“That’s not cinema” – Martin Scorsese and the problem with Marvel

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Modern Hollywood is undeniably dominated by the Marvel franchise. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have seen at least one Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in your lifetime.

With an incredibly strong fan-base, it stands to reason that recent comments on the franchise from big-name director Martin Scorsese garnered a lot of attention all over social media. When asked if he had ever seen Marvel’s movies, Scorsese admitted that he had tried, but concluded that they were “not cinema” and that they failed to “convey emotional, psychological experiences”.

After ten years and counting of these movies, it’s hard not to agree just a little with Scorsese’s comments. Marvel’s movies are fun, exciting, and generally well made. Yet, they can feel repetitive and often fail to convey a deep, convincing portrayal of the human experience. A film often asks its audience to relate to its protagonist, but Marvel is hardly relatable. With most actors being overwhelmingly straight, white, and male – they are not exactly reflective of real life. It took 22 movies for Marvel to conjure up a female protagonist. The franchise fails to represent huge groups, leading to its inability to show the wider human experience.

It’s disappointing to see an art form so dominated by the safe chase for higher profits

Although some of Marvel’s films attempt to explore emotional and psychological experiences (such as Iron Man 3’s depiction of PTSD), they consistently undermine emotional moments by cracking jokes and breaking the weight of the scene. There is, of course, nothing wrong with comedy in film – unless the film aims to have emotional weight, at which point badly-timed comedy is to the detriment of psychological impact on the audience. However, a lack of psychological or emotional impact is not necessarily a bad thing. Not everyone wants to be confronted with a heavy examination of the human condition when watching a movie.

Hollywood is flooded with sequels, remakes, reboots and prequels. Everyone is trying to emulate Marvel and make a franchise. Cinema has always been largely about making money, but merchandise sales shouldn’t come at the detriment of originality. It’s disappointing to see an art form so dominated by the safe chase for higher profits.

Scorsese compares Marvel’s films to “theme parks”; a one-off thrill ride of simple surface-level fun. But is there really anything wrong with wanting a movie to be just that? Scorsese suggests that Marvel movies are “not cinema”, but how do we define cinema?

Scorsese’s comments imply an elitism in film making, a hierarchy of art where only particular kinds of creation can be considered artistic. But who is qualified to set the checklist? At what point does a film become adequately emotional or psychological for it to be considered cinema, and what does it have to address? Society has created for itself barriers to entry for what is considered “cinema”. Perhaps there should be no parameters beyond it simply being played on the big screen. We’re all looking for something different when we watch a movie. 

Cinema shouldn’t be defined by limiting factors – the very act of creating film is, arguably, qualification enough.

Photo by Elijah O’Donnell via Unsplash

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