The debate about 12a certifications and their content seems to have subsided for a while, perhaps as those concerned by the content of these films concede that they’ve had little success.
12a seems to be a certification for a family film, albeit a slightly older family. The certificate was introduced, to replace the original 12, to give parental discretion to films like Spider-Man, The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, which had content considered unfit for a PG, but that may still be appropriate for older children. But what started out as a concession to a few scary scenes in fantasy films has become a certification which allows for a range of sex, swearing and, most significantly, violence, previously restricted from children.
Personally swearing doesn’t concern me that much, but violence in particular seems to be more accessible to a younger audience than ever. Just take a look at franchises like Die Hard or Terminator, which started out with 18 certificates but have moved down the certifications through the years, with both of their most recent instalments having a 12a certificate. While they have certainly undergone many changes, and have deliberately reduced their swearing and violence in pursuit of larger audiences, they also continue to contain huge amounts of violence.
The Dark Knight managed to receive hundreds of complaints, mostly for the Joker’s acts of sadism. These were often hard to watch, and should probably have earned the film a 15 certificate. It certainly contained much more realistic, graphic violence than 1989’s Batman and its sequel, both of which carry a 15 rating.
The Wolverine seems to create the same problem. There were many scenes in the film that I would have felt very uncomfortable watching with a child of ten or 11, yet alone even younger as many who see it will be. In the first five minutes three men kill themselves with samurai swords to the chest. They do this offscreen, sure, but we hear the gruesome squelch and there’s no doubt what’s happened. There’s a scene in a sex hotel with themed rooms and handcuff-shaped keys. If I was making a fun superhero film about a guy who’s a bit like a wolf, likely to be viewed by children, I wouldn’t say “hey, you know what’d be funny? If we put in a bit in a themed sex hotel.” It wasn’t even relevant.
There’s also hanging, a woman pulling her skin off, a character getting completely scorched by a nuclear blast and a bit where a character puts their hand into someone’s chest while they’re alive and screaming. There’s a fall from a great height, where the camera doesn’t even cut away as they hit the floor, and a bit where Wolverine has about thirty arrows fired which all stick out of his back.
I don’t think movie violence is a cause of real life violence, but I do think certifications should be there as a guide to parents, and to prevent children being scared, shocked or desensitised before they’re old enough to understand what they’re watching. This level of violence in family films is weird and unnecessary. The BBFC should reintroduce the 12 certificate, alongside the 12a, so there’s a real guide as to the content of films.