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Are Marvel Movies Art? Martin Scorsese’s Superhero Cinema Controversy Explained
On the press tour for The Irishman this month, Martin Scorsese has gotten himself in a 1 vs. 100 situation after chirping at the Marvel-verse—and since then, it seems like we’ve heard a new voice in the debate every other day. It all started in an interview with Empire, when Scorsese admitted that not only does he not watch Marvel movies, he thinks that they aren’t cinema.
“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” Scorsese said. “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.”
Since about 90 percent of Hollywood is (or has been) involved with the Marvel Cinematic Universe at this point, someone was bound to fire back. Samuel L. Jackson—who stars as Nick Fury in the MCU—was the first to tee off, when Variety caught up with him and asked what he thought about Scorsese’s comments.
“I mean that’s like saying Bugs Bunny ain’t funny. Films are films. Everybody doesn’t like his stuff either,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s got an opinion, so I mean it’s okay. Ain’t going to stop nobody from making movies.”
After Jackson’s comments, the rest of Marvel Twitter ganged up on Scorsese like the Avengers going Thanos-hunting at the beginning of Endgame. Notably, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, who you think would be sticking to the social media bench for a little while—said that even though he’s a major Scorsese fan, he was upset about the director’s dismissal of the genre.
Guardians of the Galaxy actress Karen Gillian backed up Gunn in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter on Saturday, saying, “There’s so much heart and soul [in Marvel films], and it’s James’ soul in there… He injects so much of his own personality, his sense of humor…that’s a very big representation of who he is as a person and therefore it’s very cinematic. He’s an artist.”
Joss Whedon, who directed the first two Avengers team-ups, chimed in on Twitter in favor of Gunn, too.
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After that first week, it seemed like everyone moved on to more important things, but the backlash mill was merely taking a rest, firing up again this week. When Thor: Ragnarok Taika Waititi was promoting his upcoming film, Jojo Rabbit, the Associated Press asked him about Scorsese’s comments. He said, “Of course it’s cinema! It’s at the movies.”
Separately, The Hollywood Reporter caught up with comic-book-world mainstay Kevin Smith, who said about the controversy, “Martin Scorsese is a genius. But to be fair, my entire film career — even prior to my film career — he’s been pretty much saying the same thing about action movies.” Smith continued, “For my money, I think Martin Scorsese made the biggest superhero movie ever, which was The Last Temptation of Christ… Don’t get much bigger of a superhero than Jesus. He beats Superman and [Robert] Downey [Jr.] every time, so maybe Martin is bending on that territory.”
And finally, yesterday we got clarification from the legend himself. Still on The Irishman promotional tour, Scorsese added to his Marvel take.
“What has to be protected is the singular experience of experiencing a picture, ideally with an audience,” Scorsese said. “But there’s room for so many others now, and so many other ways. There’s going to be crossovers, completely. The value of a film that’s like a theme park film, for example, the Marvel-type pictures, where the theatres become amusement parks, that’s a different experience. I was saying earlier, it’s not cinema, it’s something else.”
For what it’s worth, it’s hard to argue that superhero movies are still stuck in the days of Nic Cage’s Ghost Rider and punk rock-scored Fantastic Four movies. At last year’s Academy Awards, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther won three Oscars—in addition to a Best Picture nomination. That’s all icing for, you know, the shit-tons of money Kevin Feige and co. makes.
What’s interesting is Scorsese’s hands aren’t entirely free of comics fare, having been involved with the early production of the Joker, serving as producer alongside Todd Phillips. Eventually, Scorsese’s work on The Irishman prevented him from getting too involved with Joker—something Phillips recently explained to IGN. “[Scorsese] read the script and called me and we had a great 20 minute conversation about the script, but [he] also said, ‘I can’t do it because I’m doing [The Irishman],’” Phillips said. “We literally filmed them back to back, meaning he did Irishman and we shot Joker, but he was knee deep in prep for that epic.”
Looks like we can cross Scorsese off the shortlist for a crime-world, noir take on Avengers 5. For now, the take of this whole thing might go to Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse director Peter Ramsey.