According to Martin Scorsese, Marvel movies aren’t cinema. Andy thinks he might be right…
Phew, it’s been a busy old day in Film-land hasn’t it? First, Joker came out and got everyone talking about brooding superhero movies again (check out our review here) and then the cinephile’s cinephile Martin Scorsese weighed in with his controversial belief that Marvel’s box office churning output is “not Cinema”.
If you’ve not yet caught up with the story, Scorsese was asked his views on Marvel and the MCU and he responded with… well, a bit of a shrug. “I’ve tried you know, but, that’s not cinema,” he then continued by adding, “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.”
Predictably, the internet got quite upset about this, with a cacophony of hand wringing coming down and some even daring to challenge the great man’s own cinematic contribution (idiots). Inevitably, whenever a cinematic deity descends from their position on Mt Genius to express a dissenting opinion about anything a stir will be caused and “Old Man Shouts at Cloud” memes will be shared. (Just look at when Spielberg threw shade at Netflix).
But is it too sketchy to say that Marty might just have a point?
Of course, it depends on our terms of reference. For some (especially arty wankers like me), when we talk about ‘cinema’ we are referring to the canon of artistic expression put on screen. Great filmmakers have for 120 years now used the moving image to explore the human condition to its fullest. Scorsese, of course, is one of the medium’s greatest exponents of this. His filmography has repeatedly tackled such varied themes and ideas as wounded masculinity (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas etc), faith and humanity (Last Temptation of Christ, Silence) and even the birth of cinema itself (Hugo). This is a man for whom making films has facilitated the exorcism of his own personal demons, illuminated some of the darker sides of humanity and of course, created some of the most compelling art of the last century. Of course he regards the medium with respect. His entire working life has been a monument to the power of cinema, and let’s face it, he really puts his money where his mouth is.
Next to ‘cinema’, we have ‘movies’ – the other side of the coin. If cinema is the awkward kid in a black turtleneck reading Catcher in the Rye, then movies are his cooler, more approachable handsome brother who plays rugby and can drive. Movies are fun, movies are easy to spend time with and they don’t really ask too much of us. That is not to say that movies are devoid of depth themselves, it just doesn’t tend to be their defining characteristic. Movies, to use Marty’s vernacular, are like theme parks; all flashing lights, loud music and tremendous amounts of fun.
Marvel movies are just that: movies. They are made by the world’s most powerful media conglomerate with the intention of filling our eyeballs with entertainment. Really good movies (as Marvel’s undoubtedly are) usually connect with us emotionally, they make us relate to their characters and care about their stories and as such they do possess some depth but they do not exist in order to give us depth. Think of depth as being croutons in the Cesar Salad of the MCU.
Incidentally, it should come as no surprise that the Joker is essentially comic book movies’ attempt to be taken seriously by aping some of Scorsese’s most interesting and thoughtful work. Like when cool people go to a club night dressed up like ‘nerds’.
When Scorsese says that the MCU isn’t for him he isn’t saying it is worthless, he’s simply saying that he prefers reading Catcher in the Rye in his room than eating candy floss at the theme park. For a sickly asthmatic child who grew up watching gangsters from his window and films in his room who went on to change the face of filmmaking, I say that’s probably fair enough.
Andy joined the Ready Steady Cut team in October 2018. A Graduate of Exeter University, he writes mainly about films and TV.