Right now, the superhero world stands in shock. In spite of an R-rating, Deadpool is sweeping through the box office. Although logic suggests an R-rating reduces the number of potential viewers, Deadpool actually looks set to beat Marvel Studios's Ant-Man! Over on social media, one question is being asked:
Should other superhero movies go R-rated?
Let's face it, the idea's exciting. Comics have been filled with moments that make you cringe - from Magneto tearing Wolverine's adamantium skeleton out of his body during the 'Fatal Attractions' arc, to Cyclops optic-blasting Magneto's head off over in Marvel's Ultimate Universe! Anyone who thinks comics are light on the violence probably hasn't read too many of them.
Then there are some really brutal characters - I mean, Wolverine's mutation is that he has razor-claws that snap out of the backs of his hands. Over in Star Wars, a lightsaber cauterizes a wound so there's no blood. If Wolverine cuts you, you're not so lucky, and those adamantium claws can cut through bone as easily as flesh.
The first problem with the argument
All of which overlooks one simple point:
Superheroes have been R-rated for a long, long time
Don't believe me? In 1989 (yes, that's a whopping 27 years before Deadpool), we got a pretty poor Punisher movie that was R-rated. Meanwhile, although Marvel's cinematic success is usually seen as being kicked off by the X-Men franchise in 2000, the R-rated Blade taught studios that Marvel films could work. That was released in 1998, and Marvel bigwigs routinely mention it as the turning-point for their films. I mean, if you need an example of why it was R-rated, the rave scene pretty much covers it:
Marvel are no strangers to R-rated TV shows themselves; rather than focus on grim-and-gritty movies, they've taken that side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe over to Netflix. What, you really think the violence of Daredevil wouldn't get the series an R-rating had it been a movie? You think Jessica Jones's steamy sex scenes wouldn't earn it an R-rating if they'd been shown on the big screen?
So what fans are really asking is...
Can we have more?
We're in luck. By all reports, Wolverine III - which we've long known will be loosely inspired by the classic 'Old Man Logan' arc – is going to be R-rated. Like I say, that's pretty sensible, even if some of the gore – such as Wolverine cutting himself out the Hulk's belly after a twisted future not-so-jolly-green-giant has eaten him alive - will have to change a bit due to licensing.
The second problem: we're missing the point
But here's the real problem. James Gunn – director of Guardians of the Galaxy no less – thinks we're missing the point. Deadpool isn't succeeding because it's R-rated, he argues. The reason Deadpool is performing so well?
"Deadpool was its own thing. THAT’S what people are reacting to. It’s original, it’s damn good, it was made with love by the filmmakers, and it wasn’t afraid to take risks."
In his view, the worst mistake that studios can make is to just try and create another Deadpool.
So, over the next few months, if you pay attention to the trades, you’ll see Hollywood misunderstanding the lesson they should be learning with Deadpool. They’ll be green lighting films “like Deadpool” – but, by that, they won’t mean “good and original” but “a raunchy superhero film” or “it breaks the fourth wall.” They’ll treat you like you’re stupid, which is the one thing Deadpool didn’t do.
As we fans get excited over the idea of more R-rated superhero movies, we're just encouraging Hollywood to make this mistake. Deadpool has been a success for the same reason Guardians of the Galaxy was a success, and for the same reason that Ant-Man surprised everybody by performing well in the box office.
It's been a success because it was its own thing. We don't need more R-rated superhero movies – we need more risk-taking, boundary-breaking, creative superhero movies. It looks very likely that we'll see a few more of those coming out this year.
Sure, that can include R-rated superhero films. Let's face it, the R-rating made sense for Blade back in 1998, and it makes sense for 'Old Man Logan.' It wouldn't make sense for Wonder Woman or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. If the film-makers have a vision for a film that requires an R-rating, then I'm all for it. But an R-rating just for the sake of riding the Deadpool wave?
That's not the way I want superhero films to go.