This post may contain spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
When the first Guardians of the Galaxy debuted, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still a relatively new concept. The cosmic side of the MCU was only glimpsed or hinted at through other films like The Avengers and Thor, young children were getting enamored by the likes of Iron Man and Captain America, and wider audiences craving more stories of caped crusaders saving the day.
Though it was risky to launch Marvel’s intergalactic storytelling with virtually unknown characters that include a talking tree and a gun-toting raccoon, the franchise sparked a unique aesthetic.
In typical fashion, the Guardians were key players when the galaxy needed to be saved or an extinction-level event threatened the essence of the universe, especially when one was a giant purple alien wearing colorful space stones on his gauntlet. However, these reasons aren’t enough to explain why the series is able to branch out into its distinctiveness. What sets it apart from other major superhero franchises in recent memory, is filmmaker James Gunn’s focus on the smaller moments that contribute to the bigger aspect of the story. Without them, the high-stakes and grandiose details of the journey wouldn’t matter.
Each installment of the franchise explored the inner trauma and conflicts within its core characters as it added another layer of adversity throughout their multi-film arc. Despite the films exploring mature themes such as child abandonment and coping with loss, the MCU films are typically seen as family-friendly content.
With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, serving as Gunn’s Swan Song to the MCU and the final adventure of his lovable band of space misfits, audiences question its departure from the family model Marvel Studios and The Walt Disney Company has established in its multiversal franchise.
The film focuses on the Guardians’ endeavor to save the life of Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) while exploring the origins of the smart-aleck raccoon and the mastermind that created him.
Before the public release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, many reviewers noted the brutal and unsettling imagery that was used in the film, along with an article published by The Independent. Most of the content revolved around the High Evolutionary, the newest villain whose gruesome animal experimentation was shown throughout the film as well as his face reveal during the final act. In addition, the film also has the first F-bomb in the MCU.
Now that the film is in cinemas, a lot of cinema-goers are questioning on social media the flexibility of the PG-13 rating as well as society’s treatment of other films with similar ratings to Guardians.
“I’m sympathetic to the idea that these movies have a gigantic kids’ audience but also want to point out that PG-13 means ‘may not be suitable for kids under 13’ instead of ‘it’s totally cool to take a 5-year-old’ like we’ve been treating it,” one user commented.
Another user described the film as a “Hard PG-13” when compared to other films in the MCU, suggesting that Gunn had more creative control as he is leaving Marvel to spearhead DC Comic’s reboot of its cinematic universe.
“There’s nothing in it that could possibly justify an R rating, but I’m really not sure if kids below their teens can handle it,” they wrote. “People take their 8-year-olds to every Marvel movie even though they’re all PG-13 and that’s fine because most of the ‘adult’ stuff is just a joke that’ll fly over their heads. But if you take your 8-year-old to GoTG 3, it’ll be like Optimus Prime in 1986 but worse.”
According to screenwriter Zack Stentz, the reason why moviegoers are split with the film’s rating is due to the vagueness of the guidelines the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has set for its rating system.
“The problem isn’t with parents but the fact that the PG-13 rating has become so incredibly broad to be essentially meaningless,” Stentz tweeted. ‘It can mean anything from light fantasy violence to a shocking amount of onscreen carnage, as long as there aren’t multiple F-bombs and sexual nudity.”
Stentz added that previous films with PG-13 ratings used different tactics to keep their films in their ideal rating such as avoiding the use of blood or using colors other than red in action sequences, toying with the intended rules of consistency.
Despite the surge of PG-13-rated films in the past 30 years, the classification is a relatively new rating within the MPAA.
Since its creation in 1968, the MPAA relied on the Code and Rating Administration’s (CARA) motion picture rating system in the US as a resource for parents to find appropriate films for their children. It was a voluntary system that film studios did not have to follow through for public showings, however, many theaters refuse to promote unrated or NC-17-rated films as it doesn’t appeal to broad audiences.
For the most part, the rating used the following classifications since the beginning: G for general audiences, M (which later became PG) for parental guidance, R for audience members under 17 needing an accompanying adult, and X (later NC-17) which did not allow anyone under the age of 17.
Due to audience concerns about violent and gore-y content in PG rated films such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins in the 1980s, there were calls for a new rating that helped differentiate films that were too mature for PG but not enough for adult themes. In 1984, the PG-13 rating was created with Red Dawn as the first film released with the classification.
Since then, PG-13 was known as the “sweet spot” for studios as they can create films with mature themes while being able to cater to the largest audience base possible. Though there has been concerns over the years that the MPAA system tends to be more lenient with major studios compared to independent films.
Eric Watson, producer of the American psychological drama Requiem for a Dream, and Kirby Dick, director of the MPAA documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated, have claimed that larger studios have higher leniency due to influences on the MPAA and Hollywood insiders and are able to get away with mature content while staying within the PG-13 or R classifications.
Is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 an example of big studio privilege or society’s increasing tolerance of graphic nature? Although it is hard to find a clear answer, Marvel’s upcoming content builds more toward the roots of the comics than abiding by their past claims of being family-friendly.
As these films are made for the enjoyment of everyone, it is always best to take their rating with a grain of salt. You wouldn’t want your six-year-old to watch adorable critters turn into Cronenberg-like monsters.
Edited by Kavya Venkateshwaran
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