WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Once Upon a Deadpool, screening in theaters through Dec. 24.
The goal of Fox's Once Upon a Deadpool was to take the crude, violent Marvel Comics character and make him suitable for family viewing, in an effort to expand the audience for the R-rated sequel. Joined by Fred Savage for the framing sequences, Ryan Reynolds' famously self-aware Merc with a Mouth humorously addressed the PG-13 censorship while attempting to keep the vulgar soul of Deadpool alive for the benefit of returning fans.
But how does this more family-friendly version of Deadpool 2 hold up when the profanity that spills out of the antihero's mouth is bleeped out for the sake of the MPAA rating?
It's important to remember that Fox's lucrative Deadpool franchise probably wouldn't exist without the test footage that mysteriously leaked in 2014. The positive reaction from fans after watching Deadpool snap necks, sever heads and drop an F-bomb helped to convince Fox executives to move forward with an R-rated film that was then viewed as a major risk. It perhaps then shouldn't be a surprise that, without the irreverent bloodshed and profanity that made the character what he is, Once Upon a Deadpool stumbles a bit, tripping over every "bleep" and every scene cut short to disguise the ever-increasing body count.
It doesn't take long to realize a PG-13 Deadpool would have its problems. The hilarious opening sequence from Deadpool 2 of Wade Wilson taking out child traffickers across the globe is reduced to its ending, where he eliminates a gang of armored brutes as they scramble toward a panic room. But when Deadpool steps up on a bucket to look into the camera that can be viewed from the panic room, there's no blood to be wiped off the lens, as in the original version. That effectively sets the tone for what everything that follows.
These fight scenes will likely still be enjoyed by a younger audience seeing Deadpool 2 for the first time, but for returning fans, the choppiness is apparent. The sequences feel unfinished, as the camera cuts away to the next piece of action before the previous scene's bloody conclusion. When Deadpool chases after the convoy carrying Russell, and takes out a driver of an armored car, you can imagine the edit required when the driver shoots Deadpool's hand. This time there's no blood, and Deadpool's hand somehow slides down the barrel of the gun with no visible hole. It's awkward moments like these that are likely unnoticed by new viewers, but easily picked out by hardcore fans.
In another example, when Cable empties his clip on Deadpool, who wildly flails his swords around to block the bullets (a jab at X-Men Origins: Wolverine), the lack of blood shooting out from his back takes away from the absurdity of the scene. Without the blood, it almost looks as if Deadpool is blocking the bullets, at least until the camera returns from the side view to show the bullet holes in his costume.
In arguably one of the most comical scene of Deadpool 2, members of X-Force fall from the sky to meet over-the-top deaths. But without the clear view of how they die, the humor is undercut. In Once Upon a Deadpool, we don't see Zeitgeist fall into the tree shredder, or his acid eat away at Peter's arm and shoulder; it leaves a lot to be desired. The same can be said of when Juggernaut is defeated by Colossus, Yukio and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Without the full visual explanation of just how they beat the virtually unstoppable villain (with an electrical wire up his rear), the scene feels incomplete.
The film's best execution of PG-13 humor, unsurprisingly, has R-rated undertones. In a new scene, Savage details his hatred for Matt Damon and expresses a desire to fight the actor. But Deadpool, armed with his a bleeper, censors Savage each time he says "fight," which makes it appear as if he's saying the F-word. So, Savage's tirade is transformed into the hilariously suggestive, "I want to bleep Matt Damon so bad! I would bleep him in a big arena so everyone could watch me bleep him!"
One part that still holds up to the R-rated version is the "baby legs" scene, which isn't altered much, beyond a blurred square over Deadpool's infant private parts. Unfortunately, that's an outlier. Weasel's hilarious descriptions are dwindled down to just one, where he says Deadpool smells like "Rush Limbaugh's couch cushions after Shark Week." And you can only imagine the dissatisfaction after Deadpool begs Colossus to finally say "fuck," and we're presented instead with a bleep. The F-bombs are glaring in their absence, because, really, what is Deadpool without them ... and copious amounts of blood?
For fans of Deadpool who want to share their enjoyment with their kids (or grandparents who don't appreciate vulgar humor), Once Upon a Deadpool presents an obvious alternative. It still generates a healthy amount of laughs, even though most of those will come from those who have never seen the R-rated version. But those who have watched Deadpool 2 will undoubtedly miss each curse and blood spatter as if they were old, absent friends.
In theaters through Dec. 24, Once Upon a Deadpool stars Ryan Reynolds, Zazie Beetz, Morena Baccarin, Leslie Uggams, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić, Julian Dennison, Josh Brolin and Fred Savage.