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The Case For A PG-13 “Deadpool”

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
The Case For A PG-13 “Deadpool”

It’s possible that the title of this week’s column has rendered a chunk of readers absolutely apoplectic. Like Thor’s gender and Spider-Man’s race, the rating of the “Deadpool” feature film has been a hot button issue — and like those other two examples, “Deadpool’s” rating should be open to variation and discussion. It shouldn’t have been a foregone conclusion that “Deadpool” would be rated R, but yesterday’s announcement from Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) sure treated the film’s rating that way. The announcement, a mock “Extra” interview complete with Mario Lopez action, said, “April Fools’! ‘Deadpool’ will of course be rated R.”

But come on, “Deadpool” could have — and maybe should have — been rated PG-13.

As I stated in my very first IN YOUR FACE JAM entry, my Deadpool fandom has mostly come and gone. I feel a very strong connection to a very specific era of the character and I’ve made peace with the fact that Wade Wilson, just like myself, has grown and changed over the past 17 years. He means a lot of different things to a lot of people nowadays — and that includes my 13-year-old nephew.

My nephew loves Deadpool. I’ve always given him comics for holidays and birthdays, but he discovered DP on his own. For Christmas this past year, he got a Deadpool hat, set of buttons and two lanyards (apparently teens like lanyards now?). The big gift, though, the one thing he said he really wanted was “New Mutants” #98 — Deadpool’s first appearance. Hearing that blew me away; I get wanting merchandise with your favorite character’s face on it, but wanting their first appearance? To me, that’s next level. In addition to all the new Deadpool merchandise out there, my nephew wanted a quarter-century-old folded stack of smelly newsprint — just like I did at that age.

Problem is, “New Mutants” #98 was out of everyone in my family’s price range. Fortunately, I received a copy of the issue before my nephew was even born and, after losing — no joke — 40-ish eBay auctions, I did some soul-searching and decided to give my “New Mutants” #98 a new home. My nephew was speechless when he opened it on Christmas morning. Seeing him that excited about a comic book trumps any irritation I might feel at having an incomplete run of “New Mutants.”

Let all that set the stage for the rest of this piece. At some point during my trip home for Christmas, the “Deadpool” movie came up. My nephew is, of course, freaking out about this movie — as he should be! But then he added, “I hope it’s not rated R,” because that means he can’t see it. And now, well, I guess he can’t see it.

I’m not stupid and I want everyone to hold their “Um, actuallys.” I know that teenagers see R-rated movies. I know some teenagers sneak into theaters, I know some parents take them, I know that some teens find a way. I worked at a movie theater in college. I am infinitely aware that movie theater workers do not care. I also spent some time working in a box office that made us card literally everyone purchasing a ticket for rated R movies, so I know that some managers do care. All of this is irrelevant to me, though, because I think it is ridiculous to wave away all valid points supporting a PG-13 “Deadpool” with the assumption that every teenager should be fine with breaking rules — arbitrary rules that prop up the incredibly flawed and problematic MPAA, sure, but still rules.

I get that it’s not sexy to admit that you follow rules, but it’s totally incorrect to assume that all teenagers are willing to turn into James Bond Jr. just to watch a movie. I know that Deadpool doesn’t follow rules! He’s a rebel! I’m sure a lot of teens get vicarious kicks through Wade’s fictional antics, but that doesn’t mean they should have to break non-fictional rules to see his movie. It’s also a little baffling to me that a solution to teens seeing an R-rated movie starring their favorite character is to sneak into the theater — AKA not pay, AKA take a tiny bit out of “Deadpool’s” box office.

I see absolutely nothing wrong with teenagers making the decision to not break rules, and the assumption that they’ll just “figure out a way” — it’s narrow-minded. I was a huge Deadpool fan at 13 and I never snuck into a movie. That doesn’t make me any better than anyone who did, because on the balance it is just sneaking into a movie, but I don’t think my decision to follow a rule is something to be ashamed of. I mean, I have a bad boy streak in me, too — I sneak candy into theaters on the reg!

