'Deadpool 2': Mutants Were Always Meant to Be This Way

[This story contains spoilers for Deadpool 2]

What are the best X-Men movies? Based off of critical reactions and fan base fervor, the likeliest frontrunners for that title would be Logan and 2016's Deadpool. As such, it’s hardly surprising that Deadpool 2 opens with Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) paying homage to its competitor, Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) heart-wrenching swan song — and in the most mocking way possible. Matching the humor of the first installment while sufficiently upping the stakes, and introducing a host of compelling supporting players, including the impossibly lucky Domino (Zazie Beetz), time-traveling solider Cable (Josh Brolin) and conflicted teenage mutant Russell (Julian Dennison), Deadpool 2 ultimately makes itself a contender for best X-Men film. All three of these movies have one important thing in common that separate them from the rest of the X-Men cinematic universe, and indeed most superhero movie fare: R ratings. 

In the world of superheroes, mutants are individuals whose bodies have extraordinary capabilities — capabilities that are challenging to show off under the restrictions of a PG-13 rating. Though polar opposites in tone, the mutations at the center of Logan and the Deadpool series share at least some overlap in Wolverine’s healing factor and Deadpool’s inability to die. In both cases, their highly graphic nature is key to being able to explore the nuances of these mutations, either for tragic or comedic ends.

In Logan, graphic violence highlights the frailty of the human body as the formerly indestructible Logan is forced to come to terms with his mortality. After nearly two decades of seeing Wolverine bounce back from being riddled by bullets and other body-breaking punishment in his numerous PG-13 appearances with the somewhat sanitized discretion necessitated by that rating, the unflinching and explicit brutality of Logan forces the viewer into a different sort of relationship with the violence being depicted. The graphic nature of how pain and suffering is presented enables the film to achieve a unique degree of realism and urgency, reaching emotional depths unmatched by any other X-Men film.

And then there are the Deadpool movies, the opposite side of the same coin. These films explore the nature of Deadpool’s immortality through a number of what might be called, for lack of a better term, “body horror gags” — the sort of scenes where retching and laughing would both be reasonable reactions, like when Wade lands on the edge of a table and grotesquely breaks his back, only to get up and walk it off. A PG-13 version of such a scene would play out like Charlie Chaplinesque slapstick: hero falls from a great height and survives through sheer dumb luck. It’s the R-rated graphic violence that enables the film to thoroughly explore the body horror-comedy specific to being an unkillable mutant.

One can imagine PG-13 versions of both these narratives, though admittedly Deadpool himself would be aghast at the very suggestion. But in the case of Logan or the Deadpool movies, the difference would be like that between a katana and a butter knife. Both are still technically blades, but one has a very dull edge.

Disney is poised to acquire 20th Century Fox, the studio that has been making X-Men films since 2000. While conventional wisdom says that the X-Men will be rebooted and merged into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a PG-13 property, there's hope that Deadpool will remain his own entity — as Disney CEO Bob Iger has said the Merc With the Mouth can stay R-rated.

As some of the other noteworthy X-Men installments, like 2003's X2: X-Men United and 2011's X-Men: First Class indicate, it’s not impossible to craft quality PG-13 mutant entertainment, but it’s like wearing one of those suppression collars in Deadpool 2 — the thing that actually makes mutants special has been rendered null and void. Including the first Deadpool, there has been a string of quality R-rated X-Men releases and one PG-13 dud (X-Men: Apocalypse). It’s high time to consider that perhaps this synchronicity has a rather simple explanation: maybe mutants are meant to be rated R.