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Directors vs. Marvel: A Breakdown of the Criticism

Despite being the highest-grossing film franchise of all time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has not been getting any love from critically renowned auteurs, like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. The Marvel pile-on started at the beginning of October and has impassioned many supporters and detractors to give their two cents on whether or not the superhero movies should be considered cinema.

“That’s not cinema,” says Scorsese

The Oscar-winning director told Empire magazine,“I don’t see them. 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,” he added.

The diss caused many Marvel fans to take to social media and debate the artistic quality of the movies. Some brought up how Scorsese’s own box office totals pale in comparison to the haul of any MCU entry.

MCU alums respond

James Gunn and Joss Whedon, directors of “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Avengers,” respectively, both expressed disappointment over Scorsese’s comments.

Nick Fury actor Samuel L. Jackson joined the conversation while at the grand opening of Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta.

“That’s like saying Bugs Bunny ain’t funny. Films are films. Everybody doesn’t like [Scorsese’s] stuff either. Everybody’s got an opinion, so I mean it’s okay. Ain’t going to stop nobody from making movies,” Jackson told Variety.

Iron Man enters the debate

A few days later, Iron Man actor and MCU poster boy Robert Downey Jr. shared his thoughts on “The Howard Stern Show.”

“I appreciate [Scorsese’s] opinion because I think it’s like anything, we need all of the different perspectives so we can come to center and move on,” Downey said.

When asked if he considered the MCU films to be cinema, he told Stern, “I mean, look, it’d be like saying Howard Stern isn’t radio. It makes no sense to say it.”

Downey also drew parallels between genre movies, like superhero blockbusters and the gangster dramas for which Scorsese is known.

“There’s a lot to be said for how these genre movies — and I was happy to be part of the ‘problem’ if there is one — denigrated the era, the art form, of cinema. And, by the way, when you come in like a stomping beast and you eliminate the competition in such a demonstrative way, it’s phenomenal,” he said.

Coppola goes one step further

At the Lumiere Film Festival this week, the “Godfather” director doubled down on Scorsese’s comments.

“Martin was being kind when he said it wasn’t cinema,” Coppola said. “He didn’t say it was ‘despicable,’ which is what I say.”

Without fail, the debate heated up once more.

Loach and Meirelles join in

Two-time Palme d’Or winner Ken Loach and Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles took Scorsese and Coppola’s side on the Marvel debate.

“They’re made as commodities … like hamburgers,” Loach said in a Sky News interview. “It’s about making a commodity which will make profit for a big corporation. They’re a cynical exercise. They’re a market exercise, and it has nothing to do with the art of cinema.”

At the Mumbai Film Festival, Meirelles said, “I can’t disagree with Scorsese because I don’t watch [Marvel movies]. … I watched a ‘Spider-Man’ eight years ago, and that was it. I’m not interested.”

However, Meirelles did have praise for Fox’s original “Deadpool.”

“I don’t know if it’s Marvel, but I watched ‘Deadpool,’ the first one, and it was very good. Amazing action sequences. Then I tried to watch ‘Deadpool 2’ on a plane. I watched, like, half an hour and gave up,” he said.

Marvel directors quell the storm

After Coppola’s criticism, Gunn chimed back in to try to put the argument to bed.

“Superheroes are simply today’s gangsters/cowboys/outer space adventurers. Some superhero films are awful, some are beautiful. Like westerns and gangster movies (and before that, just MOVIES), not everyone will be able to appreciate them, even some geniuses. And that’s okay,” he posted.

View this post on Instagram

Many of our grandfathers thought all gangster movies were the same, often calling them “despicable”. Some of our great grandfathers thought the same of westerns, and believed the films of John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone were all exactly the same. I remember a great uncle to whom I was raving about Star Wars. He responded by saying, “I saw that when it was called 2001, and, boy, was it boring!” Superheroes are simply today’s gangsters/cowboys/outer space adventurers. Some superhero films are awful, some are beautiful. Like westerns and gangster movies (and before that, just MOVIES), not everyone will be able to appreciate them, even some geniuses. And that’s okay. ❤️

A post shared by James Gunn (@jamesgunn) on

“Iron Man” director and “Avengers” executive producer Jon Favreau also addressed Scorsese and Coppola’s harsh sentiments in a CNBC interview on Tuesday.

“These two guys are my heroes and they’ve earned the right to express their opinions,” Favreau said. “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if they didn’t carve the way. They’ve served as a source of inspiration, you can go all the way back to ‘Swingers’ where I was referencing Marty, and I’ve worked with him. For me, they can express whatever opinion they’d like.”

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