Explaining the backlash against Guardians of the Galaxy 3's rating
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 has been warmly received by Marvel fans during its opening weekend, currently scoring the joint third-highest audience score (95%) on Rotten Tomatoes of the entire MCU.
However, there has been one aspect of the movie that has drawn criticism from viewers: its dark content, especially within the context of a 12A rating in the UK and a PG-13 rating in the US.
There's no denying that writer/director James Gunn pushes the boundaries of those ratings with hard-to-watch scenes of animal torture throughout, as well as a gruesome face peeling scene that wouldn't be out of place in Gunn's horror work.
But has the backlash to these elements of Guardians of the Galaxy 3 been justified or is it missing the point? Let's delve into it.
Guardians of the Galaxy 3 controversy explained
On the face of it, the backlash to Guardians of the Galaxy 3's content – which also includes the MCU's first ever F-bomb – seems to be unjustified as the respective ratings in the UK and US do include content warnings.
For a 12A, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) state that the movie is "suitable for children aged 12 and over", but also that those under 12 can see it "so long as they are accompanied by an adult", adding: "In such circumstances, responsibility for allowing a child under 12 to view lies with the accompanying adult."
Every movie also receives specific warnings for what it contains which, for Guardians of the Galaxy 3, included that it contained "moderate violence, injury detail, threat, infrequent strong language". The official rating also includes more in-depth detail about the movie's content, such as the wonderfully-phrased "crunchy fistfights".
"We classified Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 12A for moderate violence, injury detail, threat, infrequent strong language," David Austin OBE, BBFC Chief Executive, told Digital Spy about the 12A decision.
"At 12A, our guidelines state that 'there may be moderate physical and psychological threat and horror sequences. Although some scenes may be disturbing, the overall tone should not be. Horror sequences should not be frequent or sustained.' The overall tone of the film is one of fun and adventure, with plenty of comedy to balance the darker moments.
"I'd strongly urge families to check our website or free app if they want to know exactly what a film contains before a trip to the cinema – especially in the case of a 12A rated film, where parents and carers may be weighing up whether a film is suitable for their children under 12.
"We provide content advice for every film we classify, and we#ve also recently launched a new visual display of our content advice, aiming to make it easier than ever for people to make decisions."
In the US, the Motion Picture Association's (MPA) advice for a PG-13 states that "some material may be inappropriate for children under 13", alongside a warning: "Parents strongly cautioned."
The difference here is that children under 13 can go and see a PG-13 in the US without an accompanying parent, although it's advised that they are accompanied by somebody over the age of 17. For both a 12A and PG-13 though, there's nothing preventing a six-year-old, for example, seeing the movie with a parent or guardian.
On the basis that the information is already out there for what Guardians of the Galaxy 3 contains, you could make the case that the backlash is a fuss over nothing. If anybody was concerned about what they were going to be seeing, they could make the decision after doing the research.
The MPA warnings might not be as detailed, but the BBFC rating makes it clear there are "distressing scenes of animals being experimented on", as well as "sight of blood, burn wounds and a man's disfigured face after he has been mauled".
However that interpretation that it's on the viewer and/or the parent doesn't take into account the wider context. While it may not do much to connect itself to the wider MCU, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is still a Marvel movie which, by and large, have always been 12A and PG-13 anyway.
It's totally understandable that somebody would take their children or themselves to an MCU movie without giving a second thought to the content warnings. At most, you'll get some overblown fantasy violence where, sure, a lot of people probably die, but there's nothing graphic or distressing to be seen.
You could make the case that Avengers: Infinity War certainly fell into the distressing category with its dark ending. However, it's possible you went into that movie not expecting a happy ending given that we already knew a second part was coming, and that some major deaths were almost guaranteed to happen.
If you hadn't read up on Guardians of the Galaxy 3 or seen the trailers, you would never expect that its central story would revolve around animal experimentation. We knew Rocket had been experimented on, but you'd be forgiven for thinking any backstory would be dealt with in one scene, rather than extended flashbacks to every horrible thing.
This is not a criticism of Gunn's work or even of the respective UK and US ratings; we're just stating that for an MCU movie, it would be fair to expect the typical family-friendly content and not scenes that would shake even a hardcore horror watcher.
Is there a solution to it? Probably not. Both ratings have been in operation for years and it hasn't led to any greater understanding of them, with them largely being seen as effectively another PG 'anybody can go' rating.
In the UK, you could revert back to the hard 12 certificate to prevent younger audiences from seeing such movies. Even if that was the case for Guardians of the Galaxy 3 though, it's not hard to imagine a 12 year old being traumatised by the content.
The alternative is something nobody wants which would see certification bodies censor movies for lower ratings. We want to see a movie as the director envisioned and when it comes to Guardians of the Galaxy 3, the fact it's solely Gunn's vision is what makes it work so well.
So perhaps the hope is that even if the threequel got the backlash over the content, it could mark a sea change on the 12A and PG-13 ratings and how they're viewed. The information has always been out there, and maybe people will now actually read it.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 is out now in cinemas.
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