It costs a lot of money to make a successful film these days, especially superhero films. Unsurprisingly, this means the studios, which give directors and producers the resources they need to bring their dreams to cinematic life, have great expectations. This is not a new or concerning concept in and of itself, rather, what worries me, is when a film’s quality suffers because studio executives wanted to get as many people into those precious cinema seats as possible by cutting a film that was clearly meant to be R-Rated (the UK equivalent being 18) down to a PG-13 (or a 12A).
Here’s a recent example, 2018's Venom. A charming film, one that failed to live up to a lot of expectations, but an enjoyable experience nonetheless.
Venom is Marvel Comics’ character who is, in fact, two characters sharing one body: Eddie Brock, a stubborn and dogged investigative reporter who becomes host to an alien parasite (or as it prefers to be called, symbiote), which gives him superhuman strength and speed, at the cost of needing to consume living flesh. If he doesn't let the symbiote eat others, it will eat him from the inside out.
The storyline of the film is a loose adaptation of a 90s comic storyline: Venom Lethal Protector. The audience sees Brock and his alien passenger clashing with the sinister Life Foundation, an evil corporation seeking to turn the symbiotes into weapons. Brock investigates the corporation for conducting fatal human experiments on the poor; his efforts see his career and relationship with fiancé both destroyed. Upon being bonded with the symbiote Brock and his new partner seek to make good on his previous failures, taking down the foundation and rebuilding Eddie's personal life and relationships.
In the lead-up to Venom's release, I was ecstatic to find out it would be directed by Ruben Fleischer, who helmed the modern classic, Zombieland. I could not wait for Fleischer to bring the same dark, gory humour and loveable characters that made so great. Plus, if anyone were to get along with Fleischer so perfectly, it would be the human Swiss Army Knife that is Tom Hardy, playing the role of Eddie Brock.
So we're off to a good start, and while the trailers that came out left me frustratingly unimpressed, they did not leave me displeased. However, all that excitement came to a screeching halt mere days before I went to the cinema to watch it. Out of curiosity, I searched up what the film's age rating was, to confirm to myself that I was due in for an R-Rated shake-up of the superhero genre in the vein of Logan and Deadpool. I was disappointed to learn the film was rated PG-13.
A big part of Venom’s appeal, for me and many other fans, is the fact that this little slice of Lovecraftian, John Carpenter-esque horror, co-exists with, and regularly clashes with, a teenage boy in red and blue spandex (Spider-Man). He’s a brain eating, body snatching space parasite made of black goo that simply cannot be done justice by a PG rating.
In the end I still enjoyed the movie, and credit where it’s due, they pushed the rating and got a few head-chomping moments in there, although often awkwardly shot, and never with any blood.
I suppose I can’t fight the numbers; Venom has grossed an incredible $854,000,000, more than the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and almost as much as Volume 2.
However, in my opinion, no one involved in the creative process should do anything that will neuter the film, especially not for the sake of milking it for cash. There are other, less financially successful, examples: Terminator Genisys and the third Expendables film were both panned by critics and fans as being subpar follow-ups to their respective series. In large part due to the fact that they took gritty, dark and adult subject matters and drew smiley faces on them.
Call me a purist or a snob, but I think this practice is disrespectful to the craft of filmmaking, as it becomes almost a form of censorship for more explicit content. Awareness needs to be raised amongst both film fanatics and superhero fans alike, for it will not be tolerated.