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The Suicide Squad: moving on from R13 into R16 territory

Posted on 05 August 2021 by Rebecca

Spoiler alert: while we try not to spoil key plot details for new releases we might be talking about content that you want to see for yourself. So read with caution and be warned about what may lie ahead.

James Gunn’s new release comic action hero film The Suicide Squad takes on a motley crew of morally-corrupt characters from the DC Universe of comic books. It kicks off with an opening action sequence that explodes with hyper-real deaths as heads are spliced open, bodies blown up, detachable limbs fly, and a water-logged weasel washes up. We follow the gang of supervillains as they’re forced into carrying out a secret mission for a US Government agency, run by Amanda Waller (Viola Davis). Detonation devices have been implanted in the base of their skulls so the threat of death is ever-present if they don’t fulfil the mission. With cruelty, blood, gore, violence, (and the title The Suicide Squad) it’s pretty clear we’re heading into some restricted territory!

The first film in the ‘series’ Suicide Squad (2016), directed by David Ayer, was classified R13. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020) was a Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) character spin-off clearly aimed at an older audience: in NZ it was classified R16 violence, cruelty, offensive language and sexual references.

We invited some young people along to our classification screening to get their take on where the level of violence, humour, cruelty, language and sex has landed compared with the earlier films. We’re very aware of the need to be warning potential audiences for suicide, violence and cruelty themes when we classify restricted content, and we wanted to hear from our Youth Advisory Panel (YAP) where this film was potentially going to land with a young audience.

“It’s just like death and a lot of torture and violence. It’s kind of expected coming in. It’s expected in a film like this that you’re going to see torture… It was comedy but not comedy… something that’s funny but it’s not funny…” — YAP member

“[The Suicide Squad] was pretty gruesome. Also, comparing it to the first film, the target audience, a lot of the viewers are a lot younger and their parents will be expecting something quite different… I wasn’t expecting half of that and I found it quite uncomfortable.” — YAP member

Our attending YAP members suggested warning for offensive language and graphic violence and felt the R16 age-level restriction was justified as the violence was unsuitable for children and younger teenagers.

In classifying a film inspired by comic book characters we do consider the ‘unreal’ fantasy aspect of the filmmaking, while weighing up how younger viewers might not be mature enough to get it. From the classification decision: “The fantasy context of the crimes means that most viewers are unlikely to take the actions of characters seriously, despite being positioned to want the Suicide Squad to succeed. However, the presentation of wise-cracking amoral ‘heroes’ is likely to seem glamorous or fun to some younger viewers, inuring them to a callous ends-justify-the-means type of violence and giving the impression that violent crime is justified and to be celebrated in certain circumstances.”

The Suicide Squad is in New Zealand cinemas from 5 August and is rated R16 graphic violence, offensive language and cruelty.

Curious about the Youth Advisory Panel and what’s involved? We’re often on the lookout for new recruits and welcome new approaches at youthadvisorypanel@classificationoffice.govt.nz.

Help information

At the Office we know that everyone has a line. What might seem like an easy watch for one person could be different for another. In this blog it's highlighted that there’s graphic violence depicted in a comic way. If the content of this blog has made you feel uncomfortable please reach out. Talk to your friends or whānau or you can free call or text 1737 for more support.

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