Martin Scorsese made headlines throughout October for condemning Marvel movies as equivalent to the offerings of a theme park. “It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being,” he said during an interview with Empire that blew up everywhere online. “The Irishman” director later elucidated his comments at the BFI London Film Festival, stating that Marvel is “not cinema, it’s something else… We shouldn’t be invaded by it. We need cinemas to step up and show films that are narrative films.”
On Monday, The New York Times published an op-ed essay penned by Scorsese himself, titled “I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain.” In the piece, Scorsese further unpacks his controversial remarks. He argues that, while there is genuine technical artistry behind the tentpole releases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and their superhero brethren, they don’t offer the mystery and sense of discovery found in the cinema he grew up with and champions as both filmmaker and moviegoer.
“Many franchise films are made by people of considerable talent and artistry. You can see it on the screen. 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. But I grew up when I did and I developed a sense of movies — of what they were and what they could be — that was as far from the Marvel universe as we on Earth are from Alpha Centauri,” he wrote in the NYT op-ed.
He went on to say that cinema is about “revelation, aesthetic, emotional and spiritual,” and about “characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.”
For Scorsese, that is all absent in the MCU. He wrote that while “many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures,” ultimately “what’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.”
Scorsese’s opinion piece further echoed his claim that Marvel movies are corporate product. “That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption,” he wrote. Even more bluntly, he framed his argument in context of many of the filmmakers he believes to be cinema artists: “Another way of putting it would be that they are everything that the films of Paul Thomas Anderson or Claire Denis or Spike Lee or Ari Aster or Kathryn Bigelow or Wes Anderson are not.”
Scorsese also offered a cautionary message about the current state of exhibition, and Hollywood’s emphasis on tentpole output that, he believes, is suffocating genuine artistic vision. “If people are given only one kind of thing and endlessly sold only one kind of thing, of course they’re going to want more of that one kind of thing.”
Read the full piece over at The New York Times here.