Τhe past few weeks, many famous filmmakers and actors have come out of the flood work discussing their blatant frustration with a certain genre of film: the comic book genre. Like the people I’ll be spending this post dissenting, what is said below are my opinions, and my opinions only. Don’t misconstrue them as me thinking I’m right, or that I’m trying to pass off my opinion as the end-all.
The people I’ll be referring to and responding to in this post are filmmakers or actors I highly respect as creators. But, just because I respect the hell out of them doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to disagree with some of their opinions. In a world run by the Internet, social media, and online culture, so many of us forget that it’s OKAY to disagree with others, so long as you don’t make yourself an ass in the process. I want to be able to create a space where we can all feel safe expressing opinions and respectfully having a conversation about them.
Now that my disclaimer is out of the way, let’s start at the beginning of my defense of the superhero movie.
Seeming to lump the whole genre together under the Marvel umbrella, highly respected director Martin Scorsese started the trend of discussing his thoughts regarding Marvel and superhero movies at large:
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.
— Martin Scorsese
While I respect Scorsese and can empathize (using that term very loosely somewhat with what I interpret the sentiment behind his comment to mean, I still have plenty of issues with the delivery. To go as far as criticize the whole genre by saying “that’s not cinema” is a total moot point.
In case you genuinely don’t know or have seemed to have forgotten here’s the official definition of “Cinema”:
So, by default, — yes — Marvel, DC, and comic book movies in general are, indeed, cinema by industry standards.
Mr. Scorsese, I would argue that just because comic book movies do not meet your personal criteria for cinema does not make them not cinema. Because these amusement park roller coaster-type films are not the thing for you, does not mean that it isn’t anyone else’s cup of tea.
I have plenty of issues with how he phrased this statement. I applaud him for trying, really, I do. But, to criticize a whole genre and claiming it isn’t cinema crosses that line from expressing an opinion to making an ass out of yourself while sounding incredibly out of touch with today’s society. And, listen, I’m saying this as someone who respects the hell out of one of ,who I consider to be, the best working directors today. (I mean, Taxi Driver is still one of my favorite movies of all time, don’t get me wrong.)
If he had clearly stated something along the lines of “In my opinion, it’s not my type of cinema; for me, it feels like a roller coaster ride. These movies don’t invoke any emotional or psychological response in me,” then we’d be having a totally different conversation because it’s outwardly and blatantly stated that it’s an opinion, and a more respectful one at that. Then it, hypothetically, wouldn’t be hyper-critical of something you don’t like or — god forbid– something you don’t quite understand.
Now, if you think this is the end of this story, buckle your seatbelt. It’s not, because if it is — I’d be ending this post with something like this:
Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one… and some really stink.
Spoiler Alert: It doesn’t end here. *le sigh*
Fast-forward a week: and after tons of backlash and responses from the likes of James Gunn, Robert Downey Jr., Paul Rudd, Samuel L. Jackson, and overlord/president of the nerds Kevin Smith (among many more), you would THINK this would be the end of it. One would think that we could all come to an agreement and it would all end in rainbows and sunshine and unicorn farts. Right? Wrong; what’s the fun in that?
Martin Scorsese, instead, doubled down on his previous comments. In a less-relatable move, he stuck with his guns instead of backtracking or clarifying his sentiments in a less controversial way.
During a press conference promoting his latest film — The Irishman — Scorsese repeated his sentiments
It’s not cinema, it’s something else. We shouldn’t be invaded by it. We need cinemas to step up and show films that are narrative films.
— Martin Scorsese
Big oof. I mean, everyone’s entitled to their own opinions, but that doesn’t give you permission to be a prick about it. As with anything in life, you choose how you react to things you can’t control… like the amount of exposure, money, or success a genre of film receives or doesn’t receive.
I do think that cinema, all cinema, should be accessible to everyone, no matter the location, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. But, I disagree wholeheartedly that superhero flicks are “invading” anything. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Now, the whole business of movie theater chains and how they function is a post for another day. Trust me. Getting these indie flicks that are not as accessible to the general public the exposure they deserve is also a completely different issue that I passionately agree with Mr. Scorsese on. I do, to the bottom of my heart, hope and want to see these smaller films get as much exposure and earn as much success as possible. But I don’t think that it needs to be at the expense of these big event films, like Avengers: End Game. Who says tent pole, event films don’t mean anything to anyone?
