Several times in the past, producers (Hollywood) have misunderstood why a certain movie was so successful. Typically, Hollywood oversimplifies the reason behind the success. As a result, several knock-offs are made, with the selling point being whatever Hollywood thought was the selling point for a movie’s success. X-Men spawned the trend of superhero movies being cool for the masses, Dark Knight inspired gritty/“realistic” superhero films like Man of Steel and Winter Soldier, and Avengers set off the “fun/kid-friendly trend”, which set the stage for Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy. Now, Deadpool seems to be starting a new trend. Since the R-rated film’s overwhelming opening weekend, 20th Century Fox has reportedly been considering making Wolverine 3, a movie that is of an all PG-13 franchise, rated R. What this infers is that they do not understand what actually made Deadpool a success. It was mainly because of the diehard Deadpool fans, Ryan Reynolds, the widely accessible comedy, and the inventive marketing. The R-rating was a no-brainer, given all the other elements. That said, the question of this article is not, could the R-rated superhero movie really become the new trend? Rather, the question is, how could this be a positive trend?
A successful R-rated action movie is far less common now than in the 70s thru 90s. Deadpool is most certainly such a rarity. But it was a featherweight action movie, not “hardcore”, as many moviegoers have been calling it. The movie’s mainly rated R because of its vulgar humor. Now, if Wolverine 3 were to be rated R, it would logically be because of the violence. But would upping the rating matter? The answer is no, because the Wolverine series is fundamentally flawed, for the simple reasons that Wolverine is supposed to be an unlikable and invincible character, and is therefore a weak choice for a protagonist. (Why rob Wolverine of what makes him Wolverine—his selfishness? And, what tension is there in watching a protagonist face any conflict when he can’t die?). Did it make a difference when the sequel was set it in Japan? No. The box office showed that; movie made even less money than Origins! As with a radical location change, a higher rating does not correct such fundamental flaws. Sure, you can get away with more, in terms of violence, language, etc. But if you’re just doing it for shock value, then you’re doing it wrong.
What the best violent movies teaches us is that when you show violence in movies, make it quick. A huge criticism I had with Deadpool is that I would see a real image, and then it would cut away to an obviously CG shot. Such an inconsistency was obvious, because it was going on for so long, and was the center of attention. As a result, it completely took me out of the movie. When movies were “really” violent in the 70s thru 90s, they would show very little of it. The Exorcist’s neck twisting is very iconic, yet it’s only a few seconds long. Let’s look at something that is not violent—bullet time, the most groundbreaking action filmmaking trend in the last 17 years. Introduced in The Matrix, bullet time was used sparingly in the film, proving once again that less is more. Then, we received several movies that replicated this effect, such as Transformers, Underworld, Matrix Reloaded. Here is the thing: when you replicate without enhancing, you fail to be original. As a result, your product suffers.
In the last fifteen years, PG-13 movies have flirted with the R rating by being very graphic, but doing it tastefully. Lord of the Rings is a film that could easily be rated R. It’s a medieval film where droves of people are killed in brutal ways. But, how is it PG-13? The blood is black. Therefore, it’s more fantasy-like, and less graphic. (But, don’t be fooled; heads being chopped off and catapulted is disturbing). And it’s not like 2000’s X-Men was not graphic. Did we forget about the flashback of Wolverine being tortured under the experiment Weapon X? Wolverine was covered in blood and the experimenters appeared to be Nazi scientists. The scene is fairly graphic and intense for a “kid’s movie.” Nine years later, that same scene was shown in neutered form in X-Men Origins, by way of no blood. Perhaps we now need an R-rating to get the same level of violence that we saw fifteen years ago in PG-13 movies?
Overtime, movies go through trends, which start off as a positive, then turn into a negative. I hope Deadpool was a transitional movie into a period where we see movies that are sensibly rated R, and not for shock value and because “it worked for Deadpool”. We now know that an R-rated movie that is predominantly vulgar humor with a little action can make serious bank. But now we should see darker-toned movies (that call for an R-rating!) be rated R. Movies like Blade Runner, Terminator, and The Matrix would love to get the spotlight now. What I don’t want to see happen is the R-rating turn into a marketing ploy. Hopefully, this trend is used to its full potential by delivering serious movies that are so intense, in terms of tone and style, that they earn an R-rating.