A New Medium: The R-rated Superhero

I’ve long railed against the somewhat clichéd and problematic use of death in modern superhero films.  The two main players, DC and Marvel comics, both seem hell-bent on making their main heroes accessible to all ages, and therefore refuse to permanently kill off main characters.  However, in recent years Marvel has expanded its horizons into an entirely new form of superhero film, one that is decidedly more gory and edgy.  With Deadpool and Logan both stirring up some controversy, I thought I’d weigh in on what an R-rating means for a superhero movie and on which points I’d like to see other, more family friendly superhero movies take notes.

Image taken from the Los Angeles Times: “The first ‘Logan’ trailer shows that an older Wolverine still has the fight”

A Whole Lotta Blood:

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that with an R rating this new brand of superhero movie can afford a lot more blood, drugs, sex, swearing, etc.  You need look no further than Deadpool to see the freedom filmmakers have when they aren’t forced to make their trash talking and quippy characters PG-13.

With this gore comes a somewhat darker subject matter.  Unlike their PG-13 siblings, Deadpool (and presumably Logan) don’t shy away from death.  If you’ve read my previous article “Where the DCEU has the MCU beat,” you’d know that I find Marvel’s treatment of death in its cinematic universe somewhat problematic.  However, I’m hoping that in Marvel’s new branch of R-rated movies characters that die stay dead (I mean, that seems pretty logical, right?).

Furthermore, this gore allows for much more realistically violent fight sequences.  Here, the ambiguity of a hero “taking down” a villain is gone.  When a hero like Wolverine drops a bad guy, the audience isn’t left wondering if the villain is knocked out or dead because the brutality of the hero is praised, not hidden.

But what about healing?

This common thread was actually brought to my attention by a friend, but I find it interesting that though hopefully death in the R-rated movies is permanent, the main heroes thus far are not easy to kill.  Both Wolverine and Deadpool have super healing, and are therefore able to traverse their dark and deadly cinematic worlds immune to the dangers around them.  With this, it can be assumed that Marvel is attempting to maintain death’s finality whilst still building a possible franchise.  Obviously, no one wants to see their favorite hero get killed off in their own stand alone film, so Marvel must pick characters carefully if they do, in fact, intend to keep their R-rated films full of R-rated violence.

R-rated potential:

Image taken from http://www.foxmovies.com/movies/deadpool

So, in general, I think with their R-rated movies Marvel is taking baby steps towards solving the problem they have with killing off characters.  On another note though, I think the freedom granted to these R-rated movies is very refreshing.  Deadpool, for example, was a perfect blend of action and humor.  They weren’t afraid to swear or make “adult” jokes because they gave the audience a fair warning they were no longer making the film for a younger audience (those under 13).  From what I’ve seen in the red-band Logan trailer, this film will try to do the same thing.  Watching Professor X swear was so different and unexpected that it became hilarious, and I think that is perhaps the most praiseworthy aspect of these new R-rated films.  They handle a darker, more violent subject matter with a unique brand of humor and lightheartedness that makes for a very enjoyable movie-going experience.

All in all, it’s terribly fun to watch censored and somewhat formulaic films like most modern superhero movies try to get away with (and suceed at) pushing the envelope ever so slightly and creating something  refreshingly different.


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