In regards to these films not being “narrative films” (and it absolutely sounds like that’s what Scorsese is implying here — that if we need to make room for more narrative films, then these comic book movies need to take a proverbial back seat. Correct me if I’m wrong). I would argue that by nature, comic book films are narrative in nature. Comic books… aka the source material these films are based off of… are NARRATIVE in the same way any other novel is. These comic book heroes and heroines inspire a lot of people from many different social climates and it sucks that people can’t grasp that. Just because they’re the theme park of movies to people like Martin Scorsese, doesn’t mean that superhero films don’t have an impact; it doesn’t mean that the storylines and narratives don’t create an emotional or psychological impact on its audience, and it certainly doesn’t make them any less narrative in nature.
What Marvel has done is no easy feat Marvel created a multi-film universe; they took “narrative” and injected it with steroids. The idea of such overarching, multi-narrative, cinematic universe was virtually non-existent until 2008, upon the release of Iron Man.
Marvel has done something vastly unique and absolutely nailed it. Marvel films can stand alone but when fit into the larger puzzle, help tell a much bigger narrative is a success you don’t see anywhere else. The MCU has set Marvel’s films up as the must see events, in an almost episodic way. Marvel Entertainment and Disney Studios both took a huge financial risk by starting something this big in the first place. This Cinematic Universe could’ve easily crashed and burned, especially without the inclusion of Marvel Comics biggest, most well known superheroes, Spider-Man and the X-Men, due to film and distribution rights being owned by Sony and Fox at the time. That deserves so much positive recognition in and of itself. It’s proven to be such a successful monetary investment worth putting an effort in. With that, you’re gonna see more and more films and Marvel IPs being thrown into the mix, only adding to the bigger story, and instead of causing overcrowding, the overarching story only strengthens. How does that disqualify these movies as “narrative films”?
Listen, just because you have an opinion on something doesn’t mean others share that sentiment. Now, granted, I’m sure some people do agree with Scorsese; you can’t please everyone and that’s totally fine. There’s a simple solution for you all who aren’t fans: Don’t. Watch.
At the end of the day, Mr. Scorsese, your opinion isn’t the law. I mean — if you’re not a fan of superhero films and then go around acting as if that particular opinion makes you better than those who do makes you totally insensitive and out of touch.
An issue that has come to light since these comments have gone viral is the generalization of all comic book movies. After Scorsese made and then reiterated his stance, others came out with their own similar sentiments regarding comic book movies… Exhibit B: Jennifer Aniston (say it ain’t so).
It wasn’t until the last couple of years when these streaming services were just sort of exploding with the amount of quality that I actually started started to think, ‘wow that’s better than what I just did.’ 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.
— Jennifer Aniston
This is coming from the same woman who doesn’t have the most, uh, critically acclaimed track record with romantic comedies; I can easily argue that all those garbage mid-2000’s romantic comedies have the same diminishing effect on film as she claims Marvel does. But, ok sis. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I really don’t have the energy to entertain her irrelevant comment; she definitely doesn’t have a dog in this fight. Whether she intended so or not, her stepping on the soapbox was only adding fuel to the fire when there didn’t need to be. Besides, there is one more person I must address. Grab a snack, I’m not done yet.
Francis Ford Coppola, welcome to your tape. Okay, seriously I love both The Godfather Part I and Part II; they’re two of the best movies ever made. And Apocalypse Now? I will never not watch it when it’s on and I consider it one of the best war films in history. Period. I have such a soft spot for a ton of Coppola’s work. That just makes it that much tougher to hear his opinion on Marvel movies.
Coppola made the following statement at a press conference at a film festival in France,
Martin [Scorsese] was being kind when he said it wasn’t cinema. He didn’t say it was despicable, which is what I say.
— Francis Ford Coppola
YIKES. Like I said, I respect the absolute hell out of Coppola, but I highly disagree with this (and I still cringe at the thought of that despicable 3rd Godfather movie.)
