In an interview with Empire Magazine, Martin Scorcese made headlines when he stated that “he did not consider Marvel movies to be ‘cinema.’”
“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,” Scorcese also stated in the Empire interview.
Scorsese then doubled down on these statements at the BAFTAs 2019’s “David Lean Lecture.”
“Theaters have become amusement parks. That is all fine and good but don’t invade everything else in that sense,” Scorsese said.
This has created quite a divide amongst moviegoers and critics alike.
When I first heard Scorcese’s comments, I was conflicted. One part of me agreed with him. He is, in fact, the director of some of the greatest American films of all time, so he’s more than entitled to his own opinion on the subject of film. I also find a lot of these Marvel films to be quite formulaic.
For example, “Spider-Man: Far From Home” was, for me, a profoundly unsatisfying movie. I thought it focused too little on its characters. I never got the sense that Peter Parker had any real struggles of his own. All of his problems seemed to be just regular “Spider-Man problems,” not “Peter Parker Problems.” It is a shame because I believe that Marvel could have done much more with the character. Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” trilogy proved that you could do more with the character back in the early and mid 2000s.
With a lot of these Marvel movies, I also don’t walk out after viewing with any strong emotions. I do believe that Scorsese was right when he said that they don’t “convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” I’ve never actually felt like a lot of these movies have a deep, rich, and compelling story. They feel like two hours of visual-effects-filled filler, with the addition of heroes like Doctor Strange or Captain Marvel. A good majority of them don’t feel like there is any effort being put into them at all. A lot of the time, it just feels like Marvel knows you’re going to see anything with the Marvel label on it, so they try to put out as many films as possible, with no regard for quality. However, I would not go so far as to say all marvel movies are not “cinema.”
In fact, I do believe that “Thor: Ragnarok” is one of the funniest films of the decade. The “Captain America” trilogy also managed to tell a great story about perseverance, patriotism, and doing the right thing for your fellow neighbor. “Ant-Man” provided a fun heist film. Additionally, both “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” brought epic stories to life, the likes of which have never been seen before. Even outside of the MCU, “Logan” told a beautiful tale of a man coming to terms with his violent past, and trying to create a better future for other young mutants, and “Into The Spider-Verse” was a fantastic animated film about how anybody can be a hero.
One genre I believe the superhero genre follows the closest to is the western. Both deal with an idyllic hero who defends innocent people from an outside threat. Just replace the cowboy hat with a cape, the quiet town with New York, and the outlaw gang with a giant blue sky-beam. To say that there were a lot of westerns back in the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s would be an absolute understatement. However, despite the popularity of the Western back then, many of them are considered to be “classic cinema.” Why? It’s because they are just good movies. A good film does not adhere to one specific genre, and to say that one genre has no good movies, simply because of its popularity, is preposterous!
Another reason I believe it follows the western so closely is because of its historical context. Many would pinpoint the beginning of the Western boom to be the 1939 film “Stagecoach.” During this time, Americans were leaving the great depression and going into a war. This was a war that showed just how cruel men can be. Americans needed a clear and definite hero. They needed to go into a theater and remember that people can still be good. Thus, the archetype of the good, honest, and all-American cowboy was created.
Many would pinpoint the popularization of Marvel movies to the year 2008, with the release of “Iron Man.” In reality, it started in 2002, with the release of “Spider-Man.” It was released on May 3, 2002, not even a year after the attack on the World Trade Center. Just as Americans latched onto the idea of the cowboy in 1939, Americans latched onto the idea of the superhero in 2002. Movies about these undeniably good guys often come after times of extreme American crisis, because people need to know that in some universe, whether it is fictional or not, they still do exist in this cruel reality.
Do I think all these movies are great pieces of “cinema” that should be studied in film schools for years to come? No, absolutely not. However, that does not mean that the entire genre is not “cinema.” Some great movies have come from the genre. Some terrible movies have come from the genre. The superhero genre is no different than any other. Every genre has its great movies and bad movies. However, Martin Scorsese, despite being one of the greatest film directors of all time, is also a person. He is still entitled to all of his opinions. Art is subjective. To say that one person is wrong for not liking another piece of art is wrong as well.