‘Multiverse of Madness’ Should NOT Be Rated R

To suggest otherwise is, well, madness

Somewhere out there in the multiverse is a world in which Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness is rated R. But not in this world. Here, Sam Raimi’s record-breaking entry into the MCU is rated PG-13, “for intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language,” according to the Motion Picture Association.

Some people say the PG-13 rating isn’t strong enough, and that the MPA should have given the movie an R rating. At first, those concerns were reserved to Twitter, where people kept talking about how the film “pushed the boundaries” of the PG-13 rating. That is, until Saturday afternoon, when Variety published a piece where a writer wondered how Disney got away with a PG-13 and then advocated for an R rating for the film. The Hollywood Reporter followed up with its own PG-13 explainer on Sunday afternoon.

To be fair, this movie does feature some pretty gnarly deaths and more horror elements than other MCU entries. No spoilers, but there’s an eye-gouging within the first 20 minutes, and other characters are impaled, shredded and/or violently ripped across timelines. The third act features a reanimated corpse. But is that violence on par with something from, say, Saving Private Ryan? Absolutely not. This film is directed by Sam Raimi, who often infused his Spider-Man films with horror elements reminiscent of his Evil Dead days. Remember the Lord’s Prayer scene with Aunt May? The jump scare where Norman Osborn doesn’t remember what happened to him after his transformation into the Green Goblin? Or the ending to the original Spider-Man, where the Green Goblin is impaled on his own glider? All within the realm of the PG-13 rating.

Multiverse of Madness
Zombie Dr. Strange is scary, but he’s not exactly Rated-R scary.

The violence in Multiverse of Madness also fits that category. The ratings system is so fickle and MCU movies have typically been so tame that when someone like Raimi comes along and actually works within the limits of a PG-13, it seems shocking. This is exactly the type of movie a genre-loving 13-year-old should see: A little more adult than PG fare, not terrifying enough that it would earn an R rating, with enough horror callbacks that would lead a young cinephile to seek out more of Raimi’s work (Drag Me to Hell is another excellent PG-13 movie from him). It’s exactly the kind of movie I would have seen on a Friday night with friends when I was a teenager.

The PG-13 rating means “parents strongly cautioned,” according to the MPA. “Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers,” its website reads. The rating is the brainchild of Steven Spielberg and former MPA president Jack Valenti. The two of them invented the PG-13 in 1984, after Spielberg came under fire for the more mature content of Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, both rated PG.

“I remember calling Jack Valenti [then the president of the Motion Picture Association] and suggesting to him that we need a rating between R and PG, because so many films were falling into a netherworld, you know, of unfairness,” Spielberg told Vanity Fair in 2008. “Unfair that certain kids were exposed to Jaws, but also unfair that certain films were restricted, that kids who were 13, 14, 15 should be allowed to see. I suggested, ‘Let’s call it PG-13 or PG-14, depending on how you want to design the slide rule,’ and Jack came back to me and said, ‘We’ve determined that PG-13 would be the right age for that temperature of movie.’ So I’ve always been very proud that I had something to do with that rating.”

Clearly, the MPAA rated Multiverse of Madnes with teenagers in mind, not younger children, but that’s obviously a guideline.  Now, are these ratings largely a bunch of BS? Pretty much. Certainly, there are different levels of PG-13 intensity, even within the MCU. Multiverse of Madness is more violent than Ant-Man. Outside of the MCU, The Batman features a lot more violence than Multiverse of Madness. But the MPA is very fickle and rewards big studios over indies. It also tends to let violent films stay PG-13, as long as there’s no frontal nudity or more than one F-word, and that F-word is not in a sexual context. That’s why Planes, Trains and Automobiles and American Pie have the same R rating. According to the MPA, teenagers can see all the violence in the world, but God forbid they see a tittie or hear Steve Martin cuss out an airport employee.

The MCU’s stronghold over our culture has apparently extended into a need for people to sanitize everything or avoid difficult subject matter. Have we become so sheltered that people are clamoring for this, of all movies, to get an R rating?

Madness.

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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