Quite frankly, it’s a little disappointing to hear someone I look up to say such things about another thing I love, but unsurprising. To put it into perspective, think of their comments like you would your grandparents’ comments about our generation’s taste in music. Your typical grandparent might question who Post Malone is or why he’s popular before criticizing music today and longing for the good ole days, whatever those are. It’s nothing new and it’s still very annoying. (If you have a grandparent who digs Post Malone or any other current artist, you got some hip family members.)
But, there’s a huge reason Marvel and DC have succeed financially. They’ve become incredibly accessible. They’ve taken a medium that wasn’t always considered to be hip by the mainstream (comic books) and twisted the formula on its head. These movies have made comic books the cool thing to collect and dust up on, which only moves this popular cycle further and further. They’ve introduced the masses to all of these unique, inspiring characters that don’t typically get recognition. The accessibility factor does not necessarily knock Scorsese’s and Coppola’s respective catalogues. I mean, how many 18 year old boys hang Godfather and Scarface posters up in their freshman year college dorm rooms? And, if they were really that old school, Scorsese would have gone elsewhere with his new film, the Irishman. It said a whole lot when SCorsese chose to work directly with Netflix. Not too long ago, streaming services (Netflix included) got loads of judgement too, right when these companies began producing original content. Throughout the history of cinema, many different genres have gotten similar criticism from those who are considered geniuses in the industry.
This was the point that James Gunn made very poignantly in a lengthy instagram post:
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.
— James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy
Generalizing a whole genre of movies, much like generalizing any group in life, totally diminishes so much more than the actual group or genre itself. Generalizations like those made by Scorsese (whether he meant it as such or not) totally undermine the modern accomplishments of the superhero genre. Some of today’s most critically acclaimed films and performances are from those in the comic book genre. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy changed the landscape so much. The Dark Knight is still cited as one of the best of the decade. Heath Ledger received tons of praise for his performance as the Joker. On top of the praise, he won a posthumous Oscar and is now considered to be the performance that everyone who signs up to play the role has to live up to.
Look at Fox’s Logan. It took a beloved character in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and created a western-like film full of dark, heavy topics to surround the character. The script was nominated for an Oscar, the first major superhero film to get that kind of recognition since The Dark Knight. The amount of grown ass adults that I heard sniffling in that movie theater upon the tragic death of Wolverine is big enough to counteract any comments stating the lack of emotional development in comic book movies.
And, take Wonder Woman and its impact on pop culture and women of all backgrounds after its release in 2017. Granted, Diana Prince has over 75 years of content to pull from. Still, this movie made an iconic feminist character accessible in a way not seen before. Same with Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel in 2019. As a woman, I can personally speak on the emotional effect both those films had on me.
The iconic scene in Wonder Woman, where Diana is walking out of the trenches in slow motion to fight off WWI era guns and weapons with just her shield and her power was incredibly moving and signified so much. That scene alone moved me to tears.
In the climax of Captain Marvel, when Carol finally breaks free of the subtle verbal abuse of Jude Law’s character and embraced her powers to their fullest extent instead of trying to control and hide them (a beautiful metaphor for how women everywhere are told to stop being emotional) is also a beautiful moment and something that women can resonate with.
Just as importantly, take a look at Black Panther. The film became the first superhero film to ever get a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars. That must stand for something? The cultural impact that film had more than makes it deserving of all the critical praise it received. The film produced well rounded characters, both good and bad. The costumes were stunningly beautiful and the score was so well done. (Both of which took home the prize at the Academy Awards.)
So, to sell a whole genre short by saying they invade our cinema, or that they’re despicable and diminishing things, might be a little unfair, don’t you think? Just because you don’t get it doesn’t make it less of an art piece than those emotionally driven indie flicks. The power of film is that each one tells a story; they offer an escape to viewers and no two experiences are the same. Film is a powerful, impactful medium. So, for us to be critical of a subset of such a powerful thing is, in the end, what’s actually diminishing the art.
At the end of the day, film is something that means quite a lot to me (If that wasn’t blatantly obvious). Now this was a long post, probably the longest I’ve written, so if you’ve made it this far, I’m very interested in what you think. Let’s have a discussion and lets keep it kind, shall we?