Scorsese Vs. Marvel: Dawn Of Cinema
“That’s not cinema.”
Is the quote, from award-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese which has ignited a heated debate over the last month. When asked by Empire Magazine about his thoughts on Marvel movies Scorsese said: “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.”
As a trainer and supplier of Screen Action, The British Action Academy is undoubtedly in the Marvel camp of film-making. We’ve seen what goes into the creating those sequences, and when they are done well, they are fully character focussed, they drive the narrative forward, and they are incredibly moving and entertaining. Human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being can be achieved with a fight sequence or an explosive action set piece. These things aren't mutually exclusive.
Scorsese's comments have caused outrage in the fan community. You have one group who have taken this quote as validation for every criticism they’ve had towards the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and another group who now have issues with the audacity of Scorsese to say these things without having seen all the movies. If Scorsese had simply said that he didn’t like the movies, I don’t think we would have seen this reaction, but he said that Marvel wasn’t cinema.
Well, is it cinema? It’s shown in the cinema, which unless you’re very lucky is a place you won’t be seeing The Irishman. So what is Cinema? In an article for The New York Times, Scorsese tries to clarify his comments, and explains that cinema to him is: “About characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.” The MCU undoubtedly has plenty of characters, and if you want to see complexity just look at the relationship between Iron Man and Captain America. Between T’Challa and Killmonger.
For us, our favourite Cinema over the last few years has ranged the propulsive narrative of Mission Impossible 6 to the jaw-dropping sensory overload of Mad Max: Fury Road. Arguably cinemas greatest advocate is Christopher Nolan, whose career skyrocketed with a superhero franchise. We would argue that Marvel is definitely, almost quintessentially Cinema.
Scorsese goes on to say: “It was about confronting the unexpected on the screen and in the life it dramatized and interpreted, and enlarging the sense of what was possible in the art form. And that was the key for us: it was an art form.”
So, essentially what Scorsese is saying is that Cinema is Art, and Marvel is not Art. Scorsese believes that all Marvel movies are all the same and that they are made by committee, rollercoaster rides made for mass consumption. There’s a hint of truth in this, you can definitely see this in Phase II of the MCU where we got some of the weaker movies, but Marvel seemed to notice this themselves and since then have given their directors larger creative control over the films they make. Scorsese says that “nothing is at risk” and that Marvel films “are everything that the films of Paul Thomas Anderson or Claire Denis or Spike Lee or Ari Aster or Kathryn Bigelow or Wes Anderson are not.” I think Ryan Coogler, Taika Waititi, and James Gunn might have a thing or two to say about that.
I would suggest to Martin Scorsese that he gets himself a copy of Black Panther or Guardians Of The Galaxy. They are some of the riskiest films made this decade. There were themes and ideas in Black Panther that I couldn’t believe were in a film produced by Disney. Marvel films in the last decade have continued to push the boundaries of what Blockbuster film making can be, and not just in scope and spectacle. They’ve also pushed issues of race and gender equality.
Scorsese’s issue doesn’t seem to be with Marvel alone. It’s with franchise movies in general. He describes them as “sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit.” He describes Alfred Hitchcock as a franchise in the ’70s but feels that Hitchcock was more than just spectacle, he says “The set pieces in “North by Northwest” are stunning, but they would be nothing more than a succession of dynamic and elegant compositions and cuts without the painful emotions at the center of the story or the absolute lostness of Cary Grant’s character.” Compare this to the spectacle of the final fight in Black Panther, this isn’t simply Good Guy Vs Bad Guy, this is a battle of ideologies’, and the aftermath is emotionally devastating. It seems to have everything that Scorsese describes as “Cinema”. From Scorsese’s comments, I can only surmise that the one Marvel film he saw must have been The Incredible Hulk or Thor: The Dark World!
To be fair to Scorsese, it's the state of cinema in 2019 that seems to be bringing him down, and it is harder for independent small budget movies to find room in the cinema next to the blockbuster behemoths. This doesn't mean that cinema as an art form is dying, just that it's changing. The streaming wars have only just begun, and with them comes an increasing demand for content. In fact, it seems that companies like NetFlix, are more than happy to bankroll a creatives singular vision in a way which was previously unheard of. Scorsese may bemoan the loss of cinema as art, but he's just made The Irishman for $140 million, something that at no other point in time would he have been able to do.
In fact, with our viewing habits changing, and with so many audience members choosing to stay at home and watch films, it's Marvel's must-see spectacles, which have to be seen on the big screen before they are spoilt that are keeping the multiplexes full. One could argue that franchise movies like Marvel, aren't just cinema, they're actually saving Cinema.
For us, being on the other side and after seeing the dedication, thought, training, and effort that goes into creating these spectacles, you can’t tell us that they're not cinema! You can't tell us that's not art!
What do you think? Do you agree with Scorsese? Is Marvel not cinema? Or, like us, do you believe that it is? Leave your comment below!
Created by 18 Nov 2019on