Debate Club: Can a PG-13 Deadpool work?

Contributed by
Oct 3, 2014

Like any fans, we at Blastr love talking about the stuff we love ... and like any fans, we sometimes disagree. With that in mind, we bring you the Blastr Debate Club, in which we attempt to tackle some of the big questions in the worlds of fantasy, sci-fi and horror.

This time, Matthew and Trent address the movie future of the Merc With the Mouth. Rumor has it the recent greenlight of a Deadpool film came with the stipulation that it be PG-13. Many fans think there's no way to do the character justice without a hard R. Will playing for PG-13 hurt the finished product? See what our writers had to say, and then sound off with your own thoughts in the comments!

Trent: Yes, I'm extremely psyched they're finally making the long-awaited Deadpool film adaptation — I'm just worried potential concessions to get the green light could mean the movie we get might not be the movie we actually want. Though nothing's confirmed, rumor has it the studio is planning to shove the foul-mouthed merc into a PG-13 movie. I think that's a terrible idea. The vast majority of comic-book movies can work at the PG-13 level, but Deadpool isn't like most comic characters. He's dirty, dark and extremely irreverent — and the only way to make that character fit into a PG-13 rating is to pull a few teeth. But it's those sharp (metaphorical) chompers that make the character who he is. Take that away, and you're left with a watered-down version of a character who is anything but. Deadpool just isn't Deadpool without that boundary-pushing, R-rated wit.

Matthew: It's very easy to look at the rumor of a Deadpool film with a PG-13 mandate and see it as a cynical, studio-driven marketing decision that hamstrings the film's creativity. We finally get a Deadpool movie, and then the suits who only care about profit have to go and spoil our fun by taking away some bad words and blood, just so teen ticket buyers can boost the flick's bottom line. As a fan of plenty of ultra-violent action movies, I would definitely love to see a no-holds-barred, viscera-strewn, F-bomb-laden Deadpool movie, but even if the suits do send down the order that the flick has to be tamed a bit, that in itself isn't enough to worry me. The freedom of an R rating is enticing, but I'm not afraid of a PG-13 Deadpool movie, because I've never seen Deadpool as an essentially R-rated character. Yeah, he's got some R-rated moments, and he's had his share of mature comic books, but Wade Wilson's fourth-wall-breaking irreverence, biting wit and talent for never shutting up can exist quite comfortably and entertainingly in a PG-13 universe, and I know this because his comics have been proving it for years.

Trent: Is it possible Deadpool could turn out all right with a PG-13? Yes, it's possible. I'd argue it's not terribly likely, considering the language and tone restrictions within the ratings system — but it's possible. But, more than if it could work, I think we should also look at the question of why should it have to. Looking across the full spectrum of Deadpool's comic history, there are certainly versions and takes on the character that could exist within the PG-13 continuity Fox has created with its X-Men franchise. But, again, should we use that version to represent the character on-screen? Deadpool is that rare character who could finally carry the comic-book genre over into R-rated insanity. He could pave the way for for a legit, adult-level comic-book adaptation. In some ways, it represents the maturation of the comic-book movie genre as a whole. Who better to lead that charge than Deadpool?

Matthew: Well, if we're talking about characters who should lead the charge into "R-rated insanity" with comic-book movies, I'd say it should be the Punisher, who's had three R-rated movies now and never quite landed. Could Deadpool have better luck? Sure, especially if the film is in the right hands, and I certainly don't think he's the kind of character who should "have" to deal with too many restrictions when it comes to a movie. That said, I also don't think "adult-level" comic-book adaptations are a problem we need to solve, because I don't think R rating and "adult-level" are synonymous. We've already seen R-rated comic-book films with various levels of success (Watchmen, Sin City and so on), and we'll see more, but just because a comic-book film comes in at PG-13 doesn't mean it's not for adults. The Dark Knight isn't R-rated, but it's also definitely not a kids' movie. All that aside, though, we seem to have a fundamental disagreement over what really makes this character. I've read Deadpool comics by everyone from Joe Kelly to Gail Simone to Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn, all in the main Deadpool book in the main Marvel Universe, and apart from a few gruesome moments that comics can get away with because they're comics (Deadpool getting impaled, intestines unraveling, on an elephant's tusk, for example), they're basically PG-13 stories. For much of the last two decades, the main Deadpool title hasn't (for the most part) featured a guy who swears all the time and disembowels everyone at the end of his katana. But everyone enjoys characters in their own way, so let me ask you: Given how far PG-13 films can go now (lots of violence, partial nudity, even a few F-bombs), what, for you, does the character really lose in that rating that's absolutely necessary for a Deadpool movie to succeed?

