You may or may not be aware that there have been a few comments circling around the internet as of late, regarding Marvel movies and their legitimacy as pieces of ‘cinema’. The first comment came from Martin Scorsese, during an interview with Empire, in which he expressed his disinterest with Marvel movies.
He said: “I tried, you know? But that’s not 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.”
Scorsese’s comments were quickly picked up by various news outlets and became a topic of discussion about whether Marvel (and comic book movies in general) constitute good cinema.
Over the weekend, this discussion expanded further when director, Francis Ford Coppola expressed his opinion. As reported by Agence France-Presse, Coppola, said:
“When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration.
“I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again.”
He added: “Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”
Calling Marvel movies “despicable” struck a nerve with many fans, and even brought some industry insiders into the discussion, with Natalie Portman making comments to defend the Marvel movies. But are Scorsese and Coppola correct in their assessments of the Marvel films?
In my opinion, no, they are not correct.
The movie business is just that – a business. Movies are produced to make a profit and as such, big event pictures like the Marvel movies, which get bums on seats, are not a bad thing – especially at a point in time when people are losing interest in cinema.
There are two genres at present that bring people to the cinema with regularity and those are comic book movies (predominantly Marvel) and horror films. These two genres are pretty much keeping everything afloat and without them, the movie business would be struggling.
Sure, Marvel films are seemingly becoming bigger and bigger, very much like theme park attractions, but in reality that’s not actually the case. For every Avengers: Endgame, which is akin to a huge rollercoaster rider, there is an Ant-Man and the Wasp, which is more like the waltzers – a gentler experience.
Marvel do push out huge movies, but they also balance these out with smaller fare. Not every film has to top the next and many dial things back to tell smaller stories. Perhaps if Scorsese had stuck with the Marvel Cinematic Universe series instead of abandoning it, he would see that.
But in all honesty, I don’t think Scorsese’s comments were meant to be inflammatory. He did note that Marvel movies were “well made”, I just don’t believe he sees them in the same light as some audiences do.
With regards to Coppola’s comments, I find it more difficult to understand where he comes from. Calling the Marvel movies “despicable” simply makes no sense to me.
How are they despicable?
As for the comment “we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration”, well, it shows that he just doesn’t understand these movies at all. These are super hero movies (and “well made” ones according to Scorsese), so of course they provide inspiration.
I believe the stories and particularly the heroic characters inspire people to be better and feel better about an increasingly negative world. Super heroes demonstrate that being a better person can (and often does) make a difference.
Knowledge and enlightenment can also be found in many of the movies – again this is down to what an individual takes from the picture. For example, let’s say that the Marvel movies attract a young audience (which they do), I genuinely believe that many young people viewing these films will gain knowledge and enlightenment that perhaps they aren’t finding elsewhere.
Coppola is interested in cinema and presumably gained most of his knowledge and enlightenment in this field from watching the movies of his predecessors. This current generation will do the same thing from watching the Marvel movies.
What’s the alternative? Hope that kids will go and see the next high brow piece of cinema, which gets twenty Oscar nominations but has zero appeal to audiences?
Kids these days aren’t flocking to the cinema to watch films. If Marvel movies are bringing them in, making them feel excited by the medium, and are getting them invested in the industry, why is this wrong?
There are some bad comic book movies out there and when a genre becomes as popular as this one there will always be more poorly made movies than good ones – this isn’t something new. But when it comes to Marvel Studios movies I would argue that almost all of them are very good.
I’m of the age where Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman and Batman were the big event pictures of the day – and now I love and appreciate all different forms of cinema because of movies like these. In ten to twenty years’ time I expect this current generation to feel the same way about Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Iron Man (2008) as I do about Return of the Jedi (1983) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
Marvel movies are not despicable. Some movies which carry the Marvel name, but are not produced by Marvel Studios, are sub par, but they don’t speak for Marvel as a whole.
But the opinions of Scorsese and Coppola don’t interest me as much the opinions of Stan Lee, who despite passing away in 2018 is still providing sound advice. Recent issues of Marvel comics have been carrying old editorial pieces from Lee, to remind us all of some of his thoughts and his insights.
One such piece of editorial, which originally appeared in Stan’s Soapbox in December 1968 expresses and opinion which I believe can be applied to this current discussion.
Here is what it said:
“The next time anyone puts you down for reading a comic mag, try hitting him with this little soliloquy which I’ve used on various radio and TV guest appearances in the past months.
“Comic books are a medium of communication – just as television and motion pictures are. All three employ words and pictures, and all must be judged on their individual merits. A story is a story, whether presented between two covers, or on a screen. If the words have dramatic impact, if the pictures are visually appealing, if the theme is emotionally relevant, then certainly it is worthy of a reader’s attention. However, if the quality is lacking then it rates little consideration. Isn’t this equally true of a TV program, a Broadway show, a motion picture, or any other form of entertainment? All we at Marvel ask is that our product be judged on the basis of quality – a quality which we sincerely believe is equal to that found in any other comparable media.
“Marvel Comics today are produced by the finest creative talent available. Read them first… and then decide.
For me, Lee’s editorial (from 51 years ago) is the be-all and end-all of this particular discussion. Judge a film on its own merits, not on perceptions of a series, that by the sounds things neither Scorsese or Coppola have watched in a while.