Okay, it’s Friday and I’ve been arguing with people on Twitter about this so I might as well write about it. Filmmaker Martin Scorsese has offered his take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it turns out he’s not really a fan:
The director of films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas told Empire magazine that his attempts to get up to speed with contemporary superhero films had failed.
“I tried, you know?” the director said when asked if he had seen Marvel’s movies. “But that’s not cinema.”
He continued: “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
I should say up front that I’ve seen a bunch of Scorsese’s movies and it’s beyond question that he’s a great director. In addition, I enjoy listening to him talk about movies almost as much as I enjoy watching his films. He’s clearly a master of the subject and often has interesting things to say. That’s why I find it so odd that he’s so off base in this case.
You can certainly define “cinema” in such a way that Iron Man and the Avengers aren’t part of it. If cinema means making dark films about gangsters then lots of things won’t qualify. If cinema means making gritty, realistic dramas then, fine, Marvel is out of the running. But if cinema means the kind of movies that have been popular with large audiences for as long as people have been going to movie theaters, then Scorsese is clearly wrong. Here’s my rebuttal to his argument:
King Kong was the superhero movie of its day, a special effects-heavy spectacle film with an implausible plot. Like superhero movies today, Kong was fantastically successful at the box office in 1933 but was nominated for no major award from the Academy. It’s regarded as a great film by a lot of critics past and present. Is it “cinema?” I guess it doesn’t qualify under Scorsese’s view.
Here’s my next response:
This is a musical comedy that is not heavy on conveying emotional, psychological experiences. It’s meant to make you laugh. And again, it’s considered by many critics to be a great comedy, one of the best ever made. But is it Cinema?
What about Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus or Hitchcock’s North by Northwest? These arguably have more in common with Marvel popcorn movies tonally than with Taxi Driver. They’re also a lot more fun to watch. What about Adventures of Robin Hood or Dracula? These films aren’t terribly realistic in any sense. Robin Hood has a love story but it also has a lot of sword fighting and archery worthy of a Marvel’s Hawkeye. Seriously, tell me this isn’t 1938’s version of the Avengers:
I could go on for a very long time. The history of Hollywood is full of really great horror movies, thrillers, comedies, and action films that people still love decades later despite the fact that they are mostly just entertainment and not terribly deep. I don’t know if those films count as cinema in Scorsese’s view but added all together they probably account for a majority of the films ever made including all of the most popular ones at the box office.
Marvel’s movies may have a lot in common with amusement parks, but what’s wrong with that? According to the most recent numbers available, half a billion people (worldwide) visited a theme park last year. Not every film has to be Goodfellas. Sometimes people just want to relax and watch Roy Rogers or the Avengers.
Update: James Gunn, writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy is disappointed:
Martin Scorsese is one of my 5 favorite living filmmakers. I was outraged when people picketed The Last Temptation of Christ without having seen the film. I’m saddened that he’s now judging my films in the same way. https://t.co/hzHp8x4Aj8
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) October 4, 2019