Martin Scorsese stirred up an intense debate recently when he compered Marvel’s movies to theme parks and excluded them from being classified as cinema, at least in his mind. And he’s recently doubled down on that criticism with some more incendiary comments. At the closing night screening of his latest film The Irishman at the BFI London Film Festival, during a press conference, the discussion again turned to his impression of superhero movies. He repeated his bit about theme parks, then went on to say:
“It’s 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.”
I’ve said several times before how I’m rather bored with this superhero obsession which sadly doesn’t seem to be dying any time soon, and to my mind, it does seem that these movies have been pushing out other types of movies for some time now. Just compare the lack of diversity of major releases today with – say – 1986 [random year off the top off my head]. It’s very sad. However, while I could spend ten paragraphs on while I dislike Disney these days, I don’t really think you can entirely blame Marvel [and to a slightly lesser extent DC] for this superhero dominance. After all, they’re just making movies that loads of people want to see and usually like. The fault just as much lies with studios and distributors who these days seem less willing to invest in and then promote the kind of mid-budget adult dramas that Scorsese tends to make [though The Irishman actually cost loads and employed a lot of CGI too]. And it’s possible that moviegoers themselves are changing in their tastes. I don’t like the fact that general audiences seem far less to be actively seeking out movies beyond those that are marketed endlessly on TV, billboards, radio, and more, and that R/18-rated films generally attract less viewers these days unless they’re horror films or by Quentin Tarantino, but evidence does point to this. Similarly, we live in a time where non-franchise films often struggle – though saying that, it’s not as if all franchise or even superhero films do well at the box office, Dark Phoenix and Justice League being two big recent disappointments.
So I sympathise so much with Marty, I really do. But it’s not as if his films not been seen by enough viewers is a new thing; he’s had several flops in his career and those were usually films that did get wide releases. And not considering super hero films as cinema seems very excessive; it’s just a kind of cinema that Scorsese doesn’t like and has no interest in making. I don’t think he’s doing himself any favours by this kind of comment, and is making himself open to accusations that he’s a whinging old man out of touch. He seems to have forgotten that he’s made several films himself where the narrative isn’t really important, and has he not seen Joker yet? As well as clearly being informed by his Taxi Driver and The King Of Comedy, it’s also in no way an empty spectacle of the kind he seems to be describing. It may be based on a comic book character, but it’s daring, dark and difficult – just the sort of film he should be championing, and he should be happy that it’s drawing lots of viewers. And there’s plenty else about Hollywood that I think more merits his vitriol, such as the obsession with remaking everything!