It may feel like we’ve been hearing about this for years, but it was only a month ago that Martin Scorsese shocked the world by declaring that he wasn’t especially interested in Marvel movies, saying they were more like theme park rides than proper cinema. Based on the sheer volume of the backlash, though, you would’ve thought his totally fine opinion—which has absolutely no impact on anyone’s life whatsoever—had somehow killed the beloved childhood dog of literally everyone on the planet. Everyone got mad (because whether or not people like Marvel movies is the most important issue of our time) and then, mercifully, it all seemed to die down.
Until tonight. For some inexplicable reason, Scorsese has decided to resurrect this certified Dumb Controversy in the New York Times op-ed section (also home to the most highly regarded pieces about the benefits of coddling fascists) with an essay featuring the catchy title “I Said Marvel Movies Aren’t Cinema. Let Me Explain.” And explain he does! The crux of the piece is that Scorsese wants to clarify that he doesn’t hate Marvel movies and that he doesn’t intend to insult them or the people who like them, he just doesn’t like them because he doesn’t think they live up to the high standards of the art form that he loves so much.
Scorsese admits that he probably would’ve liked Marvel movies just fine if he were younger, but he grew up in the age when movies fought to be treated with the same legitimacy as books and music, and so he remembers when movies were about “confronting the unexpected on the screen” and “enlarging the sense of what was possible in the art form.” He concedes that Alfred Hitchcock movies were sort of the MCU equivalent of his day, and though he loved them and still loves them, they “were also like theme parks in a way.” That being said, he believes that it’s not the “thrills and the shocks” that made those movies so good, but the art that went into making them—for example, he highlights the “painful emotions” that drive North By Northwest and the “absolute lostness” of Cary Grant’s character over the “stunning” set pieces.
Marvel movies, as he sees it, don’t meet that level of art because there’s no risk to them. There’s no “revelation, mystery, or genuine emotional danger” because they’re all meticulously designed to meet “a specific set of demands.” This wouldn’t really be a problem, though, if not for the fact that Marvel movies are now unavoidable. “In many places around this country and around the world,” he says, “franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen,” but he doesn’t think it’s a “matter of supply and demand.” Instead, he thinks of it as a “chicken-and-egg issue,” which is to say that people only want to see Marvel movies because that’s all there is, but that’s all there is because it’s all people want to see.
Scorsese goes into the history of Hollywood and the competing motivations between the artistic side and the business side, and he also makes a point to repeatedly note that the people making these franchise movies are often very talented and creative, it’s just that the things they’re making are part of a soulless machine that can only create the same things over and over again.
He makes a strong case that’s hard to argue with, even for people who like Marvel movies and believe that the efforts required to make The Avengers and Endgame happen were masterful in their own right, but let’s all be honest here: Nothing he could ever possibly say will sway anyone from one side of this “argument” to the other. So maybe we could all just agree to cut this shit out and accept that it’s totally fine to like Marvel movies and it’s equally fine to think they’re bad. (Just kidding, we should keep arguing about this until we all die.)