Everything Doesn’t Have to Be Gritty, or: The Case for PG-13 Superhero Films

It was revealed yesterday the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice film will receive a director’s cut with an R-rating. This comes after the as of yet unconfirmed rumor that the final Wolverine film will also be rated R.

Either this is simply director Zack Snyder’s M.O. at play, or the studios are already taking away the wrong lesson from Deadpool.

I’m more inclined to believe the former, partially because Wolverine 3 may have been set with an R-rating long before Deadpool’s success, and, well, take a look at Snyder’s track record: 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, Man of Steel.

This new “trend” is more a case of tired cynicism and edginess, rather than a fundamental understanding of when a film is truly justified in being R-rated.

I get Deadpool and Watchmen being rated R. It makes sense, it’s true to the source material and characters at their cores. I can even understand Wolverine being R, although I can’t necessarily say I’d argue that it should be.

Releasing BvS with an R-rating, however, just seems… boring. It’s unnecessary and feels like it exists simply at Snyder’s behest to evolve and codify the superhero genre with grit. (Let’s not forget DC has said in the past they plan to stick to releasing all their films as PG-13.)

Superheroes mean a lot of different things to different people, but sticking them in this box, with very particular restraints, alienates them.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is perhaps Marvel’s bleakest and most complex film, but it stays comfortably in its PG-13 rating. Iron Man 3 dealt with PTSD, and delivered sharp and relevant commentary, but didn’t try and challenge its more accessible rating.

The Flash has become a sensation for The CW partially because of the way it embraces its campy roots, full of time-travel and various dimensions and Earths. Richard Donner’s Superman remains the definitive Superman, and Christopher Reeve’s earnest performance as the Man of Steel remains endearing and strong.

Making a film R-rated for the sake of being R-rated is a disservice to the genre at large.

Furthermore, there’s the problem of viewing superheroes as inherently for children and, from that, looking down on the genre in that way. One of the best aspects of superheroes and comics has always been their accessibility and expansiveness. Making the majority of these stories for everyone does not mean they have to be watered down.

Superhero films can do the same – as shown by the examples above – but not if they’re created in small, dark corners.



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