However you feel about Martin Scorsese’s criticism of Marvel films, or highfalutin debates about the true definition of ‘cinema’ in general, you have to admit that watching comic book fans collectively lose their minds has been one of the highlights of 2019.
‘Marvel isn’t cinema, huh? Then explain this!’ they furiously tweet, under collages of sad raccoons, giant space hammers and Jeremy Renner. It's impactful stuff. And while most Marvel Cinematic Universe stars have remained emotionally detached or guarded in their responses, the Disney-employed directors are another matter.
Many of our grandfathers thought all gangster movies were the same, often calling them “despicable”. Some of our great grandfathers thought the same of westerns, and believed the films of John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone were all exactly the same. I remember a great uncle to whom I was raving about Star Wars. He responded by saying, “I saw that when it was called 2001, and, boy, was it boring!” Superheroes are simply today’s gangsters/cowboys/outer space adventurers. Some superhero films are awful, some are beautiful. Like westerns and gangster movies (and before that, just MOVIES), not everyone will be able to appreciate them, even some geniuses. And that’s okay. ❤️
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But Marty isn't the only Hollywood titan to come out swinging for the MCU over the past decade. Here, we've collected some of the directors and actors who have been most vocal in their criticism:
The Irishman director has refused to backtrack from comments he made in his Empire interview earlier this month, in which he stated that:
“I don’t see them. 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.”
Amidst raging debate on social media, he doubled-down at the London Film Festival on the press tour for The Irishman:
“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.”
Most recently, at the Rome Film Festival, he reiterated his take that comic book films are the cinematic equivalent of 'theme parks'.
"Right now the theatres seem to be mainly supporting the theme park, amusement park, comic book films. They’re taking over the theatres. I think they can have those films; it’s fine. It’s just that that shouldn’t become what our young people believe is cinema. It just shouldn’t."
Most filmmakers who've had a pop at the Marvel machine have gone for the big picture of how it's skewed the industry and ruined storytelling and won't somebody please think of the children. However Bong Joon-Ho, the director of Okja and 2019's Palme d'Or winner, Parasite, has an extremely specific niggle: the costume department.
"I have a personal problem," he told Variety recently. "I respect the creativity that goes into superhero films, but in real life and in movies, I can't stand people wearing tight-fitting clothes. I'll never wear something like that, and just seeing someone in tight clothes is mentally difficult. I don’t know where to look, and I feel suffocated. Most superheroes wear tight suits, so I can never direct one. I don’t think anyone will offer the project to me either. If there is a superhero who has a very boxy costume, maybe I can try."
That said, Bong put himself squarely on the fence between the two factions. He's a big fan of the old school auteurs who've been gunning for Marvel lately, but then again he loved hanging out with Star Lord, Rocket, Groot and the gang. "I have so much respect for Scorsese and Coppola, and I grew up studying their films," he said. "So I fully understand the context of their comments and I respect their opinion. But on the other hand, if I look at the films individually, I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, James Mangold’s Logan and Winter Soldier by the Russo Brothers. There are great cinematic moments in those films."
When it was pointed out to Bong that he'd already worked with Captain America himself, Chris Evans, on Snowpiercer the director suggested that his instincts weren't quite in line with what the comic book studio would really be after. "Chris Evans slips on a fish," he said. "I don't think that is Marvel’s sensibility."
Francis Ford Coppola
The legendary auteur behind The Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now came out in support of his long-time friend, and went a few steps further in his condemnation of the MCU.
“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,” he told France 24 after being awarded with the Prix Lumiére this week.
Coppola continued: “I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie 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.”
While publicising his new film, Sorry We Missed You, the British director told Sky News: "They're made as commodities like hamburgers, and it's not about communicating and it's not about sharing our imagination.
"It's about making a commodity which will make a profit for a big corporation – they're a cynical exercise.
"They're market exercise and it has nothing to do with the art of cinema. William Blake said 'when money is discussed – art is impossible'."
Argentinian arthouse director Martel was approached to direct Scarlett Johansson's standalone Black Widow film in 2018, but the collaboration fell apart when Marvel insisted that they would 'take care' of the action sequences themselves.
“The first thing I asked them was maybe if they could change the special effects because there’s so many laser lights… I find them horrible. Also the soundtrack of Marvel films is quite horrendous. Maybe we disagree on this, but it’s really hard to watch a Marvel film. It’s painful to the ears to watch Marvel films,” she told the Guardian.
When asked if he would ever take on a superhero property, the Blade Runner director told Digital Spy that he wants to "keep making smart films" instead.
"Superhero movies are not my kind of thing – that's why I've never really done one," he said. "[I've been asked] several times, but I can't believe in the thin, gossamer tightrope of the non-reality of the situation of the superhero."
Back in 2012, the Canadian director took aim at Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, the critical acclaim it received, and superhero films in general.
"A superhero movie, by definition, you know, it's comic book. It's for kids. It's adolescent in its core," he told NextMovie. "That has always been its appeal, and I think people who are saying The Dark Knight Rises is, you know, supreme cinema art, I don't think they know what the f**k they're talking about.
"I think it's still Batman running around in a stupid cape... Christopher Nolan's best movie is Memento, and that is an interesting movie. I don't think his Batman movies are half as interesting, though they're 20 million times the expense.
"What he is doing is some very interesting technical stuff, which, you know, he's shooting IMAX and in 3D. That's really tricky and difficult to do. I read about it in American Cinematography Magazine, and technically, that's all very interesting. The movies, to me, they're mostly boring."
Alejandro G. Iñárritu
The Mexican director and screenwriter won an Oscar for Birdman, a story that lampooned Hollywood's obsession with superhero movies, and he spoke out against the genre in an interview with Deadline.
"I would be terrible [at making a superhero film]. I think there’s nothing wrong with being fixated on superheroes when you are 7 years old, but I think there’s a disease in not growing up.
"I sometimes enjoy them because they are basic and simple and go well with popcorn. The problem is that sometimes they purport to be profound, based on some Greek mythological kind of thing. And they are honestly very right wing. I always see them as killing people because they do not believe in what you believe, or they are not being who you want them to be. I hate that, and don't respond to those characters.
"They have been poison, this cultural genocide, because the audience is so overexposed to plot and explosions and shit that doesn't mean nothing about the experience of being human."
Perhaps the most surprising voice to lend her support to Martin Scorsese and great cinema, the former Friends star told Variety that Marvel's domination of the box office was one of the reasons why she has opted for TV in recent times.
"It wasn't until the last couple of years when these streaming services were just sort of exploding with this amount of quality that I actually started to think, 'Wow, that's better than what I just did'," Aniston said.
"And then you're seeing what's available out there and it's just diminishing and diminishing in terms of, it's big Marvel movies or things that I'm not just asked to do or really that interested in living in a green screen."
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