Martin Scorsese looks down on Marvel movies…that’s the pot calling the kettle black.

Martin Scorsese looks down on Marvel movies…that’s the pot calling the kettle black.

First, two grounding points.

1- Martin Scorsese is a brilliant film maker.

2- I think Marvel movies are by and large “okay”. After the shine wears off the apple and we all look back on them, we’ll see them for what they were…mostly popcorn movies, nothing wrong with that. The world needs those. Also I said MOSTLY…a few were in fact high points of cinema. Winter Solder, Infinity War and Guardians of the Galaxy were flat out great movies.

That’s my opinion…Not a very in depth opinion, or one that shows off any masterful grasp on the art form.

I’m not Martin Scorsese, after all…who in an interview by Empire magazine ( that I’m sure you’ve heard about by now) had this to say-

“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” Scorsese told Empire. “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.”

Let me start right off here and remind Martin and everyone else…he ain’t exactly making educational documentaries, his films are made up stories (they ARE…made up. Lest you are dumb enough to believe he put the telling of actual facts in front of storytelling on those “based on actual people”. They are all made up b*llshit) for the sake of entertaining. It is all fiction. It is all fantasy.  It’s all as useful for our own practical lives as a candy bar. He holds zero moral high ground in that regard over any other film maker. He made a bunch of movies, he didn’t write the Magna Carta.

He’s a guy who told some made up stories, pointing a finger at other made up stories and saying “those aren’t as good as mine”. THAT is the bedrock fact of what we have here. Nothing more, nothing less.

But moving on…I hadn’t, until this comment, considered the possibility that Martin was close minded and oblivious to the world around him. A series of follow up questions would have been nice. I’m sure that when interviewing a legend most people ain’t going to poke the bear.

I find his comment to be quite absurd.

Let’s take his classification of cinema ” human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being” as the definition of legitimate cinema and his assessment that such films that seem to be “theme parks” are because of that, disqualified somehow…for some reason.

His parameters here seem to disqualify any movie that doesn’t fall squarely under how HE tells stories- Grounded solidly in reality, in depth focus on a few central characters, conservative set pieces.

…did I say “grounded in reality”? I’m being kind.

Infinity War was over the top unrealistic action. Goodfellas was realistic action, only in the sense that it is physically possible. BUT IN RELATION TO THE LIFE of an average movie goer, how realistic is it, actually? 99.999999% of the people who watched Goodfellas will never actually see a man get beaten to death…it holds ZERO connection to the REALITY in which they ACTUALLY live.

MCU movies have Thor flying around with a hammer, Scorsese movies have a guy getting his head squeezed in a vice until his eyeball pops out…for all intents and purposes, neither of these have anything what so ever to do with the real world in which the average movie goer lives. So, in BOTH instances the movie makers is trying to convey something that the movie goer will never actually see or experience in real life.  If he is of the opinion that it is only legitimate to convey such things that are physically possible…that’s a mind blowingly asinine restriction on movie making and storytelling.

For all the thought that Scorsese may put into his movies, and praise they get as being high art…there is nothing subtle about Pesci stabbing a guy in the neck with a pen. That is a glorified jump scare/horror movie kill. Martin’s movies are grounded in reality…or so it seems, But in truth they are over the top gritty, over the top violent, over the top dramatic, over the top tense and in so, they are as far from the reality of most peoples lives as Spider-man swinging across rooftops.

The difference is merely in the flavor or path of lack of realism used to tell a story. Martin has said that MCU movies are a flavor that is not legit cinema.

Would you consider then, Martin, the original King Kong to not be good cinema? How about Frankenstein? What about The Wizard of OZ? Stripping away the details and looking at those as simply stories told with big outlandish sets, not grounded in reality but embracing fantasy and supernatural, with tales of adventure…would THOSE movies be also “theme Parks”? Because with the details stripped away, the Marvel Movies fall squally among them in that delivery system of telling a story and the kind of story that is told.

His mention of the ” human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being” seems to be tied at the hip to that communication coming more or less directly from the characters right straight to the audience. That is, Martin, ONE way of communicating. One. Being grounded heavily in the real world, means forfeiting much of the “conveying” that could be done with fantasy world building. Much mood, emotion, in tone can be delivered via the audience’s awe of a fantasy world. By instilling such a sense of wonder much “conveying” can be given different impact. Having the world building do much of the heavy lifting is incredibly effective if done correctly…despite you looking down on it

Martin seems to think only certain delivery systems are legitimate…but if that is the case only certain kinds of stories can be legitimate yet have a meaningful impact. Because certain “emotional, psychological experiences “ are able to be conveyed in a way that connects much more profoundly with other delivery systems.

He brought up emotions and psychology…I’m sure he’s aware that -mad, glad, sad, afraid, ashamed, hurt-  are the primary colors of emotion.

Afraid-would encompass a sense of danger anxiety and even to some degree excitement,
Glad-would also encompass excitement as well as joy and laughter, happiness.

