A month ago (was it only a month ago?) director Martin Scorsese set the internet alight with his inflammatory take on the Marvel movie franchise. “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,” Scorsese told Empire magazine during the press tour for his film The Irishman.
Since then, seemingly every single award-winning director of a certain age has chimed in to trash the Marvel Cinematic Universe. MCU fans and filmmakers clapped back in response, essentially calling Scorsese and his compatriots old fuddy-duddies. Following the drama has been about as tiresome as reading Trump’s Twitter feed. Vulture’s Bilge Ebiri wrote that all the piling-on was “like an international reply-all catastrophe.”
Alas, the debate over Marvel’s place in the cinematic canon rages on. Scorsese penned an op-ed for the New York Times on Monday, attempting to clarify his initial remarks. “The fact that the films themselves don’t interest me is a matter of personal taste and temperament. I know that if I were younger, if I’d come of age at a later time, I might have been excited by these pictures and maybe even wanted to make one myself,” he wrote.
Scorsese acknowledged the fact that Netflix, which produced The Irishman, has also been accused by filmmakers and franchise owners of undercutting movie theaters. But he doubled down on his assertion that Marvel, not Netflix, is killing the cinematic experience. “So, you might ask, what’s my problem?” Scorsese posited. “Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be? The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen.”
Over the weekend, Scorsese also weighed in on Joker, a movie he’d been attached to initially when production news broke in August 2017. But the director told the BBC that he ultimately couldn’t stomach Arthur Fleck’s character arc — namely, his transformation into a comic book villain. “He develops into an abstraction,” Scorsese said. “It doesn’t mean it’s bad art, it’s just not for me […] The superhero films, as I’ve said, are another art form. They are not easy to make. There’s a lot of very talented people doing good work and a lot of young people really, really enjoy them.”
Predictably, the director’s comments prompted Disney chief executive Bob Iger to rush to the defense of the superhero genre. "Ouch! I think Martin Scorsese is a great filmmaker. [...] I’d like to have a glass of wine with him,” Iger told the BBC. But he added, "I don't think he's ever seen a Marvel film. [...] Anyone who has seen a Marvel film could not in all truth make that statement."
As anyone who has equally enjoyed films like Goodfellas and Black Panther can attest, watching these movies are completely different viewing experiences. Which makes this whole debate about the artistic merit of films like Taxi Driver versus Thor really, really stupid. Nobody asked Scorsese (or Francis Ford Coppola or Jodie Foster) to make a value judgement on the entertainment Americans choose to consume. Especially in these fraught times, when we could all use a little escapism to help tune out the incessant news about the impeachment inquiry… for example!