This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
Gone are the good old days when smarmy critics used to wonder if all these superhero flicks were just crappy movies. Now the gatekeepers of cinema have upped the ante, rampaging their assertion that Marvel is killing the artform as we know it. Brie Larson is shaking!
It’s been making the rounds this week, first, because it’s incendiary, and second, because it’s kind of funny, that Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola have stacked every soapbox they could find on the Paramount lot to mount and trumpet their distaste for Marvel. They Do! Not! Like! the effect the popularity of these blockbusters is having on the industry.
Scorsese, as countless headlines have picked up, opined that Marvel movies are “not cinema,” likening them to “theme parks” and not movies. And should anyone think that Marty was caught saying something flippant or not well thought out, he reiterated the point seemingly a hundred times in subsequent interviews. Coppola then chimed in, saying that he thought Scorsese was actually being kind: “He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”
The floodgates then opened and every *auteur* filmmaker living and dead, somehow, joined the chorus. The makers of these Marvel movies, lifetime admirers of these esteemed directors, translated their ensuing ulcers into tweets, torn between defending their hard work and validating their heroes’ opinions. Meanwhile, the rest of us have been left wondering if these are cranky musings of the old guard, or if their warning calls have merit.
There’s certainly a tinge of hypocrisy to be argued here. Scorsese and Coppola, along with the likes of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, were part of their own class of filmmakers stoking a revolution and disrupting their industry—and, it must be said, have entries in the canon that are now literally theme parks.
And could they also be slightly ignorant of how the superhero boom has buoyed their own filmmaking? Would the CGI Scorsese uses in his upcoming The Irishman have been possible without the arms race of technological advancement spurred by Marvel’s popularity?
At the same time, the argument that they are old or out of touch—or whatever—is negligent. In every industry, the gatekeepers should be gatekeepers. The old guard should do their guarding. Standard bearers should bear standards. (Honestly, I have no idea if that’s English.)
Advancement and trends can be reckless, even ruinous, which seems to be what startles these directors. If the only movies people care about are Marvel films, and we’re so conditioned to kabooms and kablooeys that we can’t sit through an arthouse project, what happens to these culturally important works? They are right to care about such things! But do we care?
My estimation is that the fans who live and breathe and bankrupt themselves heading to these movies are going to react to these explosive claims... not in the slightest. If there’s one thing Scorsese and Coppola are right about, it’s that people have flocked to theaters to see these films almost by instinct. They go when they’re bad. They go when they’re good.
I’m not criticizing that, per se. Fandom is fun. (Well, it can also be incredibly toxic, but for argument’s sake we’ll stick with the positive.) And everyone is a pop culture lemming in their own way. Will I absolve all responsibility to watch marathons of any series hosted by Guy Fieri that Food Network puts in front of my face? Superheroes come in all forms, people. Flavortown needs protection, too.
But there is a middle ground. One could argue that the rise of Netflix, which Scorsese is riding with The Irishman, is as harmful to the box office and the existence of theaters as the fact that only superhero movies seem to make money. Or one could argue that streaming services are the saviors, sanctuaries for the kinds of films that Scorsese seems to worry would disappear if they were relying on ticket sales alone. There may be homes for all of it, just in different venues.
There are two worlds, and we’re struggling to navigate peacefully between both of them. Is it possible? Ironically, maybe it is... in a Marvel film.