For stories conveying those two, a “theme park” delivery system is very much appropriate and often more effective. The communication of these would be done with the mood, and tone delivered through flamboyant sets, and fantastic events …not simply the performances.

As cynical as I am, I walked out of Guardians of the Galaxy feeling happy and upbeat. That movie communicated adventure and danger and the feeling of friendship. It is easy enough to see why a “theme park” movie would convey adventure and danger well, but why it told the tale of friendship so well is worth noting. Friendship, for most people, forms by accident or inadvertently. Two people happen to be in the same situation, jokes are told, bickering is had, small accomplishments are achieved, slowly a bond is formed. It’s a very undramatic, understated thing as far as the interaction of the two people. The absurd differences of the characters in Guardians, even physically, and the bizarre world they inhabited, contrasted against the very familiar feeling of friendships growing is what made that movie so great. Take that contrast, made possible by the delivery system, away and the movie is far less and the feeling conveyed to the audience far diminished.

What Martin seems to have missed noticing, because he didn’t bother to see the movie, is that the world building does not affect only the visual perception. A group of complete strangers becoming friends over the course or 90 some minutes of film often seems forced and ham fisted. It did not in this movie because the world that was build was over the top, fantastic, and larger than life. That affected the sense of timing and personal interactions. Because those characters existed in a fantastic world surrounded by wild fantastic looking characters, them growing a bond so quickly seemed natural. In real life the growing of a friendship can be hastened by the presence of “the other”…in this movie the entire world they were traveling through was, for them and the audience, “the other”. The use of the world as “the other” was not just useful in bonding the characters with each other, it bonded the characters with the audience. Because, In each new fantastic set…the only constant for the audience was the characters themselves.

Guardians of the Galaxy communicated the feeling of friendship as well as any movie I can think of. It’s deliver system was not blunt profound and gut-wrenching dialogue and dramatic moving performances….but then how often IN REAL LIFE does that actually happen? The friends people have were not, by and large, made while bleeding out or having a borderline nervous breakdown, or when one was exuding power and charisma by sheer cadence, posture, and expression.

Tales of whimsy, laughter, friendship…adventure…awe…challenging levels of world building….these seem to all be illegitimate as far as Martin is concerned…which leaves….uhm…well, it leaves pretty much just what he does.

Which are great movies, but don’t exactly have audiences leaving the theater with big smiles on their faces, and feeling great and or upbeat. They all live in the same dower spectrum of emotion. He seems to be of the Clint Eastwood school of thought, that audiences who don’t leave the cinema angry, sad or sick to their stomachs, were somehow talked down to.

You look at his comments and it’s the same attitude about film that you often see from people who are too steeped in the genre of drama. Happy movies are not legitimate. Fun movies are not cinema. It’s the reason comedies don’t win Oscars or even get their own category. Fun and Wimsey need not apply. Because, I suppose, they think it’s easy.

It’s not easy.

Infinity Gauntlet had about 40 different characters and sets that only existed in the imagination…which had to be designed and created from scratch. Scenes with only a few characters and scenes with hundreds. Imaginary worlds that needed to seem as tangible as the shots in New York city…all of this made the use of a standard three act scrip not an option. Actors had to be directed on stages that were only blue walls and floor and made to react to things that were not even there. And all of this had to feel like part of the same story and all work together towards an apex. That was all more ambitious than ANYTHING Scorsese has EVER done in his life.


Let me tell you something about “theme Parks”...they don’t build themselves. They take a lot of legitimate talent, skill and craftsmanship. Just as much if not more so than a skyscraper. To act as though the engineers and architects that build the rides there are less legitimate than the ones who built a bridge or highway, is completely asinine. Your declaration that these movies are not cinema is worse than that, it’s close minded. and WORSE than that…it is an attitude that is the antithesis of progress and the antithesis of communicating through an art form.

For a man like Scorsese to deem an entire crop/genre of movies as “theme parks” shows a flat out neutered imagination, ambition, and even love of the actual medium. A younger, more ambitious, more visionary film maker would go to see these…looking for ways and means to combine other elements from what they do into that genre, or from that genre into what they do, for the sake of expanding the height of the entire medium. They would examine and dissect the delivery system and cull what they liked for future use.

Not just, as he has…grab a comic book character and grind and pound it into a movie like those he already makes.

Martin makes great movies…and will probably continue to do so….and they’ll all have very much a Scorsese feel to them. There’s never any mistaking a Martin Scorsese movie, and there never will be, even if he keeps making them for the next 100 years. That’s an insult Martin. I’m sure you realize that, because you are one of the best ever, and I doubt you started making movies thinking there would only be one way you would ever do it.

And I dare say that if a studio gave you a 500 million dollar budget and all the state of the art cgi that is available, you wouldn’t know to do with it. So maybe Martin, they aren’t “theme parks”, maybe they are ways of telling stories that you perhaps never bothered to learn the intricacies or value of.

That might be as tragic as any movie he’s made.


When Douglas is not complaining, he and his work can be found here

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