Martin Scorsese's take on the MCU is correct to a degree, but also ignores plenty of qualities the franchise has that prove him wrong. In a recent interview promoting The Irishman, Scorsese claimed that, despite trying to invest and enjoy the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, he hadn't managed to connect with them. Scorsese argued that Marvel's modern superhero movies were "not cinema" and lacked "human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences." The auteur also compared the MCU to a theme park, providing thrills and excitement but not much below the surface.
Naturally, given how many actors and directors have worked on a superhero movie at this point, several big names jumped to the franchise's defense. Currently straddling DC and Marvel, James Gunn suggested it was wrong to paint all Marvel movies with one brush, Joss Whedon argued Marvel's movies are packed with human emotion and Samuel L. Jackson responded in a way only Samuel L. Jackson can.
But while many have been quick to criticize Scorsese's assessment of the superhero genre, his comments invite discussion from a variety of different angles. First of all, the comparison between Marvel movies and theme parks isn't completely off the mark. Just like Disneyland or Alton Towers, films such as The Avengers are largely designed to be adventurous, fast-paced blasts of fun, and even the dips (character deaths, villainous moments, etc.) are designed to build towards an equal and opposite uplift.
Target audiences bring forth another similarity. Much like theme parks, especially those of the Disney variety, Marvel movies are designed to be all-encompassing and dominate the market by appealing to as wide an audience as possible. But instead of kiddie rides and mammoth coasters, the MCU balances intense battle sequences with humor and big names to draw in a more casual audience as well as dyed-in-the-wool geeks.
It also doesn't take a lifelong film buff to see that what Scorsese brings to the world of cinema is very different to the experiences offered by the MCU. The director's penchant for morally-gray characterization, non-traditional story structure and reflecting humanity's darker tendencies is on entirely the opposite end of the spectrum to blockbusters as a whole, not even just superhero releases. As such, it's perhaps no surprise that this type of film isn't to Scorsese's taste. After all, if the director was a fan of the Marvel template, that's the type of film he'd be making currently, rather than gritty crime thrillers starring Robert De Niro.
Where Scorsese's argument falls down is in his suggestion that this approach is inherently a bad thing, and somehow a lesser art form that doesn't deserve the title of "cinema."
First and foremost, to accuse the Marvel movies of neglecting emotional human experience is to ignore a significant portion of the franchise's most memorable scenes. The characterization of Captain America might not be as nuanced and inventive as that of Travis Bickle, but Steve Rogers' arc over the past decade's worth of films has been teeming with pathos and very real, human feelings. There's a love story, a drive to achieve something nature tried to deny him, a dilemma between ethics and patriotism and, finally, a choice to do something for himself. Just because these human stories are wrapped in a whirlwind of fist fights, time travel and butt jokes, it doesn't make them any less affecting to the audience or valid within the realm of cinema. Something similar can be said of Iron Man's evolution from Robert Downey Jr.'s 2008 debut to his demise in Avengers: Endgame that had audiences around the world in floods of tears. That kind of reaction doesn't come from a franchise that lacks with conveying emotion.
It's also worth considering exactly what the MCU has achieved and how it continues to push the envelope. It might be fair to call Marvel movies out for being formulaic or for seeking a broad appeal, but they certainly haven't lacked ambition or opted for an easy route to financial success. As demonstrated by the DCEU and the Dark Universe, crafting a cinematic universe isn't as easy as Marvel have made it look, and the franchise was only possible thanks to years of planning, tons of patience and a strong vision of what could be possible. These factors, even if one doesn't enjoy the finished product, are surely enough to warrant the MCU a place under the umbrella of proper "cinema."
- Black Widow (2020) release date: May 01, 2020
- Eternals (2020) release date: Nov 06, 2020
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) release date: Feb 12, 2021
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2021) release date: May 07, 2021
- Spider-Man: Homecoming 3 (2021) release date: Jul 16, 2021
- Thor: Love and Thunder (2021) release date: Nov 05, 2021
- Black Panther 2 (2022) release date: May 06, 2022