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Inside Film

Why Martin Scorsese’s recent assault on Marvel movies is so absurd

The ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘The Irishman’ director’s offhand remarks that cinemas are being invaded by theme park films doesn’t acknowledge the craft of the filmmakers and actors in the best Marvel movies, who transcend the comic-book origins of their characters, argues Geoffrey Macnab

Thursday 17 October 2019 12:43 BST
It’s worth remembering that Scorsese was present at the birth of what he now calls theme park cinema
It’s worth remembering that Scorsese was present at the birth of what he now calls theme park cinema (Getty)

It feels strange sticking up for those poor, defenceless superheroes. After all, they are big enough to look after themselves and they’ve been raking in billions of dollars in ticket sales over the past 10 years. Avengers: Endgame was one of the best-reviewed films of the year and Joker (admittedly DC rather than Marvel) is still sitting at the top of the box office pile. Nonetheless, when Martin Scorsese said recently that these films were not “cinema” and that they were closer to theme park rides than proper movies, he was stepping out of line.

Of course, the spat between the director of Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and The Irishman and the fans of recent Marvel blockbusters is partly (as The Independent recently noted) a “non-feud”. A revered filmmaker has simply expressed widely shared misgivings about the aesthetic properties of films spun off from comic books. However, the remarks were surprising. At the very least, they represent bad faith. Scorsese is not Ingmar Bergman, making deeply personal art house cinema with the support of the Swedish Film Institute. He is a Hollywood insider who hasn’t been especially fussy about how his own films have been marketed or financed over the years. (The Wolf of Wall Street was bankrolled by an alleged fraudster, who was arrested by anti-corruption authorities in Malaysia earlier this summer.)

As Scorsese observed in his inspiring documentary A Personal Journey through American Movies (1995), in Hollywood, “every decision is shaped by the money men’s perception of what the audience wants”. Any self-respecting director working in the studio system is a “smuggler” who needs subterfuge to get his or her ideas across. He also pointed out that the most interesting work was done in the margins, in B-movies, in genres that weren’t respected. Exploitation thrillers or offbeat sci-fi films, he argued, were often far richer than the mainstream, middlebrow fare that won awards. But it can easily be argued that Marvel movies, in spite of their astronomical budgets, are close in tone and spirit to these B-pictures he once loved. They have the same outlandish plots, vivid characterisation and brash, irreverent storytelling style.

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