Marvel Comics foray into cinema was not impossible. As a matter of fact, the evolution of Marvel movies into Marvel Studios wasn’t even improbable. The early 2000’s success of Sony’s Spider-Man trilogy and Fox’s X-Men films proved that there was a thirst for the amazing in today’s box office. All these movies needed was a slight bit of direction from a true believer. Enter Kevin Feige, the current Chief Creative Officer of Marvel and President of Marvel Studios who has been the recipient of consistent praise from Marvel’s fan-base ever since 2008’s Iron-Man. With no shortage of help from the industry’s brightest creatives, Feige pumped out a billion-dollar franchise over the course of a decade. And now, going into the 2020s, we will see Feige take on a new challenge: making R-Rated films.
Within Marvel Studios most delicate care, rest assured, it can be done and it can be profitable. After all, past R-Rated Marvel movies like Deadpool and Logan have seen monumental success and praise from critics and fans. They were able to deliver the violence and irreverence the characters were known for. No punches were held and these specific movies garnered so much acclaim that speculation still runs rampant over whether Deadpool, a former Fox property, will carry on its irreverent legacy after the Disney acquisition. So, where exactly is the challenge at?
Well, Disney itself has a reputation for doing its absolute best to uphold its innocent nature. This family-friendly public image is also conveyed into its subsidiaries. Properties like Lucasfilm and Marvel, now more than ever, have a brand to uphold. As the stakes get higher and the tones get darker, we’ve seen the Marvel Cinematic Universe take some ominous turns. We’ve watched a blood-thirsty Thanos snap the neck of Loki, Prince of Asgard and Lord of Mischief only moments after a developmental act of selflessness. A sliver of blood trickled from his eyes and mouth as he soon became lifeless but that was pretty much it. Just long and bloody enough to retain a PG-13 rating but still satisfy fans in a way that felt impactfull. Now, it seems like Marvel Studios’ only setback is finding a way to connect an unrestricted method of story-telling to its family-friendly-branded cinematic universe. The gears are already turning right before our very eyes and have been for some time now.
When Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool was acquired by Disney in 2019 along with the rest of 20th Century Fox, the internet went berserk. Deadpool’s specific brand of adult humor and fourth-wall-breaking rhetoric have amassed a cult-following from new and old fans alike. The uncensored cursing, mature pop culture references, obscene nature of the Merc With The Mouth are uncharted territory in the MCU. Yes, we get a non-explicit dose of it in our time with the Guardians of the Galaxy but let’s be honest, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned F-Bomb to get the crowd going. Much of Deadpool’s notoriety also stems from his routine fourth-wall-breaking, leading the mercenary to consistently jump in and out of stories at a writer’s whim, no matter how awkward his inclusion might feel. So, there has never really been a ‘How will he be included?’ but more of a ‘When will he be included?’.
With this previous week’s news of Kevin Feige confirming his plans to maintain Deadpool 3’s R-rating, it seems the ‘when’ of an MCU Deadpool’s arrival is around the corner. This would make Deadpool 3 the first MCU property to carry that distinct rating. That in itself is a huge thing as it’s sure to set a precedent. Opening this door will make Deadpool 3 one of the most important MCU films to date and will give the production team a Fin Fang Foom-sized burden to carry. The highly anticipated sequel must deliver the trademark humor it’s known for while also proving to us just how committed Marvel Studios is to the rating and its method of storytelling. No one knows what we can honestly expect from an 18+ MCU film but with all the right pieces in play, it’s safe to assume what we can expect.
With every new project, Marvel Studio’s brand grows a new leg to stand on. It’s an astonishing feat but we’ve still yet to see them leave the comfort of an all-age appropriate audience. Merchandise and toy sales are the lifeblood behind every big superhero franchise, making the risk impactful and potentially less fruitful financially. Though the MCU is a kid-friendly idea at its core, there is still an ever-growing demand for uncensored comic book franchises. Outside of Marvel, we’ve seen properties like HBO’s Watchmen and Amazon’s The Boy’s perform phenomenally with viewers.
Under the Marvel Entertainment banner, we’ve even seen glimpses of how willing they were to push the envelope. Marvel TV took full advantage of its ability to craft an adult-oriented side of this universe with its Netflix efforts, although its canon is still a topic of debate. Packed with epic, bloody fight scenes, drug abuse. and yes, even sex scenes, it became clear very quickly these were not The Avengers. The Defenders and its associated properties had their lows but man, its highs were HIGH. It seems that when a studio has an ample amount of run-time to flesh out a comic book character in a quasi-realistic world with adult problems, it results in a pretty good product.
One huge concern about the inclusion of controversial content in the franchise is its cohesion with the overall branding and tone.
Crossovers are inevitable. Superpowered team-ups have proven to make the same impact on the box office as they have on comic sales. With mature properties joining the slate, we’re guaranteed to see some very interesting dialogue exchanges and interactions. So, how will this affect the narrative of today’s MCU? We’ve seen Captain America’s distaste for offensive language and his intolerance for murder even when it’s at the hands of justice. Could we really expect him to ally himself with Wade Wilson or Frank Castle in combat? Cap would probably find Deadpool insufferable and Frank would likely butt heads with him the same he did with Daredevil. Censoring these characters’ behavior to fit a PG-13 platform has to be addressed.
On the opposite side of this situation, R-Rated solo films open up possibilities for our PG-13 characters to make memorable scenes not possible before. Deadpool films especially bring creative opportunities for several cameos and supporting characters. Spider-Man and Deadpool is a common pairing favored by writers, despite their strong opposing morals. Imagine how surreal it would be to hear Peter Parker plead for Deadpool to STFU? How about a limb severing standoff against the Hulk or a scene comprised of non-stop banter between Rocket and Wade? So much potential to create a quality product is gained from taking these risks.
There’s also the issue of interconnectivity. Part of the MCU’s appeal is its serialized nature and how these franchises are linked to one another. The inclusion of stories with R-rated themes will likely alienate a portion of the audience who aren’t allowed to view it, especially if that story is integral to a larger story arc. What happens if Deadpool 3 is an integral build-up to Avengers 5? Does Marvel Studios have to create these stories in a vacuum, independent of all the larger stories in the MCU, to avoid that problem?
One-Shots, comics, and novelizations all add more insight to the narrative from a behind-the-scenes perspective but aren’t integral to the experience. Ant-Man & Black Panther, for example, have both introduced us to locations (Wakanda and the Quantum Realm) set in the MCU that were used only as a conduit of the larger story arc but outside of that, the movies were singular stories that didn’t need to be watched in order to follow the events of Avengers films. There’s a clear workaround here that we’re Feige and his team have already figured out.
With all this endless promise and catalog, it’s safe to say that Marvel’s intentions are once again aimed to please fans above all else. There’s so much talent to utilize in the list of creators that Marvel’s chosen to work with lately. Most who have already dabbled in unfiltered fields of story-telling. Comedic geniuses like Lizzie and Wendy Molyneux and Taika Watiti or horror icons like Sam Raimi are all fully charged waiting to explore an area of untapped potential in Marvel’s radiant world outside your window. If one thing can be said about the MCU and the pioneering it’s doing in the movie industry, it’s that we’ll never be sold short.