Martin Scorsese recently said that Marvel films were not cinema and lacked depth, comparing them to a theme park attraction while Francis Ford Coppola went a step further, calling the movies “despicable.”
Even Jennifer Anniston commented that big Marvel movies are the only options for actors like her, which she said diminished movies. I don’t want to dwell too much on that comment but Anniston has never done and never been a contender for serious films which Marvel are supposedly keeping at bay.
It does also beg the question, ‘why wouldn’t you want to do a Marvel film?’ It can’t be a case of only taking on serious work. ‘Serious’ actors like Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were in the X-Men films long before there was a big Marvel boom while other actors have found their big break or revitalised their career in Marvel films and are now on our screens all the time. I feel not starring in a Marvel movie will eventually become the equivalent of finding a British actor who never appeared in either Harry Potter or Game of Thrones.
Anyway, I’d like to focus on Scorsese’s comments because at least he made attempts to justify his opinion while Coppola offered nothing but pure criticism.
First of all, this idea that Marvel movies are distracting from ‘serious’ films seems to be a bit of a non-starter. Only Black Panther has had a major Oscar nomination as Best Picture with no other films or actors in the Marvel universe involved. The film awards industry doesn’t tend to recognise Marvel films which are supposedly all that is on the market but still finds a number of different films and actors to nominate.
Scorsese called Marvel films theme park attractions because he sees these movies as fun at the time while leaving you feeling nothing afterwards. He also feels that the movies are formulaic just to create fun but do not have the depth because they lack human emotion, human stories which teaches or makes the audience feel something that lasts.
Sure, maybe the Marvel films (like superhero movies in general) can be quite formulaic but it is a formula that has kept fans interested for 20+ movies.
You couldn’t apply the formula of Coppola’s The Godfather and make it fresh by introducing another crime family every few films but films that are fun can get away with it. Simply put, there is nothing wrong with making a film that is fun and action-packed which people enjoy. If you want to pick out a franchise that is guiltier of being a theme park attraction than Marvel, take a look at The Fast and the Furious.
I suspect long ago that the creators and fans stopped caring how convoluted the plot and action set pieces got because they knew they would see a ton of over-the-top car stunts to entertain them.
The fact that so many movies link together is quite a feat in cinema itself, obviously helped by the source materials of the comic books but it is still an achievement nonetheless.
On top of that, there are so many different directors attached to the Marvel movies, all putting their own stamp on it while keeping the overall brand similar. Taika Waititi of Thor: Ragnarok and James Gunn of The Guardians of the Galaxy spring to mind with their humour.
James Gunn spoke of how Westerns and Gangster movies used to all be seen as the same and that the situation with superheroes is no different. The 80s were dominated by coming-of-age movies, the 90s and 00s by romcoms and now it is simply the turn of superheroes. All the while, the ‘serious’ Oscar worthy films of these eras are remembered too.
In the grand scheme of things, there will be some Marvel movies that are simply forgotten about but there are those that leave a lasting impression, countering Scorsese’s point that the films lack depth.
Just because regular humans aren’t the only ones involved in the story, it doesn’t mean a film, superhero or otherwise, can’t have depth.
Starting right at the beginning with Iron Man, we saw a millionaire who made his money selling weapons come to terms with what he had created, along with trying to keep his own ego in check.
The Iron Man suit may be the stuff of comics but the rest of the movie is based in a very real issue which is covered.
If all these movies were unconnected, following the same formula just with different directors while resolving all issues by the end of the film, I might understand their point a little more.
However, the fact that each movie continues and builds towards an over-arching story across the whole Marvel universe means we get plenty of depth even with different directors. The depth of story-telling and characters across the movies leads to pay-offs throughout; try telling fans of the film that they felt nothing at the end of Avengers: Endgame.
The characters have been with us for so many movies whether it is through their own movies or making appearances in others so the fate of each becomes a key point which viewers take notice of- that is cinema on a grand scale.