Trent: If you turn Deadpool into a PG-13 movie, the filmmakers will almost certainly be working backward up against that content wall to make the character fit, toning things down to reach that threshold. Deadpool deserves better than that, and the folks who want to make the movie agree. The creative team that's been pursuing this film the past four years, living and breathing Deadpool, conceived it as a "hard-R" film — and I'm literally quoting screenwriter Rhett Reese in saying that. That leaked script for the proposed version that's been in development, which includes the positively stellar scene from the proof-of-concept clip? It features more than 35 instances of the F-word (seriously, I counted). Of course, they could always generate a brand-new script and tone it down to just one to hit the PG-13 wall, but I'd argue that's not the movie fans — or the filmmakers with so much passion about the character — want to make. Even Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld himself waded into the debate recently, telling CinemaBlend he "grew up with blockbuster R-rated films, so that's always [his] preference," while noting that the PG-13/R determination is obviously up to the studio. Likely star Ryan Reynolds, a huge fan of the character, has also said the script is "so far into the R-rated zone ... it's a nearly NC-17 world." He also told Empire in 2013 that he and the creative team would "never wanna do it unless you could do it that R-rated way." Deadpool needs the freedom to swear, eviscerate and go places no other comic character has gone. That's the character.

Matthew: Well, on this we agree: The people who've been trying to get this movie made for so many years now should be able to make the movie they want to make, and for years we've heard hard-R is the way they want to go. I'd like to see them make that film without compromise. As we both know, though, the studio might eventually force them to rethink that, and while that's a regrettable part of working in Hollywood, I still think that -- while the two movies would likely be very different -- the same filmmakers could produce a new script and make a new film at the PG-13 level that would still be true to the Deadpool aesthetic, and both Liefeld and co-creator Fabian Nicieza have acknowledged that could happen. You sacrifice a lot of F-bombs and some viscera, sure, but you fill that in with creative non-profane gags and over-the-top set pieces, both of which are staples of Deadpool comics now. I'll give you an example: In an early issue of the Duggan/Posehn run (Deadpool #3), Deadpool is thrown through the windshield of a Smart Car. The villains (evil, re-animated dead presidents) crush the car down so he can't move, ram a sword through the top so he's pinned in, and then kick the car into the air. It's an incredibly over-the-top instance of violence, a very satisfying set piece, and a scene in which Deadpool is cracking jokes (he makes a Dukes of Hazzard reference in midair, then tries to call OnStar when he hits the ground) throughout, but it's essentially bloodless and would fit just fine in a PG-13 comic-book movie. Deadpool comics are packed with that kind of stuff, and while I agree that the filmmakers shouldn't be forced to compromise on something they've worked so hard for, I think there's plenty of evidence that they could still create something amazing with content restrictions in place.

Trent: A fair point, and yes — the comics certainly do feature some tonal decisions and set pieces that could work in a PG-13 setting and still be honest to the character. Judging by the direction of the X-Men film franchise as a whole, and the fact that this spinoff will almost certainly fit within that overall "universe," it'd stand to reason that is certainly an option being considered. Is a Deadpool set tightly within the construct of a PG-13 universe an inherently terrible thing? You're right, it doesn't have to be. But my mind keeps going back to the PG version of Deadpool you can catch most Saturday morning on the Disney Channel, flitting in and out of the modern-day Spider-Man and Avengers 'toons. He's slapstick, toothless and just doesn't have the bite you've grown to expect from the character. Yes, I realize a PG-13 film would obviously be a good bit darker than the kid-focused cartoon version — but if you start chipping away at what the character can and cannot do due to ratings regulations, I fear we'll have some weird amalgam meant to appeal to the early-teen set and adults alike, who only flirts with that trademark instability as opposed to reveling in it. It's not that it won't work as PG-13, it's that it shouldn't have to. Despite the geek buzz, Deadpool is still a mostly lesser-known character to the general public, one that comic fans have been clamoring to see realized on the big screen. I'd just hate to have the edginess that makes him such a fan favorite compromised for the sake of attracting a wider audience. Yes, those are often the hard truths of the movie business, but on a primal level it just breaks my geek heart. If we're going to make a Deadpool movie, let's let Deadpool be Deadpool.

Matthew: This is a movie that matters a lot to a lot of people, and of course everyone has their idea of what it takes to get Deadpool "right." The best outcome, for the moment, seems to be that the filmmakers get to do their hard-R Deadpool film, and it sinks or swims for what it is, regardless of marketing concerns or studio tinkering. I hope that happens. I'd like to see the fruits of this years-long effort, and I'd like them to be as unspoiled as possible. But trust me when I tell you (and trust the Deadpool comics you can go pick up right now) that a PG-13 version can work. I don't know if it will happen, and I hope it doesn't come to that, but it can. Until we find out what the film will actually be rated, though, let's just agree that one fact about this whole situation is absolute: Chimichangas rule.

What do you think? Is Trent right that a PG-13 Deadpool is not a true Deadpool? Or is Matthew right that we can have Deadpool's character without the extreme language and gore? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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