"That was really violent," says Pepper Potts after a rigorous sequence of knocking around bad guys in Iron Man 3. Oh, was it? Gwyneth Paltrow's observation snapped me back into the reality that, as the Fandango Film Mom, I should be aware of the amount of violence, death and body counts – which, as Pepper points out, is considerably higher in Iron Man 3 than Tony Stark's previous outings.
After a decade of seeing every movie G through PG-13 movie, the reality is I've become rather desensitized. I certainly can look at a movie like GI Joe: Retaliation and be shocked at the gun worship or wag my finger at 2010's Jonah Hex where a guys' head is put in a vice and squeezed off -- those are the easy ones.
But, beyond the obvious, the red line of "too much" violence gets blurry. For instance, is Star Wars violence REALLY violent? I mean, if you get lightsabered to death, you just disappear; similar "disappearing" deaths occur in Iron Man 3 and Oblivion. What if there's a whole lot of shooting and death BUT it's only the BAD guys doing the killing AND no one is actually bleeding, which is the case in most superhero films?
What if a war scene shows beheadings, but only that of fictional Orcs and dwarves, like in The Hobbit? Or what if it's slapstick violence, like in the Three Stooges, or animated violence, like the boulders that keep flattening cave dad Grug in The Croods? What exactly determines too much violence for the developing minds of young viewers?
I discovered the slippery slope of violence when I tried to establish parameters in videogames with my family. The ruling: no games where the avatar uses weapons to kill. Well, my teenage son would propose, what about shooting deer? Aliens? Zombies?
As Hollywood and Washington try to sort out who is responsible for America's so-called "gun culture," the problem is identifying what kind of violence is too much for the kids craving action. Unlike the Supreme Court's identification of certain "adult" movies, when it comes to violence, I'm not sure I know it when I see it.
Here are three movies you may want to see with your family this weekend:
Iron Man 3. Listen, it may be violent but it's darn good and it's the can't miss movie of the summer. An elusive terrorist targeting Americans makes this movie a better choice for older tweens and teens.
42. Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball wasn't by chance and it certainly wasn't easy. The racist language is frequent and intense, but if your kid can put it into context, 42 is the most powerful movie of the year.
The Croods. Family values haven't changed much since the beginning of humanity – dads are overprotective and daughters want to explore the world and the boys who inhabit it.
Find out what kids think about these films at www.KidsPickFlicks.com, where all kids are movie critics.