fun way to watch the Deadpool sequel. While I enjoyed Deadpool 2, there’s something fresh about this ‘cleaned-up’ version that makes the whole affair a little more fun and likeable. Deadpool as an R-rated franchise shouldn’t be messed with, but PG-13 variations like this, holding to account and unabashedly poking relentless fun at itself, can be most welcomed.
3D Rating: NA
Fox saw fit not to release Once Upon a Deadpool on 4K UHD, a shame since Deadpool 2 was a terrific presentation in that format. Still, this Blu-ray is top-notch for the format. With a very good level of fine detail, natural flesh-tones, strong detail on fabrics, skin and other materials popping, and excellent black levels, it’s a great looking disc. Director David Leitch and cinematographer Jonathan Sela wash several scenes in distinct color palettes, blues and greys (and the future scenes vibrant with dashes of neon purple/pink) and it works nicely.
This Blu-ray comes with an active DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track bouncing and rumbling in all the right corners. The audio is generous in the LFE department, working the subwoofer nicely, and the surround effects are surgical at times with the many fights and shootouts, swordfights, gunshots and explosive sequences really delivering in the rear speakers. The prison sequence in particular is well handled.
Dialogue is balanced well in the center channel, with every quip coming through clearly, and Tyler Bates’ score (Bates taking over scoring duties from Junkie XL who left the project when original director Tim Miller departed), though not memorable, supports the film just fine.
Special Features: 0/5
Once Upon a Deadpool comes with none of the healthy dose of special features that came with previous release of Deadpool 2.While this entire film feels like a supplement to Deadpool 2, the utter absence of special features feels odd, even if this release is priced on the low-end ($14.99 at Amazon upon release as of this review).
Once Upon a Deadpool is an experiment that surprisingly works well for a superhero franchise whose edge and distinction lay in an R-rated realm it covets and markets so enthusiastically. It helps that the film openly embraces and mocks the PG-13 version of itself. It also helps that Fred Savage takes hold of his scenes and owns them outright – no small feat against Ryan Reynold’s entertaining take on Wade Wilson/Deadpool.
I can’t say this is the right way to watch the sequel, but it is a fun way to re-watch the sequel and I’d say worth the investment for fans.
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