Scorsese: Marvel movies are ‘not cinema’
Martin Scorsese has called out the “crisis in the art of filmmaking,” said Richard Brody in NewYorker.com. In an interview and then in a newspaper op-ed last week, the legendary director likened Marvel superhero movies to “theme parks,” calling them “not cinema.” Actors and directors who’ve worked on Marvel’s films and fans of the superhero genre objected, arguing that at least some of these films are well-made and well-acted. But Scorsese’s point is that truly great films such as Taxi Driver and Goodfellas are made by artists—auteurs, if you will—whose vision is felt in every aspect of the process. Directors of formulaic blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame are reduced to executing a franchise’s latest installment. There’s nothing wrong with “escapism,” said Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle. But movies about superhuman characters battling cartoonish bad guys while blowing up stuff are little more than “junk food for the spirit.”
Scorsese concedes he “hasn’t even seen the films he’s talking about,” said Kyle Smith in NationalReview.com. It shows. Although the climactic fight scenes still tend to be “dutiful and rote,” the best of this genre’s movies are “rich with ideas,” complex emotions, and character development. At this very moment, Joker, a Scorsese-like character study about the descent of Batman’s nemesis into evil and madness, is earning both critical acclaim and $1 billion in global ticket sales. Scorsese, 76, need not like the genre, said Anthony Breznican in VanityFair.com, but why did he feel a need to trash films enjoyed by millions? He grew up as a small, sickly boy who was fascinated by prizefighters and gangsters. Why begrudge young people the pleasure of identifying with Captain America, “a scrawny nobody” who becomes “more powerful than he could ever imagine”?
“The real villain isn’t Marvel movies,” said Michael Cavna in The Washington Post. It’s trends in the movie industry that Scorsese correctly calls “inhospitable to art.” Audiences are increasingly inclined to stay home and watch streaming services, splurging on expensive movie tickets only to see splashy, high-tech blockbusters. For studios and theater owners, the dominance of bankable “sequels, remakes, and existing intellectual properties” is more of “a financial survival tactic” than “an aesthetic choice.” For the arty movies Scorsese cherishes, such as his new film The Irishman, “fans will simply wait” until it’s available on Netflix. ■