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Martin Scorsese Elaborates on Marvel Criticism: Tentpoles Have No ‘Revelation, Mystery or Genuine Emotional Danger’

Martin Scorsese
Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Martin Scorsese, never one to be understated, published a lengthy opinion piece on Monday evening, hoping to clarify his widely-disseminated remarks that he does not think Marvel movies qualify as cinema.

In a somber and blunt criticism of the modern movie business and its wealthy gatekeepers (by whom he is admittedly currently employed, at Netflix), Scorsese politely defends his position and then some.

“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. I know that if I were younger, if I’d come of age at a later time, I might have been excited by these pictures and maybe even wanted to make one myself,” Scorsese wrote in the New York Times.

The “Goodfellas” director defends his own taste as loving cinema as an art form — not the products he finds Marvel films like the “Avengers” series to be. Scorsese boils the films down to assembly-line narratives that are “market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.”

While he applauds the storytelling and craft of Marvel artisans, he finds the blockbusters “are everything that the films of Paul Thomas Anderson or Claire Denis or Spike Lee or Ari Aster or Kathryn Bigelow or Wes Anderson are not. When I watch a movie by any of those filmmakers, I know I’m going to see something absolutely new and be taken to unexpected and maybe even unnameable areas of experience.”

In summation, Scorsese says the films lack “revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk.” His comments were echoed by fellow exulted director Francis Ford Coppola, and numerous others of their generation.

At first read, Scorsese gives the impression that he does not fault Marvel for its mass audience or staggering financial success. Rather, what that means about Hollywood’s obsession with profit and likability over the polarizing nature of art.

“The most ominous change has happened stealthily and under cover of night: the gradual but steady elimination of risk. Many films today are perfect products manufactured for immediate consumption,” he writes. Massive tentpole films are increasingly the only titles you can find in the global theatrical marketplace, he says, with full awareness he is about to release a film for Netflix in Oscar contender “The Irishman.”

“It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever. The equation has flipped and streaming has become the primary delivery system. Still, I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters,” Scorsese concludes.