Deadpool is a parody of Marvel films, from its mock opening credits to its frequent fourth wall breaks to its post credits non-gag. However, it remains faithful to the formula it mocks. It also continues, without irony or comment, the standard, sexist, and tiresome tropes of men fending for themselves and protecting women. You cannot rely on social authority, and women need rescuing. That’s not just the driver of the revenge plot, culminating in the usual mano a mano battle, but in the set up, where our hero is a member of a group of vigilantes. Although apparently set in contemporary society, police are invisible. Even after a major freeway crash and prolonged shootout, there’s not so much as a siren. The sexism (hooker with a heart of gold, gratuitous strip club scene), is hardly redeemed by two tough female sidekicks. One helps the hero, and one helps the villain. A minor subplot reinforces the message that women are prizes for men to fight over.
Then there is the violence. It’s frequent, and sometimes gory. The hero and villain are both largely immune to pain, allowing extended fight scenes, and the hero’s abilities allow him to sustain almost injury, including dismemberment, without lasting ill effects. Films featuring male action heroes being brutalized have uncomfortable messages about masculinity, and those are reinforced with the plot, character, and other elements here. I’m not sure whether the Wile E. Coyote level of injury, the jokes, and the fourth wall breaks lessen those messages or make us more susceptible to them. We are constantly reminded that this is just a movie, and it’s all in fun. It’s as playful and full of wisecracks as 1994’s The Mask, with more sex, swearing, and blood.
Film classifiers are not concerned about violence per se, let alone messages about masculinity. Their only concern is suitability for children, as per objective guidelines. Ontario and Manitoba settled on the high 18A rating, and this also makes Manitoba the only province where no one under 14 can view the film. Ontario threw in almost every content warning they have. The rest of Canada settled on a mid-teen classification, and consistently warned about violence, nudity, and sex. As usual, the Americans have the highest classification. Other jurisdictions I checked all set a mid-teen restriction, with no allowance for parental accompaniment. This makes Canada one of the few countries where a fourteen year old can see the film, unaccompanied in most provinces.
The additional details offered by many jurisdictions just list the elements affecting the rating, but Quebec and New Zealand integrate the rating into a synopsis, and acknowledge the humour. Alberta provides a separate synopsis and elements list, and also lists thematic elements. For Deadpool, these are:
- Heroism versus revenge
- Humour as a coping mechanism
- Love and connection
As Pauline Kael said of The Road Warrior, “for all its huffing and puffing, this is a sappy, sentimental film,” and that’s perhaps an apt message about masculinity. The list of thematic elements are good points to ponder. I’d like to think that by acknowledging problematic messages in the film, we are less susceptible to them – and can enjoy, guilt free, a fantasy of power and love.
Look up ratings by agency.