Was Suicide Squad Held Back By Its PG-13 Rating?

By  · Published on August 9th, 2016

Jared Leto seems to think so.

Jared Leto has a lot to say about the production of Suicide Squad, and not all of it is good. In fact, very little of it is good. Evidently not a proponent of stand-by-your-man mentality, Leto has said that David Ayer’s supervillain romp should have and could have included more screen time for the Joker. The latest person to portray the clown prince has also expressed his concerns that Suicide Squad was held back by its PG-13 Rating.

Now, I don’t know how much more of a Joker that failed to make any lasting impression could have helped the movie, ‐ and maybe Leto could have put more of a stamp on the character with more scenes ‐ but it was abundantly clear how much Ayer had to bend over backwards to make Suicide Squad suitable for all audiences. But did it adversely affect the movie, and, if so, how much?

I imagine Leto got paid a lump sum for his role, because if he was getting a cut of the box office, he certainly wouldn’t be complaining about Suicide Squad’s MPAA rating. While there have been plenty of apples-to-oranges comparisons that make its weekend gross seem a lot bigger than it is, Suicide Squad still made a lot of money to open its theatrical run. And yes, that’s almost guaranteed to taper off, given the … let’s call it “mixed” reception of the film so far, but it would be far worse for studio investors if those under the age of 17 couldn’t buy tickets.

This is also helping their word-of-mouth appeal. Even studio executive Jeff Goldstein said, via Variety, that “the younger the audience, the higher the [review] score.” This undoubtedly has contributed to their mostly positive user ratings on websites such as Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes and Cinemascore.

Suicide Squad Review: There’s Poison in The Water

And while Deadpool did show the world that an R-rated movie can still be lucrative, that’s incredibly difficult to pull off and goes beyond simply dropping a few more f-bombs. Not to mention, also, that Deadpool had 1/3 the budget of Suicide Squad, so it will likely still end up even more profitable, despite its MPAA rating. But, if Suicide Squad’s PG-13 rating held back the quality of the movie enough that critics and audiences would have liked it more otherwise, it perhaps could have made a case for longevity at the box office. As our own Christopher Campbell pointed out, Suicide Squad’s success appears to be front-loaded, much like Batman v Superman, which both contrast heavily with Deadpool’s sustained box office returns.

Could Leto have a legitimate point? In some respects at least, an R-rating could have made Suicide Squad more interesting ‐ and less dumb. Particularly with how Enchantress affected the plot, it could have been a lot less dumb. The film’s antagonist was able to affect the minds of soldiers and turn them against the Suicide Squad. I’m having trouble explaining exactly how that happens, but that’s because it’s really unclear. She infects them with some sort of spirit powers that turns their bodies into a fragile, stone-like substance. Since they otherwise are exactly the same ‐ they still can only walk around and shoot like regular soldiers ‐ it’s clear that the only reason this was done was to make the movie PG-13, by turning them into beings that can’t bleed. Just ask Christopher Nolan how much leeway the MPAA will give you if you eliminate blood.

Did this help Suicide Squad’s immediate box office returns? Perhaps. Did it harm the enjoyment of the movie, which, in turn, harmed its reception? You can bet the house on it. Instead of Enchantress turning them into interesting villains, or keeping them humans to up the stakes of each kill, we’re left with a completely uninspired veil over the violence that could have given Suicide Squad some real bite.

There’s Plenty Wrong with Enchantress in Suicide Squad

I want to be clear, though, that the ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. Just because using flesh-and-blood enemies would have resulted in an R-rating doesn’t mean Suicide Squad had to turn everyone into bland, dissolvable punching bags. Enchantress easily could have turned them into something else, or simply spawned a whole new army of creatures allowing them to skirt the MPAA and flex their creative muscles. I mean, they’re already playing pretty fast-and-loose with the character. Sadly, it seems that any such strength has long since atrophied, as this was hardly Suicide Squad’s only issue.

Suicide Squad could have had it both ways, but their thin substitution for actual stakes that took the form of uninspired creature-violence, if you will, most certainly affected the public’s reception of the film. But, an R-rating wouldn’t have made Suicide Squad any funnier, it wouldn’t have made the plot make any more sense (the final boss is killed by a bomb, as if the U.S. military didn’t have any of those) and it certainly wouldn’t have given its characters any more emotional weight ‐ and no, a five-minute powwow at a bar where each character verbalizes their entire emotional journey does not count.

So I’m not convinced, Mr. Leto. Suicide Squad was beyond saving long before the MPAA got there.

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