“Let me explain.”
So reads the headline of a New York Times opinion piece penned by Martin Scorsese, in which the Oscar-winning director seeks to clarify his criticisms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Those criticisms began back in October, when Scorsese told Empire magazine, “I don’t see [the Marvel movies]. 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.”
The Irishman director has repeated some version of this statement multiple times in the ensuing weeks — including in an interview with EW — as it became the internet’s furor du jour. Such Marvel fixtures as James Gunn and Samuel L. Jackson have also weighed in, along with other observers, such as The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. Now Scorsese is seeking to further clarify and expand upon his critique, though his essential argument remains the same: Marvel’s movies are not “cinema” as the director defines it.
“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,” Scorsese writes in the Times piece. “Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. 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.
“Many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption,” he continues. “Many of them are well made by teams of talented individuals. All the same, they lack something essential to cinema: the unifying vision of an individual artist. Because, of course, the individual artist is the riskiest factor of all.”
Scorsese also clarifies (again) that his issue is more with the impact franchise films are having than the movies themselves. “In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever,” he writes. “The situation, sadly, is that we now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema. They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare. And I fear that the financial dominance of one is being used to marginalize and even belittle the existence of the other.”
Scorsese has some experience with this phenomenon; as he notes in the piece, his latest film, The Irishman, is playing in a very limited number of theaters for just a few weeks before being released via Netflix on Nov. 27. (It’s playing in those theaters now.) Paramount was set to distribute the film before dropping it over budgetary concerns.
Head over to The New York Times to read Scorsese’s full essay.