Earlier this month, legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese ignited a debate by declaring that the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are not cinema. He told Empire in an interview, “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.”
The auteur’s words plunged Hollywood and media into a debate as to whether Marvel movies, and by extension summer blockbusters, can indeed be called cinema. Luminaries from both sides of the debate have put forward their opinion.
MCU’s utter domination of Hollywood has ruffled many feathers over the last few years. The multi-billion-dollar franchise kicked off with Iron Man in 2008 and over 10 years of its existence, it has delivered some of the biggest blockbusters in the history of filmmaking. Avengers Endgame, the conclusion of a major storyline in the MCU, became the highest-grossing film at the worldwide box office earlier this year.
Many old school filmmakers endorsed Scorsese’s view regarding the cinematic value of MCU movies, while others disagreed. Some others had a more balanced opinion. Here is what every major Hollywood celeb has said regarding the debate.
Gunn, known for directing the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, wrote on Twitter, “Martin Scorsese is one of my 5 favorite living filmmakers. I was outraged when people picketed The Last Temptation of Christ without having seen the film. I’m saddened that he’s now judging my films in the same way.” In a follow-up tweet, he added, “That said, I will always love Scorsese, be grateful for his contribution to cinema, and can’t wait to see The Irishman.”
Joss Whedon, who helmed the first two Avengers movies, tweeted, “‘It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.’ I first think of @JamesGunn, how his heart & guts are packed into GOTG. I revere Marty, & I do see his point, but… Well there’s a reason why “I’m always angry”.
Samuel L Jackson
Jackson, the Nick Fury of MCU, was next to comment. “I didn’t pay much attention to it. I mean that’s like saying Bugs Bunny ain’t funny. Films are films. Everybody doesn’t like his stuff either. We do… but not everybody. Everybody’s got an opinion, so I mean it’s okay. Ain’t going to stop nobody from making movies,” Jackson told Variety.
Gillan, who plays Nebula in MCU, also gave her opinion while speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, “I would absolutely say that Marvel movies are cinema. Cinema is storytelling with visuals.”
Robert Downey Jr
Downey Jr, who played the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man from the beginning of MCU (Iron Man) to Avengers: Endgame, also chimed in. He said at Howard Stern Show, “I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t expect (MCU) to become what it became and it is this very large, multi-headed Hydra at this point. I’ve always had other interests, and according to Scorsese, it’s not cinema so I have to take a look at that, you know?”
He added, “I mean it plays in theatres. I appreciate his opinion because I think it’s like anything, we need all of the different perspectives so we can come to the centre and move on. There’s a lot to be said for how these genre movies — and I was happy to be part of the ‘problem’ if there is one — denigrated the era, the art form, of cinema. And, by the way, when you come in like a stomping beast and you eliminate the competition in such a demonstrative way, it’s phenomenal.”
Francis Ford Coppola
The Godfather helmer not only agreed with Scorsese’s opinion that MCU movies are not cinema but went on to call them “despicable.” While speaking to Yahoo News, Coppola said, “When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration… I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again.”
British auteur Loach was the next one to throw shade at MCU movies. He told Sky News, “They’re made as commodities like hamburgers, and it’s not about communicating and it’s not about sharing our imagination. It’s about making a commodity which will make a profit for a big corporation – they’re a cynical exercise. They’re market exercise and it has nothing to do with the art of cinema. William Blake said ‘when money is discussed – art is impossible’”.
Iron Man director and MCU actor Jon Favreau told CNBC that Scorsese and Coppola are his heroes and have earned the right to express their opinion. “They served as a source of inspiration, you can go all the way back to Swingers… They can express whatever opinion they like,” he said.
The director of acclaimed horror film Hereditary and Midsommar Aster was speaking at JIO MAMI 21st Mumbai Film Festival. He said that he is annoyed by the monopoly of MCU movies. He told PTI, “I am annoyed by the monopoly. But it’s probably safer for me to not present an opinion given that it’s a scandal every time someone does. But I think any monopoly is unhealthy and certainly that applies to this one. So that’s a shame. I don’t know what will help that because studios and executives are being told by the audiences that the way to make a lot of money is to make a film that’s based on an established IP. That’s how it is right now.”
The Disney CEO had some frank words for Scorsese, Coppola and others on the anti-Marvel side of the debate. Disney owns Marvel Studios and thus the MCU. Iger said at the Wall Street Journal‘s Tech Live conference, “It doesn’t bother me, except I’m bothered on behalf of the people who work on those movies…Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese are two people I hold in the highest regard in terms of the films that they’ve made, the films I’ve liked, the films we’ve all watched. But when Francis uses the word ‘despicable?’ I reserve the word ‘despicable’ for someone who committed mass murder. These are movies! To whom is he talking? Is he talking to Kevin Feige, who runs Marvel? Or Taika Waititi who directs, or Ryan Coogler, who directs for us? Or Scarlett Johansson or Chad Boseman? I could name a number of people – Robert Downey Jr.?”
He added, “I think I’ve sounded a little more defensive than I wanted to be, because I don’t really feel the need to defend what we’re doing. We are in the business of – first of all, we’re in the business of making money, we’re a profitable business. At the same time at Disney, we try to balance that with telling great stories to the world and infusing them with great values and supporting an employee based of well over 200,000 people around the world with great care, and frankly, respect. So I just don’t – I’m puzzled by it. If they want to bitch about movies, it’s certainly their right.”
Cumberbatch, himself a prominent face of the MCU as Doctor Strange, also gave his two cents. He actually agreed with Scorsese et al and similar to Aster, spoke about MCU’s monopoly. On Jenny McCarthy’s radio show, Cumberbatch said, “I know there’s been a lot of debate recently with these very fine filmmakers coming to the fore saying that these film franchises are taking over everything… And I agree, you know. We don’t want one king to rule it all and have a kind of monopoly. Hopefully that is not the case. We should really look into continuing to support auteur film-makers at every level,” he added.
The latest to voice her opinion, Davis told The Hollywood Reporter, “I think he was voicing his opinion. I think it’s valid. Everyone had a place, an opinion. But I like a good Marvel movie,” the actor said.
She added, “Albert Einstein said that imagination is more valuable than knowledge. If I did not have my imagination, I would still be poor Viola living in Central Falls, Rhode Island, who is not considered attractive or whatever. My imagination defined me. I could escape into a world that’s infinite, a world that I could create on my own, a world where I could redefine myself. That’s where art lives.”