Say, have you heard that Martin Scorsese doesn’t think Marvel movies are cinema? The legendary auteur’s opinions about the most popular film franchise going have been a staple of the press tour for Scorsese’s star-studded and long-awaited crime epic, The Irishman. Well, I hope you’re not sick of hearing about it, because Martin Scorsese is still explaining his Marvel comments.
This time, rather than simply answering questions from the media looking for sound bites or giving quick statements about the Marvel issue, Martin Scorsese sought to explain his position in full. He does so in an op-ed in The New York Times, in which he explains where he’s coming from, lays out what he means and addresses the counterarguments to his opinion. And while you may not necessarily agree with him on everything, it’s worth reading what he has to say.
Martin Scorsese Doesn't Actually Hate Marvel Movies
First off, Martin Scorsese addresses a potential misconception that has arisen since his comments about Marvel movies first made their way into the ether. Martin Scorsese does not hate Marvel movies, although he has tried to watch a few of them and admits that they are not for him. He acknowledges quite rightly, that this may simply be a generational gap, the films he grew up with formed his tastes and if he came of age in a different time, he might have been excited by Marvel movies and even sought to make one.
The director also recognizes the craft in Marvel movies and the talented people involved in their production. So it’s not that he thinks they are bad. In addition, in the op-ed, Scorsese uses the terms ‘Marvel movies,’ ‘superhero films’ and ‘franchise films’ interchangeably, indicating that his issues are not solely with the works of Marvel Studios, but as the franchise du jour, Marvel is being used as a catch-all term for blockbuster franchise cinema in general.
Martin Scorsese Believes Marvel Movies Emotion And Deeper Meaning
When Martin Scorsese declared that Marvel movies are not cinema, I wondered, well, what is cinema in his mind? Martin Scorsese finally clarified what he means by that in his op-ed, saying:
Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.
In Martin Scorsese’s mind, franchise films lack the real emotion and deeper meaning necessary to qualify as cinema. Basically, they are too safe and they don’t confront audiences with the unexpected. He likens modern franchise films to the films of Alfred Hitchcock, but believes that they differ when it comes to their deeper substance. North by Northwest might have compelling set pieces, but it is remembered for the character and emotions at the heart of the story.
Martin Scorsese seems to believe that superhero movies are lacking those deeper elements and are simply a collection of impressive set pieces. That’s where he gets the theme park analogy. To him, superhero movies are a collection of rides, not stories with emotion that speak to our shared humanity.
Martin Scorsese Sees Marvel Movies As Products
Furthermore, Martin Scorsese believes that Marvel movies are products, not art. He elaborated on this, saying:
They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way. That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.
To the Irishman director, franchise movies are unoriginal, all following a familiar template designed with ruthless efficiency to maximize profit. What they are not is an outlet for true artistic expression. And in Martin Scorsese’s defense, he is not entirely wrong on some of these points. Franchise filmmaking is part of a business and in business there is an impetus to minimize risk in order to maximize profit.
Martin Scorsese Thinks More Cinematic Options Need To Be Provided
Martin Scorsese also addresses the argument that the industry is just supplying what audiences are demanding. His counterargument is that audiences are demanding the one thing they’re being given and if they are given other options, they will crave those too.
While many might say, ‘Who cares? If you don’t like Marvel movies, don’t watch them!,’ Martin Scorsese’s bigger issue is what the proliferation of films such as these do to the industry. He says:
There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema. They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. And I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.
The driving thrust of Martin Scorsese’s criticism of Marvel movies is ultimately a fear of what the focus on blockbuster franchises is doing to the industry and the medium. He worries that the kinds of movies people like Paul Thomas Anderson, Claire Denis, Spike Lee, Wes Anderson and Kathryn Bigelow make will be fewer and further between as multiplexes become ever more dominated by superhero movies.
There Are Some Flaws With Martin Scorsese's Viewpoint
Whether you agree with him or not, props to Martin Scorsese for finally explaining his position in a way that doesn’t just make his opinion seem like an old man yelling at a cloud. That said, there are a few issues with his argument.
For one, he says that he’s tried to watch a few Marvel movies, but which ones and did he watch them all the way through? Has he seen Black Panther or Captain America: The Winter Soldier? How about Logan or The Dark Knight? His blanket statement indicates his understanding of the genre is cursory and incomplete.
He’s absolutely right that there is a safety and sameness to a lot of blockbusters, but is it so wrong for an audience member to want a safe bet when they venture out and spend a ton of money to see a movie, especially when there are so many options available at home these days? And as evidenced by the CinemaScores for riskier films like Ad Astra and Hereditary, general audiences won’t necessarily love art just because it’s put in front of them.
Furthermore, Martin Scorsese thinks superhero movies are theme parks full of set pieces, dismissing the characters and stories that are a part of these films. Can we not learn something true about humanity just because a character has adamantium coating his bones or the power of flight? Can a story not have a deeper meaning because it involves aliens and time travel? I’ve never killed a labor leader, but I assume I can still find something revelatory in The Irishman.
While I don’t agree with everything Martin Scorsese has to say here, he makes some points that are worthy of discussion and you can tell that his opinion comes not from a place of hatred for Marvel movies, but from a love for cinema.