Director Martin Scorsese had some carefully chosen words for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Scorsese spoke with Empire magazine recently during a press run for his latest film The Irishman. When the topic of superhero movies came up, specifically the MCU, he said he doesn’t consider them cinema, likening the mega-budget productions to “theme parks“:
“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. 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. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
This isn’t the first time that Scorsese has called out the current state of films. Scorsese called the time of death for cinema back in 2016 during an interview with the Associated Press: “Cinema is gone,” he said. “The cinema I grew up with and that I’m making, it’s gone. The theater will always be there for that communal experience, there’s no doubt. But what kind of experience is it going to be? Is it always going to be a theme-park movie? I sound like an old man, which I am.”
A polarizing viewpoint, for sure—as people on Twitter have gone so far as to call Scorsese a Nazi for trying to dictate what art should be. But even if you’re more rational than someone with egregiously itchy Twitter fingers and you just err on the side of dismissing Scorsese as just some out-of-touch director yelling at the sky (hell, he kind of admitted it, too), you have to admit that he’s not wrong.
Cinema is completely different, and it does have a lot to do with Marvel.
Taking the discussion of the artistic and storytelling merits of the MCU off the table for a moment, it’s worth pointing out the borderline monopoly Disney has at the box office and what that means for other films. In 2018, Disney pulled in more than $7 billion, with half of that figure belonging to MCU entries Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Avengers: Infinity War. Love them or hate them, sequels, prequels, reboots, and, yes, superhero movies have changed the landscape of film, often cutting off circulation to more middle-tier fare on the production scale. Risk-averse producers are less willing to take a chance on something new when what they’re churning out, as rehashed as it is, is making profits hand over fist.
But again, as Scorsese and other Hollywood heavyweights have pointed out, where does that leave all the distant-planet films outside of the glowing MCU?
During a 2017 interview with Radio Times magazine, Jodie Foster also referred to superhero movies as “theme parks” and even compared them to fracking:
“Studios making bad content in order to appeal to the masses and shareholders is like fracking—you get the best return right now but you wreck the earth . . . . It’s ruining viewing habits of the American population and then ultimately the rest of the world.”
A fair, if somewhat extreme, take. However, as far as Hollywood is concerned, they’re just words in the wind.
Superhero moves aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. They reap billions at the box office. Ticket sales slipped 15.8% compared with last year, so movie theaters are loathe not to show deference to big-budget, highly anticipated movies that people prefer to see in theaters and not stream at home. So for everyone who’s Team Scorsese and Foster, TV has somewhat closed the gap for more inventive storytelling—and God knows you’ll have your pick of the litter of streaming services in the very near future.