Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, soon Netflix’s The Irishman: Martin Scorsese has earned his place as an authority on filmmaking. However, his claim that Marvel movies ‘aren’t cinema’ is unjust and outdated.
Earlier this year, Avengers: Endgame became the king of the world, knocking James Cameron’s Avatar of its decade-long stint at the top of the worldwide box office record.
Really, it’s karma for Cameron – in 2018, he told Indiewire: ‘I’m hoping we’ll start getting Avenger fatigue here pretty soon, Not that I don’t love the movies. It’s just, come on guys, there are other stories to tell…’
Check out the trailer for The Irishman below:
Scorsese wasn’t one of the millions (if not billions) embarking on repeat trips to cinemas to relish the historic, superhero climax. For The Departed director, Marvel films are just ‘theme parks’.
In an interview with Empire ahead of The Irishman, Scorsese said of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
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.
Scorsese’s upcoming three-and-a-half hour gangster epic is currently sitting at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. It brings together a massive cast – including Casino alumni Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, as well as Al Pacino for his first ever film with the director.
Check out the first trailer below:
Chronicling mob hitman Frank Sheeran’s (De Niro) story and possible involvement with the infamous disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa, Indiewire’s Eric Kohn gave the film an A, saying the film proves ‘Scorsese’s more alive than ever’.
It’s bound to be a masterclass, but like all entertainment, cinema is subjective – open to interpretation and varying levels of engagement. One person’s favourite film may be another’s unshakeable nightmare, that’s just the way it goes.
The MCU has never been particularly designed for awards glory: back in 2018, the company’s overlord Kevin Feige said ‘it’s easy to dismiss VFX or flying people or spaceships or billion dollar grosses.’
As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, Feige said:
[Alfred] Hitchcock never won best director, so it’s very nice, but it doesn’t mean everything. I would much rather be in a room full of engaged fans.
Of course, earlier this year, Marvel made history at the Oscars. Black Panther became the first superhero film to attain a Best Picture nomination, as well as winning a number of other golden gongs, including Best Original Score.
Black Panther was more than a $1.3 billion blockbuster: in a post-#OscarsSoWhite world, it was an event.
Shakespearean in its storytelling gusto, enthralling in its action set-pieces, enchanting in its celebration of African culture, thought-provoking in its handling of tough themes like colonialism – in what ways is this Marvel film ‘not cinema’?
Scorsese’s oeuvre is a very particular subset of film. More often than not (excluding Hugo and Silence), they hone in on devastating portraits of toxic masculinity and troubled males battling their milieu – unsurprisingly, he was a huge inspiration for Todd Phillips’ Joker.
Check out the trailer for Joker below:
Phillips is also guilty of fuelling the fire against comicbook films. Speaking on the lead-up to the film’s release, the director said he told Warner Bros: ‘We’re gonna sneak a real movie in under the guise of [a comic book movie].’
As reported by GameSpot, Phillips said:
All of a sudden kids who wouldn’t care or go to this movie if it was called ‘Arthur’ are going to go sit in this movie and be exposed to something entirely different than Avengers: Endgame.
I love those movies. [Robert Downey Jr.] is my boy. But they just watched a real movie, in a way.
‘A real movie’ – what does that mean? One that’s not burdened by spectacle, perhaps? Something more intimate than, say, Avengers Assemble?
Taxi Driver is a hauntingly engrossing character study, blending exploitation licks with a terrifyingly real soul at its core. The Wolf of Wall Street, on the other hand, invites audiences to indulge in lavish criminality alongside its central scoundrel, Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio).
There’s no doubt that these are dazzling, unforgettable, ’emotional, psychological experiences’ – but the insinuation they are more like ‘real movies’ shows major ignorance to the changing of the times.
For today’s audience, superhero films are our Westerns – the cultural mainstay of mainstream entertainment. Some are masterworks, others are run-of-the-mill CGI-fests that exist to keep the cogs turning and the money rolling. But that’s the industry – they can’t all be home runs.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has permanently changed how stories are told on the big screen. Other series dabbled in shared worlds to varying effect (Alien vs Predator and Freddy vs Jason, for example), some have tried to emulate it (the near-catastrophic DCEU), but the MCU has it nailed.
The intricate tapestry of little threads and a massive, purple-skinned Titan across the franchise’s 23 films is a wonder to behold, and for viewers who take the time to watch them all, the pay-off is remarkable.
The caveat is, of course, it can be easy to fall out of the loop. It’s serialised storytelling after all, like a television show with only a few feature-length episodes every year.
Long-form storytelling, like the MCU’s, comes with one recurring criticism: single movies cannot stand on their own.
It’s true that for new audiences, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame may feel overwhelming, as a never-ending stream of characters chat, collide, fall and return.
But when did ‘cinema’ and ‘real movies’ become so rigidly maintained? Why are people feeling an urge to act as gatekeepers on the subjective quality of an industry? Is it frustration, or boredom perhaps? Neither are just causes to demean a popular genre.
Endgame was, and will remain, the biggest movie of all time for one reason: it’s the finale of a generation-spanning saga that has held viewers hearts for more than 10 years.
Anyone who went to see Endgame at midnight will recall the emotional atmosphere: the chanting jubilation, the gasps, the wailing despair.
That’s cinema, right there.
The Irishman hits Netflix on October 13, while Joker is playing in UK cinemas now.
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After graduating from Glasgow Caledonian University with an NCTJ and BCTJ-accredited Multimedia Journalism degree, Cameron ventured into the world of print journalism at The National, while also working as a freelance film journalist on the side, becoming an accredited Rotten Tomatoes critic in the process. He’s now left his Scottish homelands and took up residence at UNILAD as a journalist.