And holy crap, come on, we all know how awkward it can be to watch anything with adult content with your parents. I don’t wish that on anyone.

In summary, teenagers shouldn’t have to plan a trip to see “Deadpool” as if they were planning a heist.

People also claim that “Deadpool’s” R rating was unavoidable because it’s Deadpool — and Deadpool is not for kids. Sure, Deadpool is a scarred psychopath that murders people — but he’s also a Marvel Comics character that makes nonstop puns, worships chimichangas and fantasizes about Bea Arthur! He’s a heavily armed cartoon character. Yes, there is an undercurrent of darkness to him; that’s exactly what made him so captivating to me back when I was in middle school and Joe Kelly was writing him. He fluctuated between being relentlessly hilarious and relentlessly deplorable between panels. I’m arguing that both halves of his character are important. Without the humor, Deadpool is Punisher; without the darkness, Deadpool is Spider-Man. Both have to be present and both sides of his personality have to keep the other one in check.

The thing is, though, Deadpool is — and always has been — a PG-13 character. Only 19 Deadpool comics have been released under Marvel’s mature readers — or MAX — line. The rest, including every one of his long-running ongoing series and his dozens of limited series have all been rated Marvel’s equivalent of PG-13. This isn’t like “Kick-Ass” or “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” two rated R comic book movies adapted from equally mature comics. Of course there are things you can show in a PG-13 comic that you can’t get away with in a PG-13 movie, but when it comes to the Merc, creators always employ a bit of storytelling sleight of hand in order to publish teenager-appropriate “Deadpool” comics. Why couldn’t the same be done on film? Adults have been reading these suitable-for-teens comics forever, what’s the difference now? Why do adult fans get giddy over the idea of their all-ages comic book characters saying four-letter words?

The difference might be that some fans still look to mature ratings as validation for their hobby, as if an R rating — and the accompanying blood and guts and maybe even boobs! — means that Deadpool is really for adults.

I fully understand that people want “Deadpool” to be an over-the-top, gleeful killspree. You know what? Sure. Sure! That makes sense for DP. That doesn’t have to be rated R, though. As long as you don’t want explicit sex scenes or to drop more than one F-bomb, you can do pretty much anything in a PG-13 movie nowadays! You can do crazy amounts of violence — gunplay, swordplay, all types of play — in PG-13 movies. Look at every Marvel movie, or James Bond movie, or “Fast & Furious” film, or Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy — people die in all of those movies in spectacular ways. And “The Dark Knight” is not less of a movie because 13-year-olds could see it.

Remember the mansion assault scene in “X2?” Wolverine, a character that one could argue is definitely not for kids either, used his six foot-long razor sharp claws to cut and slice and stab his way through a dozen-ish men. The scene culminated with Wolvie doing a close-up double fist stab move through a guy’s chest, all while unleashing a vein-bursting guttural scream. That scene originally earned the film an R rating, but a quick cutaway to Bobby Drake was thrown in and — voila! — PG-13. PG-13 doesn’t mean neutered. In the cases of certain films, it means seconds. And look at what they let Wolverine do in the first “X-Men” movie; he both called Cyclops a dick and gave him the middle claw/finger — two things he was never allowed to do in any Marvel comic.

I do see the artistic benefits of an R-rated “Deadpool.” Director Tim Miller and star Ryan Reynolds should absolutely make the film they want to make — and that’s a rated R movie. They’ll have no problem finding ways to make “Deadpool” earn its rating. On the same note, filmmakers could have easily made R-rated Wolverine and Batman films. The material can be adapted that way, but it can also be adapted the other way. If it comes down to a matter of seconds and losing a couple of the surely dozens of blood spurts, I don’t see the harm in going the PG-13 route so that even more of Deadpool’s hardcore fans could see the movie free of hassle — and have their ticket sales count. But that’s not going to happen, so I should start saving money for a flight back to Tennessee so my nephew can see “Deadpool” without parental awkwardness.

Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1 and writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio.

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