Children & Harpoons, Superheroes and Violence

Earlier this year, I went to the cinema to witness the end of Hugh Jackman’s tenure as Wolverine in Logan. As part of the X-Men film series, a franchise notable for the vast difference in quality between films. So, naturally, going into this entry in the franchise, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What I did not expect was to see a pre-teen girl speared through the stomach with a harpoon.

Logan was eagerly anticipated by comics fans as the first R-rated (or 15-rated in the UK) film to feature the character of Wolverine, a character synonymous with gratuitous violence since his creation as an anti-heroic response to the Vietnam War.

The film followed the success of the similarly R-rated Deadpool, also produced by Fox. Both Logan and Deadpool were critically acclaimed for being unique in a market arguably over-saturated with superhero films and comic book adaptations. They were also celebrated for being accurate translations of both characters between mediums.

However, the success of these films has led to a potentially worrying mentality within comic book fans and the superhero film industry – that an R rating will lead to success.

This concept is especially troubling as it ignores exactly why both films were critical hits. Critics did not give Deadpool and Logan high ratings or glowing reviews because Wade Wilson gets his hand cut off, or Laura is impaled on a weapon used to hunt whales – they succeeded because of their originality.

Deadpool was full of filthy jokes and meta-commentary on both the X-Men film franchise, and the wider superhero industry as a whole. Logan, on the other hand, was almost the exact opposite. Apart from the novelty of hearing Sir Patrick Stewart curse like a sailor, Logan is a bleak exploration of a man who has lived far too long, attempting to do something good in his last days by looking after a group of children, including his surrogate daughter.

Both of these films offered new spins on the superhero genre, and when taken in contrast with the powerhouse that is Marvel Studios, who put out films with lower age ratings, Deadpool and Logan provided something new in a debatably stale landscape.

The real issue here is that it seems that other film studios producing superhero films have not learnt the correct lesson from the success of these films. Following the poor critical reception to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, an ‘Ultimate Edition’ was released on DVD, promising an R-rating and the ‘complete’ film.

Unsurprisingly, more of a decidedly mediocre film didn’t exactly change critics’ minds, and the ‘Ultimate Edition’ of BvS was met with a resounding ‘meh’.

There was later talks of a re-release of an animated Wonder Woman feature from 2009 with an R-rating, following on from the release of Batman: The Killing Joke as an R-rated animation. While it is not a surprise for the latter to release with an adult rating due to its dark subject matter, the Wonder Woman re-release seems wholly unnecessary. Wonder Woman, unlike Logan, is not a character associated with violence.

Warner Bros. have expressed an interest in releasing a film in their cinematic universe with an adult rating. Sony are entertaining the idea with their upcoming Venom film. This by no means damns these films to a poor box office showing, but it also does not guarantee them success.

As head of Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige, put it: ‘My takeaway from both of those films is not the R rating; it’s the risk they took, the chances they took, the creative boundaries that they pushed. That should be the takeaway for everyone.”