Embracing the R: Hope for “Red Rising”

cannotevenIf you haven’t seen the latest red-band trailer for “Deadpool” take a look below. Mind though, that it is red-band, so NSFW.

Comic book fans rejoice, because your sassy, smack-talking superhero is coming to break through that movie screen and deliver some well-deserved, ab-aching jokes. I was late to the Deadpool love train, but from what I’ve seen so far, I’m loving this guy so much.

But watching this trailer brought something to my attention that I hadn’t considered before: why are studios so afraid of an R-rating?

What’s All Your Fuss About?

Before the “Deadpool” test footage leaked last year, an R-rated superhero movie wasn’t even considered in the minds of Marvel Studios and other hero-crunching film buffs. While we loved our witty good guys, we also loved their darker sides and the violence in the comics, and those had to be reined in for a PG-13 rating for maximum profit. But with the emergence of films like “Deadpool”, “Snowpiercer”, and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” most recently, I’m starting to notice that the R rating no longer spells trouble for certain genres anymore.

The R rating was typically saved for horror and intense action films, filled with gore and violence to the point where the R rating was like a badge of honor. It was expected that superhero movies, sci-fi/fantasy, and young adult flicks would stick to a PG-13 rating in order to bring in the largest audience. If that meant sacrificing some scenes or story elements, so be it.

“Deadpool”, “Snowpiercer” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” are a superhero, sci-fi, and (arguably) a young adult movie who have all pursued the R rating for the sake of the story and visual elements. I applaud them so loudly, I’m like Citizen Kane, the aggressive clapper in a silent room. They easily could have eliminated scenes to squeeze into a PG-13, but they didn’t because it would have taken away from the message or the fun of the film. It’s nice to see that Hollywood is evolving, ever so slowly, to disregarding this ambiguous “parental” rating system and simply making movies that are entertaining. Also, with the power of social media and amateur critics at the helm, the buzz around a movie can easily rise and fall with it’s online popularity and instant reviews.

What Does This Have to Do with “Red Rising”?

When it was announced that Pierce Brown’s Red Rising would be adapted for film, one of my first fears was how much are they going to censor? All I could compare it to was “The Hunger Games” films. While I have not read the Hunger Games books myself, I was told by readers that a lot of the violence was toned down and some psychological elements were left out of the films. I can imagine it may have been due to difficulty filming, but I was a little disappointed to find out that “Hunger Games” could have been much more suspenseful than it was. But at the same time, I wasn’t surprised; the trilogy was riding on the coattails that the “Twilight Saga” films had left behind, raking in the cash as the next big young adult pull. Now, don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Hunger Games” movies. In fact, the coming end of “The Hunger Games” and the success of “Kingsman: The Secret Service” give me hope that the “Red Rising” film could be something great, even with an R-rating.

Especially with an R-rating.

Now for those who have not read the books, I won’t spoil any elements here. But both books, Red Rising and the sequel Golden Son, are very violent, but with purpose. There’s a caste system that’s in place to keep the society running (sound familiar?), and the ones on top resort to violence to control the ones underneath. It sounds cliche, but there’s more; what’s worse is what these people on top do to each other. Red Rising follows main hero Darrow’s journey through this upper echelon, and the violence and betrayals are front and center: there’s hangings, prostitution, gladiator death matches, classism, crucifixions, cannibalism, brain-washing, Trojan horses (if you read the books, you know what I’m talking about!) and more. It’s like Lord of the Flies crossed with Ender’s Game with a dash of Battle Royale.

You may be telling yourself, there’s other YA books out there that deal with this stuff, and I would agree with you. But how many of those are being translated to film? That’s what I’m getting at.

While that list may seem cliche to some and disturbing to others, each of those moments are actually important to the story and Darrow’s growth as a leader. Pierce Brown is writing the script himself, as he knows the story best, but one can only hope that he, the director, and the studio will agree on which important elements to keep.

TL;DR: What I’m trying to say is that reducing these important scenes simply due to the violence factor will detract from the experience and the growth of the characters in the film.

I hope that with the recent success of R-rated young adult films like “Kingsman” or the tough, challenging subjects for young adults like “Hunger Games”, that the studio behind Red Rising can trust the fans to make their best judgements. “Deadpool” received major praise for breaking out of the superhero mold, and I believe the world is ready for an R-rated YA film to break that same mold. While “Kingsman” was a great inclusion, I believe this trend can come around faster with a strong franchise behind it, just like “Hunger Games” did: the Red Rising Trilogy could be the answer. It’s how the story should be seen…embracing the R.

*****

Want more Red Rising stuff? Check out my reaction to the Morning Star prologue, dream casting for the movie, my top 7 best moments from Golden Son, or my first review of the series so far.

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