It seems like accomplished filmmakers are getting sick and tired of the Disney superhero machine known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe and they are letting the world know exactly how they feel. In what some viewed as a personal attack by a bunch of jealous old hypocrites, many see as the last of a dying breed of filmmakers fighting for art that no longer exists.
Let’s rewind, earlier this month, legendary film director Martin Scorsese was asked about Disney’s MCU during the promotion for his latest film The Irishman. Scorsese told the media that he was not a fan of the Disney comic book universe and went as far as to say that the films “were not cinema.”
“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 continued.
Scorsese’s statement spread like wildfire on social media infuriating many who called him everything from an overrated film director to a bitter old elitist. His opinion on the 23 film catalog even angered media outlets on the internet, but Martin refused to back down from his statements, in fact, he doubled down.
Scorsese clarified his statements in a later interview saying:
“It’s not cinema, it’s something else. We shouldn’t be invaded by it. We need cinemas to step up and show films that are narrative films.”
“Theaters have become amusement parks. That is all fine and good, but don’t invade everything else in that sense. That is fine and good for those who enjoy that type of film and, by the way, knowing what goes into them now, I admire what they do. It’s not my kind of thing, it simply is not. It’s creating another kind of audience that thinks cinema is that.
“The theaters seem to be mainly supporting the theme park, amusement park, comic book films. They’re taking over the theaters. I think they can have those films; it’s fine. It’s just that shouldn’t become what our young people believe is cinema. It just shouldn’t.”
Martin became the center of a fiery online debate. As if refusing to back down from his position that the MCU is not cinema wasn’t hot enough…then came Director Francis Ford Coppola. The 80-year-old “Godfather” director blasted the MCU during a French interview earlier this week calling the films “despicable”:
“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 move over and over again. Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”
The comments from these legendary directors caused many stars of the MCU such as Samuel L Jackson, James Gunn, Jon Favreau, and Robert Downey Jr, to speak out defending the films. While many disagree with their assessment, they agree that if anyone has earned the right to speak out, it’s Coppola and Scorsese. So with the battle between MCU fans and fans of cinema raging on, the question is a straightforward one; does the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) count as cinema? The answer? No. Because the definition of cinema these legends are fighting for is dead.
The debate surrounding comic book movies is not a new one. For years people have complained that comic book films are ruining the film industry as they have destroyed creativity in the business. Many argue that comic book films have largely become money-making schemes for major studios. This criticism is not foreign to the Marvel Cinematic Universe who have created the largest ongoing film series in history with 23 superhero films and countless more to come. But is it cinema? What is cinema?
Cinema – The art or the technique of making motion pictures.
The MCU has been criticized for its lack of creativity when it comes to the vision of its own Universe. Despite the revolving door of writers and directors the series has worked with over the course of 11 years, the vision really comes from one man, super-producer Kevin Feige. The reason this is relevant is that when we look at the term cinema in its classical sense, we look at films that have a clear cut vision from the mind of the filmmaker (for better or worse). When we think of filmmakers, we look at the directors and the writers as it is their vision that makes or breaks a movie. When you look at the MCU, the vision of the director and writer doesn’t exist because creative control lies with the studio, not the individual. MCU directors and writers are not creating their own art, they are creating what the studio wants them to make. Legendary director Pedro Almodóvar spoke about this when asked earlier in the year. Almodóvar claims that superhero films strips originality away from screenwriters.
“It’s too big for me!”
“I like to see what I’m doing, to direct movies the same day. You have to wait too long to see the results with big movies. I like being able to impose my opinion as a director. I’ve made 21 movies. I’m used to doing it the way I like, not fitting with the Hollywood system.” Almodóvar said.
When your filmmaker becomes disposal in terms of what your final product will be, what exactly are you creating? Is it cinema? No. It’s a bottom line. The focus isn’t creating art, its creating money. The idea of ‘cinema’ doesn’t even come into play. This is where we drive back to Scorsese’s initial comments. Marvel movies have become more of an event than a cinematic experience. Comic cons around the country fill up with comic book fans who wait in line for hours to see a trailer or a panel for a film that won’t come out for years.
The process is just like theme parks, waiting in line for the next new exciting ride and then leaving home empty when it’s all said and done. When an MCU film hits theaters, fans dress up as their favorite heroes to hoot and holler like they are at a theme park. The experience becomes a theme park like Universal Studios.
Movies are announced 4-5 years ahead of time with the filmmakers to be announced down the line. The vision belongs to the studio, if the studio believes that your vision of a film differs from theirs, you will be tossed aside and replaced for someone who will give them what they want, look at Edgar Wright during the production for the first Antman film.
Scorsese claims that MCU films don’t try to convey emotional and psychological experiences to other human beings. This is true for two reasons. First, the emotional connection MCU’s fans have with the films is through the characters, but that relationship is built through comic books, not the movies. The films do not set up a connection with the characters because that connection is already established before you walk into the theater. This is why people get excited about new MCU films 4 years prior to its release. Are other films guilty of this? Sure, but this conversation is about the MCU. The second reason MCU films don’t have emotional and psychological experiences is that you are talking about superheroes at the end of the day.
When you think of narrative films, you think of movies that try to convince you that what you are seeing is real. You connect to the characters and the story that unfolds as you watch, you get lost within the cinema. You can’t do that with films where people can fly, turn into giant monsters, and run at superhuman speeds. This is a criticism that popular Youtuber Pewdiepie took heat for saying over a year ago.
Now Pewdiepie is in no way, shape, or form on the level with those listed before him, but he illustrates the reality that the MCU is what you call “popcorn films”. Movies that are to be consumed solely for entertainment purposes. That is what Disney’s superhero films are, they are entertainment movies, they are attractions. Veteran director Ken Loach elaborated in his objection to Disney’s money machine.
“They’re made as commodities like hamburgers, and it’s not about communicating, and it’s not about sharing our imagination,” he said. “It’s about making a commodity which will make a profit for a big corporation – they’re a cynical exercise. They’re a market exercise, and it has nothing to do with the art of cinema. “
When you dissect Scorese’s comments about theaters being taken over by comic book films, he is not wrong. Disney has taken over nearly 50% of the market share of Hollywood production, meaning half of what you see in theaters comes from the Disney umbrella. Disney has become a machine when it comes to recycling nostalgia for profit. Star Wars, Marvel, Live-Action Remakes, Avatar and more. Disney has created a business model where they can rank in billions on past ideas for the foreseeable future. If you are one of those “Gen Z’ers” who never grew up in the age of cinema that the Coppola’s and the Scorese’s of the world did, you are far more likely to believe that future films like Thor 4 and Black Panther 2 are what cinema is, because that will be all you have.
If you are going to be furious by the comments from the legends of old, you have to look at the conditions of now. You can poke fun at their age and dismiss their opinion as well as their knowledge of cinema all you like, but doing so only further assures that the cinema that these men fight for no longer exists. The age of The Godfather, Taxi Driver, and The Outsiders are long past us and the art of filmmaking that they represented is in the hands of a dying few.
When Scorsese is gone…
When Coppola is gone…
When Speilberg is gone…
When Tarantino is gone…
When Carpenter is gone…
Who replaces them? What replaces them? If the corporation who already controls over half the industry dictates where we go next, Captain Marvel 2 will be the future of cinema because the age of the filmmaker will be a dead art and the age of the corporation will replace it.