Are Marvel movies not 'cinema'?
A little more than a year ago, director Martin Scorsese was seen in the middle of a controversy, after he had remarked the recent Marvel movies aren't "true" movies at all. The critically acclaimed director went on to say that Marvel isn’t 'cinema' and later wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, expressing his disdain for the condition of mainstream superhero movies in Hollywood. Needless to say, his views were made part of discussions and were largely criticized.
In his article, Scorsese referring to his interview with The Empire, wrote, "I said that I’ve tried to watch a few of them and that they’re not for me, that they seem to me to be closer to theme parks than they are to movies as I’ve known and loved them throughout my life.”
This was not the first time, an iconic director criticized Marvel. Francis Ford Coppola has also been reported to have criticized the superhero franchise. The main argument
presented against such films, is that these are market-tested and soullessly focus-grouped. It is argued that this causes them to lack the humanizing signature, that individual artists could bring. As Scorsese writes in his article, such movies are without "mystery, revelation or genuine emotional danger".
Now one might think, what's wrong with having franchise films along with other films. According to Scorsese "in many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen.”
To an extent, this is true. In fact, in the year the interview was published, only two of top ten worldwide box office movies, both Chinese, were not franchise movies. The top grossing movies included four superhero movies – Avengers: Endgame; Spider-Man: Far From Home; Captain Marvel, and Joker. Three of these four were from the Marvel franchise. Yet another three movies were remakes or sequels within franchises by Marvel Entertainment's parent company, Disney – The Lion King, Toy Story 4 and Aladdin. The last Hollywood movie in these charts was Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbes and Shaw, the ninth movie in the Fast and Furious franchise.
One might think that this is simply indicative of what the audience want – which is partly true, but it is also true that the choices they have, have been reduced. Directors wanting to be successful in the industry feel the need to make similar kinds of tested big-budget movies, as these are easier to get financed. Producers on the other hand also seem hesitant to try on more original or smaller budgeted films. Thus, for mid to small sized movies that aren't franchises, the market really is tough.
This criticism of the evolution of superhero movies then, roots also from the structural changes that the industry has undergone. Scorsese's own movie The Irishman, releasing on Netflix is testament of an acceptance to this change. However, the criticism that is against the subject of these movies, specifically the recent Marvel movies, dare I say, I somewhat agree with.
My criticism of the Marvel movies, firstly, has to do with the amalgamation of different superheroes and their worlds. All franchises have now moved towards the model where different superheroes assemble a team, to fight a danger that is of a global nature, nearly always. In this path of making every next movie, more epic than the other, I feel, the characters of these superheroes have really lost the essence they once had. This also has to do with the fact that with so many superheroes in one movie, that is hardly any screen time left for their personal/human sides. Movies like Avengers: Endgame for example, have been reduced mainly just to tactical fighting and action. This, to an extent, dehumanizes these characters, making it harder for the audiences to relate to them. In my opinion, the plots of these movies, as individual films, have also weakened. Even those who loved the last Avengers movie, would rebut that for you to really appreciate it, you'd have to watch about 27 hours of other Marvel movies.
Having said that, I think it could still not be simply rejected as not cinema. It is also appropriate to clarify that my opinion of the most recent Marvel films, does not attempt to deny the talent and artistry in the performances of individuals who have been involved with these movies. Neither does it apply to all superhero movies, or even earlier installments in the Marvel franchise. Like the Spiderman series starring Toby Maguire for instance, where along with action, you also saw his human side; where his career, his family and his love-life, were all part of his story.