In October 2019, famed Hollywood film director Martin Scorsese caused a social media frenzy when he released an incredibly trivial take, arguing that Marvel movies did not qualify as true cinema.
Immediately, Twitter went into a fury. Many were baffled at how a filmmaker as experienced as Scorsese, who produced acclaimed movies like “The Irishmen” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” could make a statement so rash.
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To some extent, the general consensus that Scorsese is out of touch with the current direction of film makes sense. Cinema has progressed substantially throughout the years, and the type of films Scorsese is used to producing and watching don’t capture the attention of modern audiences anymore.
In a 2019 New York Times op-ed, Scorsese defended his claims, noting that most of the Marvel movie franchise remains largely within their audience’s comfort zone, taking few film-making risks in order to please audiences.
As Marvel transitions into its fourth phase of comic book movie adaptations this year, it becomes clear this take did not hold up.
Unlike many films today, the films of Scorsese’s era utilized gripping suspense which kept audiences on the edge of their seats. While this aspect of cinema is not completely absent from movies of today, it is not as prominent as it once was.
Marvel does try to replicate this by including their movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — a universe entirely separate from the comics — but their regular drawing of ideas from the comics often gives audiences an idea of what might happen.
Scorsese’s points start to weaken when he claims Marvel movies are less emotionally captivating of an art form than the films of his time. Anyone who has been to a screening of a Marvel movie on opening night will know audiences develop a deep emotional attachment to Marvel characters.
For example, take Robert Downey Jr.’s character Tony Stark, who sacrificed himself at the end of “Avengers: Endgame.” Audiences had developed an emotional attachment to Stark over the eleven years he was on screen, and when he died, many viewers cried as if they were witnessing the death of a real person.
These series are made to make viewers feel as if they are on a journey with the characters, and by losing one of them — such as Tony Stark — it feels as if they’re losing a friend.
Though Marvel movies often use a methodical and formulaic approach to please audiences, that doesn’t mean aspects such as emotional attachment and character development are completely left out.
Characters like Iron Man and Captain America undergo deep emotional character arcs throughout each of their film series. Though these storylines also occur in the comics, the films give new life to these stories in a way that print comics just can’t.
While current films may not express their art-form in the way Scorsese is used to, they are on a whole new level visually. The development of computer-generated imagery has made the impossible possible, bringing to life characters and visuals that have never been seen before.
These movies have arguably developed a new type of cinematic art-form, one that is much more capable of delivering stunning visuals than films of the past.
In the end, there is no shame in enjoying either modern CGI-heavy movies or the narrative filled films of Scorsese’s era. No two films are ever the same, and viewers are going to have different opinions of the films they enjoy.
Scorsese didn’t grow up with these types of movies, so these ideas feel foreign to him. The goal of cinema is to bring joy to people through artistic expression, and as long as a movie fulfills that, it qualifies as cinema.