The classification and evaluation administration of the MPA primarily strives for uniformity. As Joan Graves, then-chair of the group, repeatedly noted during a panel moderated by The Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg at SXSW 2013, the whole point of the MPA grading panel is to provide parents with information while balancing the concerns of over 300 million people in live in regions that sometimes have radically different prejudices about raising children. Even parents who disagree on what is appropriate need a frame of reference when deciding whether to let their 14-year-old go to the cinema unaccompanied.
So what would be the case if you gave the PG-13 movie Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness an R rating? Clayton Davis, writing in Variety, gives the argument his best, arguing, “With brutal scenes where people are cut in half, shocking jump scares, and a sequence that is a chilling (albeit sublime) ode to Jack Nicholson in ‘ The Shining’ is ‘we can confidently rate this entry as the most ‘adult’ MCU appearance to date.
Meanwhile, the constant nervousness on Twitter suggested the film’s gory level was too intense for regular viewers and needed a trigger warning beyond the MPA’s rating.
Still, this seems a bit far-fetched. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is as much a PG-13 film as any of its predecessors. This is essentially the only means of judging reviews as they are all relative in nature.
There are no swear words or sex to talk about. And the violence is well within the scope of other PG-13 offerings: most of the action is of the CGI Sparkle Finger variety, with a slightly more intense sequence featuring a handful of new multiversal heroes serving as cannon fodder, frankly , is the only thing that makes this a PG-13 movie from a PG movie.
The “tone” of “Multiverse of Madness” is a little harder to quantify than the swearing, sexing, and slugging. But we don’t have to look far to see a similar offering: Raimi’s own Drag Me to Hell is infinitely meaner, rougher, and uglier than Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and that film also secured a PG-13 Rating during its theatrical release.
As a parent, I probably wouldn’t let my daughter watch Multiverse of Madness. But that’s mainly because she’s 6 and not, say, 14. In other words, it’s because she’s under 13, an age that feels more or less right for a film of this nature. The PG-13 rating exists for a reason, and those reasons are Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (which caught a PG despite extracting a still-beating heart) and Red Dawn (the unapologetically gory first PG -13 pic), borderline movies that weren’t quite R-worthy but probably too intense for young kids.
But really, the debate here isn’t about whether Marvel’s latest offering is suitable for kids; it is about whether they are suitable for adults. The suggestion that “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is an R-rated film has more to do with the requirement to take these films “seriously”. The brusque belief that the film, about wizards and witches roaming the multiverse, is an R-rated adventure is a kissing cousin to the strident belief that MCU films deserve best picture nominations as a token of their seriousness.
There remains an ardent belief among comics fans that the genre is the Rodney Dangerfield of filmmaking, a belief fueled by actors who are outraged at the suggestion that a job in a children’s film doesn’t equal fine art . No matter how many times you channel Don Draper and yell “that’s what the money is for” — and Multiverse of Madness will make a lot of it — fans will demand that the win comes with respect. An R rating would show that respect, an acknowledgment that this is a film for people who get to choose and go to war.
The MPA’s job isn’t to convince the adult audience that their residual belief in the inherent childishness of comic book movies is wrong. It is designed to guide parents and help them decide what is okay for their younger charges. In the case of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, they did a good job.
If you’re watching a PG-13 rated movie with your young child and they’re having nightmares after seeing a giant Lovecraftian monstrosity have the CG eye plucked out of their head, then that’s on you. And if you’re spending so much time trying to justify the same cinema visit as a great artistic experience, you need to examine that too.