Martin Scorcese caused an uproar from Marvel fans and creators alike when he shared his opinion on Marvel movies in an interview with Empire Magazine. While he said a few different things, his main point was that Marvel films are “not cinema”.
And he’s right.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: no one is saying that Marvel films are objectively bad. They are competently made films with a plethora of talent in their cast and crew. These are films designed to be enjoyed by a broad group of moviegoers and clearly based on their success, they’re doing what the filmmakers intended for them to do.
In fact, Scorcese himself stated the films are well made and the actors in them are doing the best that they can with the material they’re given. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy watching a Marvel movie whether or not you agree with Scorcese’s opinion. Art is subjective; if your definition of a good movie is that you must enjoy it, then it’s a good movie.
However, per Scorcese’s definition of the word, he’s right: the Marvel films are not cinema.
Scorcese stated the best comparison he can make to the experience of watching a Marvel film is going to a theme park. Consider how you’d describe a theme park: hours of frivolous fun and thrills that mean nothing in the long run but are still a fun experience in the moment. They’re just a good time. Pure entertainment. That’s a Marvel film.
When you go into the latest Avengers movie, you aren’t expecting to be challenged, you aren’t being asked to see new perspectives. You’re going to see a star-studded ensemble cast have fun running around in their lycra for two hours before launching into an extensive fight sequence. It’s mindless entertainment that asks nothing of you but to enjoy it.
Generally speaking, Marvel films all have the same basic structure: the hero runs around making witty quips until it’s finally time to face-off with the villain in a shaky fight sequence that takes up a third of the run time and renders the city destroyed, but the hero victorious.
All of these characters have basic personality traits to tell them apart — Tony Stark, he’s cocky! Peter Parker, he’s nerdy! — yet they are written with the same voice, one that says what the writers need them to say at any given time. Occasionally they will say some quick-witted one liner, as Marvel characters only seem to be capable of one type of humour which they’re all able to pull out even in times of distress. This robs these characters of any potential for emotional depth and substantial development.
But don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if watching Tom Holland clown around in his Spiderman suit is a hard watch. It’s entertaining, but that’s all it is.
All of this is done because they need to appeal to the widest possible audience. Once upon a time, these super heroes were invented because there was an artist with a story to tell, now they’ve been taken over by corporations like Disney and Sony, whose aim is to garner as much revenue as possible. They have all the plot beats, tones and character traits Marvel fans enjoy down to a science and so they keep on churning them out to make record profits.
This is not only applicable to Marvel movies. As a diehard horror fan, I have heard many say, “there are no good horror movies”, an argument backed up by the pointless remakes and cash-grab slashers that seem to litter chain theatres monthly. Franchise reboots, all-women remakes, live action versions of classics, all of these types of movies turn theatres into theme parks.
I think one of the main points to take away from Scorcese’s comment is, like any type of art, people aren’t creating for the sake of creating anymore. When corporate committees realize they can make a profit off of a certain type of art, they sink their claws into it and wear it down into something soulless, yet easy on the eyes.
I’m not saying we can’t enjoy this brand of theme park movies. I’m not on my high horse rolling my eyes at Marvel and insisting independent arthouse cinema should be the only type of content we consume. Trust me, I’d be a hypocrite, as someone who brings the theme park home with her to watch whatever new flop Netflix’s Noah Centineo Cinematic Universe has to offer with every intention of tearing it apart with my friends.
But Scorcese has a point.
Marvel succeeds at their goal of putting audiences into seats, but, as Scorcese says, they’re not there for the “emotional, psychological experiences” they could get from other films. They’re there to laugh at all the quips and cheer when the hero they love so much inevitably wins. They’re there to be entertained and know that Marvel films do the trick, but that’s all.