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R-Rated Superhero Movies?

Written by Alex Koroknay-Palicz Feb 27, 2016

Bob Chipman had a very interesting take over at ScreenRant on the rumored R-rated directors cut version of Superman V Batman to be included on the DVD. Put simply, as he does, he sees it as an awful idea and a perversion. His reasons are rather interesting for youth rights activists.

This isn’t the first time in the last month that ratings for superhero movies attracted some attention. With the release of R-rated Deadpool, a petition was started on Change.org to request the release of a PG-13 cut that younger viewers could see. The petition has nearly 4,000 signatures. Of course, such a suggestion attracted its share of angry backlash. Much of it with a rather ageist tint from adults accusing a bunch of dumb kids of trying to steal away & change their decidedly R-rated anti-hero.

While I think it could be done, I certainly understand that a PG-13 Deadpool isn’t exactly true to the character. Yet with the creation of a dark, gritty, R-rated Superman, Batman & Wonder Woman, aren’t adults essentially stealing away and changing beloved characters for youth?

Most comic book characters, for generations, have been characters for youth. For kids. I personally grew up reading Spider-Man comic books and believe I internalized the central message of ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. Indeed, Spider-Man (together with my Catholic faith) have shaped my devotion to service, activism & youth rights. Unlike other causes out there, there is no personal self-interest driving our activism. Adult supporters of the cause will never personally experienced increased rights & freedoms from our victories. For our young supporters, just waiting to turn 18 or 21 will always be easier than agitating for increased rights. As Scott Davidson wrote, “youth rights activists must posses the deepest unselfishness, because they are fighting not for their own personal freedom, but for the freedom of the unborn masses.”

To have learned the power of self sacrifice from something as simple as a comic book is profoundly important. While some may dismiss comics as juvenile wish-fulfillment or power fantasies, they provide a crucial life model for an otherwise oppressed class of people. An opportunity to see, in some cases at least, teenagers who are strong, powerful, respected and free. Why not give the powerless opportunities for power fantasies?

I understand the desire to make otherwise silly comic characters more realistic & gritty, but to strip some of these less realistic features from the characters is to strip away essential elements that appealed to their original -and younger- fans:

Why does Superman need a secret identity, exactly? Because secrets are fun to have (and are, pointedly, one of the few ways children can hold and exercise power over adults in their daily lives). Why don’t they just use guns? Because lassos, magic hammers, boomerangs and ricochet-shields are cooler than guns, and that makes plenty of sense for kids. So does the idea of The Hulk getting stronger as he gets angrier – a potent power fantasy for audiences whose best/only method of getting their way is to clench their fists and stomp their feet.

Removing these elements and taking these characters out of the colorful battles between good and evil we experienced as kids and putting them into a gritty world that fits our more cynical and jaded adult sensibilities does a disservice to the characters and to their young fans. It is a case of adults stealing away and appropriating youth culture for adult needs.

The idea of Superman – the man who can fly, who can’t be hurt, who isn’t bound by the laws of physics and who uses that immeasurable power only to good – means something and has continued to mean something to generations of children for whom his lack of limitation is the wish-dream antithesis of their relatively powerless place in the social order. Do we really want to, from a certain perspective, take that away from them? Make “the” Cinematic Superman a figure whose movies simply aren’t for them anymore because we want to see him twist peoples heads off and/or get beaten bloody by a powered-up Batman? Speaking of which, do we want to continue denying those same children the “classical” Batman who stands as an ideal of overcoming unimaginable (especially to a child) loss through self-determination because we’re more interested in a brooding billionaire bully driven by vengeful paranoia? Is it okay that Wonder Woman, the iconic female superhero beloved by legions of young girls, will take her first big-screen bow as a secondary-player in a movie so aggressively disinterested in audiences outside the 35 year-old fanboy demographic?

This ‘perversion’ of the genre becomes more harmful when you consider movie age restrictions. By going with an R-rating on a movie you don’t just metaphorically steal away youth culture, you literally put it behind a gate and check the ID of everyone trying to see it. No one under 17 allowed.

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