Martin Scorsese has made headlines once again by airing his grievances with the Marvel movie. If this sounds familiar, it is because this is not the first time Scorsese has made known his disdain for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU for short).
Readers might recall that in 2019, during an interview with Empire Magazine, Scorsese boldly proclaimed that Marvel movies were “not Cinema,” likening them to “theme parks.” Naturally, fans of the franchise were quick to retort, and they were far more cutting in doing so. Some touted that Scorsese’s criticisms were borne from a sense of petty jealously, that he was just another aged boomer moaning about how the youths of today were ruining everything. Others thought his idea of cinema reductive, snobby, or elitist.
“If he had made his comments years prior then I might have joined the virtual mob raised against Scorsese, armed with a virtual torch and virtual pitchfork”
Yet despite the massive blowback he received, Scorsese has refused to soften his stance. Instead, he has decided to double down. In a recent interview with GQ Magazine, Scorsese again lambasts the MCU, this time as “manufactured content” akin to “AI.” He expands upon this belief, arguing that such a soulless, paint-by-numbers style of filmmaking is poisonous to the health of industry. That the massive successes of comic-book adaptations are ruinous for the creative waters of Hollywood’s directorial wellspring.
Scorsese’s biggest fear is that soon nothing individual will remain. That Hollywood will cease to be a vessel for artistic expression, instead becoming a mill that churns out unchallenging content which can be mindlessly and uncritically consumed while leaving behind no particular impression. An indolent industry, afraid to dare, afraid to question, afraid to anything that might harm its precious, billion-dollar bottom line. The blame, he asserts, lies with the rise of the Marvel Movie.
If he had made his comments years prior then I might have joined the virtual mob raised against Scorsese, armed with a virtual torch and virtual pitchfork, baffled that he had the temerity to slander the filmic equivalent of an American Iliad.
“There seems to be a civil war brewing in Hollywood, and it is the march of the moviegoer that will sway the battle.”
But I was younger then. And happier, but neither Scorsese nor Marvel movies can be blamed for those changes now, can they? Now that I am older, and only slightly wiser, I find myself ready to do battle on Scorsese’s side. For indeed, Scorsese appears to very much sees himself in a fight for the creative soul of Hollywood. As the director went on to say, to fight for cinema, one must “Hit ‘em from all sides, and don’t give up.”
Such a punchy remark reads as equivalent to a slap across the face with glove, an invitation to duel. It is hard to read his words as anything other than a call to action; that by supporting smaller, and more novel directors, cinema fans can beat back the multi-headed hydra that is the MCU. There seems to be a civil war brewing in Hollywood, and it is the march of the moviegoer that will sway the battle.
I found myself thinking akin to Scorsese does about the Marvel movie as I sat through Shang Chi (2021). While an enjoyable flick, I found myself struck by the most acute déjà vu during the film’s final act. I soon realised I had seen this film before, albeit in different guises and costumes, but the skeleton underneath remained the same.
Tell me, does this sound familiar to you? The titular superhero and their plucky cohort stand before a CGI horde of pure, unambiguous evil which they swiftly proceed to vanquish with their newfound powers. Apologies, perhaps I should have included a spoiler warning, for surely I’ve just ruined the endings of the next ten MCU films with so broad a description.
“The actors become less character and more mascot, not unlike the poor, underpaid cast-members stuffed into oversized costumes and forced to caper about Disneyland for coppers. “
Scorsese is correct when he describes the MCU as content. That is the sum total of it. Content. Like synthetic vanilla or unsalted pasta. The MCU is spineless. There is no moral, no lesson, no tension, no ambiguity, no debate nor discussion to be had. The MCU is as vast as an ocean, true, but it is surface deep. There is nothing beyond the cold wash of a garish CGI wave lapping lamely against the ankle. What is there to be said? “Oh, I think the guy who wanted to kill all life on Earth was bad.” Hardly profound.
Similarly, the theme park comparison which caught Scorsese so much flak in 2019 could not be more apt. Marvel movies are completely on rails, boxed in by executives who can see nothing beyond big box office numbers. The actors become less character and more mascot, not unlike the poor, underpaid cast-members stuffed into oversized costumes and forced to caper about Disneyland for coppers. Directors forgo their artistry to become brutalist architects, forbidden to deviate from anything outside the scope of a tried and tested blueprint.
“That is the most dangerous thing of all for the MCU. Not Scorsese’s disdain, but plain old ambivalence.”
Though there are still countless Marvel movie loyalists who will, pardon the neologism, forever “cape” for their favourite superhero franchise, Scorsese’s fresh condemnations have failed to garner the same level of fury as those made in 2019.
In fact, more and more seem to be echoing his opinion as of late. The idea that the MCU is on a slow decline after the epic conclusion of Avengers: Endgame (2019) was unthinkable at first, but now grows increasingly plausible, nay inevitable, with each samey, uninspired release.
And that is the most dangerous thing of all for the MCU. Not Scorsese’s disdain, but plain old ambivalence. I used to love going to see the next big instalment of the so-called “Infinity War Saga,” but whenever a new MCU film is announced nowadays, they would be lucky if I could muster the energy to shrug.
Featured Image Credit: Philip Montgomery/ The New York Times