Deadpool And The Future Of R Rated Comic Book Movies

On the face of it, Deadpool is just another entry in the long line of comic book movies. But maybe there’s more resting on the film than most others in the genre. Perhaps it could be the nudge that’s needed for a more adult selection of comic book movies to come…

The R rating. Or for us Brits, the 15 and 18 classifications. Once a major no-no for the comic book movie. In fact, in 2002 the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) introduced the 12A rating largely as a result of the backlash surrounding Spider-Man’s 12 classification. Comics, and as an extension, comic book movies, are for kids, parents protested, so why were so many being turned away at their local cinema when out to see their favourite web slinger?

Spider-Man (2002).
Spider-Man (2002).

Of course there’s no doubting that children make up a significant section of the audience for most given releases in the genre, but there’s clearly a large, vocal and passionate adult fanbase for both Marvel and DC’s biggest properties. Just take a look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s box office numbers. Of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Variety reported that “Roughly 59% of the audience was male, 41% was 25 years and older, 12% were teenagers and 22% were families”.

So why then, have we yet to see an entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with a rating higher than PG-13, or 12A in the UK? Most likely to keep the audience as broad as possible. Massive production costs put big pressures on making big money, that much is clear. But does this stunt opportunities for the creative minds behind these films? Perhaps…

Marvel's Daredevil.
Marvel’s Daredevil.

Marvel themselves have recently branched out into grittier territory with their Netflix productions of Jessica Jones and Daredevil opening to widespread acclaim. Their TV slate is proving to be the place where they can put the feelers out and take greater risks with their characters than they can, or have done, with their cinematic ventures. It’s a start. If we’re to take a broader look at the genre since its golden age began with X-Men (2000), there’s a clear trend of easily marketable, low risk cinema. Enjoyable, yes. Well loved in many cases. Yet with a tendency to be a little samey, nonetheless.

For sure, there have been R rated comic book movies, and no, it’s not a guarantee of a film’s success, but variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes. Would Sin City (2005) have been as effective at a lower rating? Or how about Kick-Ass (2010)? Punisher: War Zone (2008) also found itself with an R rating, but by all accounts was a bit of a stinker, though at least the filmmakers understood that the chaos that Frank Castle wreaks is intrinsic to his character. None of these comics or characters, however, are as widely recognised as Marvel’s Deadpool. He’s one of the big guns. Yet Ryan Reynold’s first outing as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) found The Merc with a Mouth with his mouth sewn shut, neutered, for all intents and purposes. Gone was his wit, gone was his wisecracking, and he was lost in the shuffle of a disappointing phase in the X-Men franchise.

Deadpool (2016).
Deadpool (2016).

Now here we are, nearly seven full years on from Deadpool’s debut, and he’s finally getting his moment to shine in his own film. The trailers look fantastic, the early word on the film is wholly positive, and this time around, he’s rated R. The Merc with a Mouth is going to talk trash, and he’s going to kill bad guys with style. But it’s not just violence and language for the sake of violence and language. It’s what the fans of the character wanted. It’s what the film’s star, Ryan Reynolds, wanted. And it’s what we’re getting.

So what happens if it’s a flop? Perhaps it goes down as a failed experiment for 20th Century Fox, they revert back to keeping it safe with their big draw superheroes, and that’s that for R rated comic book movies for the time being, outside of the less mainstream properties. But what if it’s a success? Or even a massive success? Might that allow the possibility of a harder-hitting final chapter of Hugh Jackman’s run as Wolverine? Maybe, just maybe, we could see a darker entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one which would allow for a fresher take on the tired MCU villain?

It opens up the door for these options to be discussed at the least. And at a time when it seems like nine out of ten blockbuster movies are based on comic books, it’s a discussion that’s worth having if the genre is to avoid becoming stale.

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