With Deadpool opening soon in theaters and recently getting its official rating by the MPAA (Rated R for “strong violence and language throughout, sexual content and graphic nudity”), we will have an R-Rated comic book film based on a highly popular character for the very first time . Yes, it's not the first time comic book adaptations have been given an R-Rating, but Deadpool will be the first time a mainstream character with potential ties within a cinematic universe will have the opportunity to fully display its intended content. This is arguably something that some characters (like Wolverine) had been denied for a long time.
Normally, we have R-Rated films with isolated characters, or one-shot affairs. I understand the hesitation of studios to produce R-Rated comic book films, specially if the character has the potential to generate more revenue without that rating; after all, you want to bring as much public to see your movie as possible, but that doesn't mean that the rating should be a dead sentence.
Giving the R-rating to Deadpool reassures everyone that the character is going to be in good hands since the antics and violence are part of the character. He also needs lots of space to showcase every single aspect of his personality. The popularity of Deadpool can be discussed at length in another post, but for the sake of the argument I will say that his popularity is based on his defined personality and self-awareness. Deadpool becomes the voice of the reader (hence Deadpool breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience) where sometimes we want to slap Captain America's face - and Deadpool does it for us!
My point is that some characters need the R rating to be true to their source material. Look at what Netflix is doing, for example. Both Daredevil and Jessica Jones were intended for mature audiences (with the televisual equivalent of an R-rating) and look how great both shows became.
I'm not just talking about violence or sex, I'm talking about presenting a character as it's intended. Deadpool is not only a 'crazy, funny, ninja-looking guy', he's a complex character. He is an insecure person who suffers with cancer, so exploring this character requires all the freedom that the medium can allow.
Even though it's sounds like I'm praising the character, Deadpool is actually one of my least favorite comic book characters. However, I'm still rooting for him because if the movie is a success, it could spearhead a new phase for comic book films. R-Rated films are not necessarily created to showcase gore, sex and crude language. This rating can also allow the depth that some comic book characters need. Deadpool, believe it or not, stands in an interesting crossroads that could lead to a new and exciting direction for the comic book genre, so it's very fitting that Deadpool has become an interesting wild card. Comic book films are arguably at their peak right now, and the future seems even brighter within the genre rather than facing stagnation like many popular genres in the past. Westerns, film noirs, war epics and even musicals have all suffered this issue and although they are not completely dead, they all lost popularity at some point and now depend on being integrated within other genres to become a success.
In entertainment, the key is to remain relevant, and comic book films need to find a way to transcend and I think embracing R-rated content is a great first step that will allow people to see a different side of this expansive genre. So, with this in mind, I want to share two lists with you. One will have five R-rated comic book movie characters that preceded Deadpool by proving that holding back for the sake of a rating can hinder great potential, but once you allow writers and directors to fully flush out a character, great things can happen. I'm not saying that former R-rated films have been masterpieces, but the promise has been there at times for some fantastic movies.
Finally, the second list will showcase five characters that can benefit from the rating and achieve maximum impact with audiences if and when they show up on the silver screen. It's like the past and (possible) future of R-rated comic book characters with Deadpool being their present. These choices are meant for characters that, along with Deadpool, have the opportunity to be part of the current comic book cinematic universes.
5 R-Rated Characters That Precede Deadpool:
5. Dredd (2012)
Dredd is a good example of why remakes exist in the first place and why graphic violence is necessary to tell a story. The movie is brutal and relentless just as Judge Dredd should be. Silvester Stallone's neutered Judge Dredd (1995) was a disservice to the character but understandable since back then comic book films weren't treated with respect. What I mean by that is that simple details like Dredd keeping his helmet for the entirety of the film is a show of respect to the character.
4. Constantine - TV (2014) / Constantine - Film (2005)
I included both the TV show and the film because Constantine had lots of potential on both instances. Keanu Reeves' Constantine was great because it took advantage of the noir action genre nailing the tone that the director was aiming for. The problem was that the movie took a lot of liberty with the source material, almost getting to the point of ignoring key aspects of the lore making the movie a little bit of a chore, especially towards the end. The movie is an honest effort to make a serious comic book film intense and fun.
Matt Ryan's Constantine is the closest we ever got to the real character in terms of atmosphere, themes and humor but my opinion is that the show could been better suited for the cinema rather than TV. TV was too limited for the character but it was amazing to see this rendition of the character. The character has a dedicated following (me included) and hopefully this version of the character finds a second air either on TV (CW is creating a great comic book universe) or in the DC Cinematic Universe. Either way, the character is up for grabs and more importantly, he is still fresh in our minds.
3. V for Vendetta (2005)
V for Vendetta took full advantage of the R rating especially through its dialogue. The movie was criticized for its aesthetics and presentation but the point of V was never meant to be a balls-to-the-wall super hero, his power is the rhetoric and the movie nailed that part.
2. The Crow (1994)
If V for Vendetta was criticized for being too dark and depressing, then I'm pretty sure these same people haven't watched The Crow. Even some people didn't even know it was a comic book film (me included when I watched it back in the 90's). The point is that a character such as this, requires the R rating to make it work. The character can not be sheltered behind a water down version and that's why this movie is nearly perfect.
1. Blade (1998)
Deadpool has the chance to give us a nice look in to the future of comic book films but Blade gave us the first taste of what a comic book film must look like at the cinema. In a way, Blade was the very first R-Rated comic book movie showing a well known character and one of the best live action representation of a comic book character.
5 R-Rated Characters That Could Benefit After Deadpool:
5. Ghost Rider
With the introduction of Doctor Strange, the super natural realm will be wide open and the perfect chance to include Ghost Rider within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Don't get me wrong, I love Nicolas Cage but between his over-the-top performance and his urgency to play a comic book character (after losing on Superman), Ghost Rider suffered because of it.
Fans are clamoring for a standalone Hulk movie within the current cinematic universe, specially using the excellent Planet Hulk arc. But the only way to make it work, is to get deep into what makes Hulk so appealing, his complex inner conflict. The R rating can provide a closer look to the different layers that compose this enigmatic character.
Oh, Carnage... this character will only work if he is not restrained. It could provide quiet a challenge since Spider-man will be juggling between Marvel / Disney and Sony. I don't know if Marvel would use this character since Carnage is pure violence but Sony could take a page from Fox and give it a go. One of the biggest criticisms of the MCU is the weakness of its antagonists but Carnage could represent the first time that we might see a real threat on film since the Joker. Specially with someone with such a high profile as Spider-man.
I'll keep this one short. There's nothing wrong with the live action portrayal of Wolverine. Hugh Jackman is Wolverine and he has reached the end of a fantastic run. But the best Wolverine stories (Old Man Logan, for instance) require a more mature approach. The retirement of Jackman's could be a blessing in disguise because eventually the character will be rebooted and an R-Rated Wolverine could open numerous opportunities for great narrative.
1. The Joker
Same as Wolverine, we've witnessed great portrayals of The Joker with Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and in a couple months, Jared Leto's version. This is more about how far this character can be taken and who would be brave enough to take a dive into the madness.
I'm not saying that everything depends on Deadpool but this movie has a golden opportunity to take this genre a step forward towards the right direction. If it fails, not everything will be lost but it would be a shame if the people behind the movie doesn't take a chance.
Thank you for your time and I hope you enjoyed the read.