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Why Ryan Reynolds's Deadpool movie doesn't need an R rating

Axis: Avengers & X-Men (Marvel)
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Ryan Reynolds is a tease.

Over the past few months, the actor has been doling out morsels of information about Fox's upcoming Deadpool movie. In December he confirmed that he was cast as the master assassin antihero with an accelerated healing factor. Last week, he tweeted out a picture of himself in the costume. Today, he dropped what might be the most fascinating news yet: he's fighting for an R rating.

Of course, you have to take this news with a grain of salt. Reynolds has been doing his best to get people interested in this movie. Talk of "fighting the good fight" is only going to get people more interested.

But there's something deeper here, going back to the roots of the character. Deadpool is unlike any other superhero or villain (depending on how he's written) in Marvel's stable of characters. He was created to run counter to the way mainstream superheroes conduct themselves — a sardonic foil to the holier-than-thou heroes and villains that populated Marvel's universe. He is constantly cracking crude jokes and breaking the fourth wall. And in the utterly dreadful X-Men Origins: Wolverine, it was this irreverent sarcasm that made the brief segment featuring Ryan Reynolds's Deadpool the only two minutes of the movie worth watching.

Yes, Deadpool's movie shouldn't be like any other superhero movie because he's a unique beast. But that doesn't mean it needs to be an R-rated film.

Deadpool is violent, hilarious, and hilariously violent

Deadpool's first appearance was in the 1990s, a time when superhero comic books were increasingly digging into the idea of antiheroes and irreverence. The X-Men were the dominant characters at the time. Outcasts who didn't fit the mold of traditional superheroes, they were dramatic (Storm), young (Kitty Pryde), weird (Nightcrawler), and irreverent (Wolverine).

Another big '90s influence was Todd McFarlane's Spawn, created in 1992. Like the X-Men, Spawn wasn't a white-knight hero, but he was also more violent than the X-Men were.

Deadpool, who made his first appearance in New Mutants No. 98 (a spinoff of X-Men), was cut from the same cultural tapestry that produced those other characters. He's disfigured, mentally unstable, violent, crude, and spontaneous. He would come to be known as the "Merc with a mouth," due to his jokes, which are peppered with pop culture references:

Yes, this is Deadpool performing a Shoryuken on Kitty Pryde (Deadpool #27/Marvel)

Yes, this is Deadpool performing a Shoryuken on Kitty Pryde (Deadpool No. 27/Marvel)

Deadpool became best known for mixing jokes with violence. If there's any reason to make Deadpool an R-rated movie, it's because of that gore. Even though plenty of people die in Marvel comic book movies (see: Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, or X-Men: Days of Future Past), the movies have never explored the consequences of this violence:



But part of what makes Deadpool funny is the censoring

What makes Deadpool a fan favorite is that he's always saying things comic book characters don't usually say. Which is to say, he curses a lot. But what makes this interesting, and even funnier, is that Marvel constantly censors what he's saying:



Sometimes his violence is censored, too:


Just because we don't see the exact expletive Deadpool is muttering or the sheer scope of the violence doesn't mean either's effect is lost. Readers fill in the gaps. And if the powers that be were so inclined, it could make for a more interesting and thoughtful examination of the content of superhero movies if Deadpool were constantly bleeped out and perhaps fighting against his censors.

That kind of treatment would be in the spirit of Deadpool's role in comic books — always challenging comic book conventions and breaking rules. Writer Gail Simone, who is probably best known for her work on Batgirl and Birds of Prey, had a short, really great run on Deadpool. What made her run so good was that she perfectly understood the character's humor, his dialogue, and how and when to break the fourth wall:

Deadpool #68 (Marvel)

Deadpool No. 68. (Marvel)

Seeing something like a meta-commentary on comic book movies would be far more interesting than watching Ryan Reynolds curse up a storm or hack people to death for two hours.

The key to making Deadpool an amazing character has always been moderation. The more explicit he is, the less special and funny he becomes.

An R-rated Deadpool would put the character in a rare pantheon of R-rated comics characters like Blade and Punisher. And a more adult take on superhero stories is something that's worth exploring. But that doesn't necessarily mean it would make for a better movie — and certainly not a better Deadpool movie.

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