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Netflix Screening of Rolling Thunder

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Martin Scorsese doesn’t like Marvel movies ya’ll.

Or at least, he doesn’t take them as seriously as what he calls “cinema.”

According to an interview with Empire magazine, Scorsese — who’s directed such celebrated movies like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and The Departed — struggles to get into the comic book fantasies on screen.

“I tried, you know?” the director said when quizzed on whether he saw Marvel’s movies. “But that’s not cinema.”

Well tell us how you really feel!

At first, as a mostly DC Comics fan, I couldn’t help but cackle hysterically at an acclaimed director slamming Marvel movies, particularly the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which has gained dominance over the comic movie genre over the past couple of years.

However, as I read more into Scorsese’s comments, I couldn’t help but be a little annoyed. He continued:

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.”

Uuum, whaaat?

Scorsese’s comments reminded me of my years in film school. I was one of the few Black faces in a mostly White male program and of course, many of them idolized Martin Scorsese. I must admit, Scorcese has some great movies. I still have the box DVD set of Raging Bull and I’ve seen Goodfellas many times, especially considering its countless reruns on T.V.  He’s without a doubt a masterful and respected director.

But not without critique.

The biggest aspect of Scorsese’s comment that bothered me is his argument that Marvel movies don’t “convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

Now I’m confused.

If his standard for cinema is “conveying emotional, psychological experiences to another human being,” many Marvel movies achieve this goal. If not in the MCU, then certainly in past Marvel movies. How many times has a superhero heartbreakingly conveyed to their lover that they can’t be with them because of the safety risk (e.g. 2002’s Spider-Man)?

How many times has a mutant conveyed their isolation and difficulty navigating social norms because of their abilities (2003’s X2: X-Men United). Part of the reasons some people get into comic books are because of the “emotional, psychological experiences” of feeling invisible or othered. Even in the more recent MCU flicks, there are examples of isolation and how that can impact your “psychological experience” (Killmonger in 2018’s Black Panther anyone?)

Now I do believe that superhero movies, especially the MCU and even DC Comics content, can be more rigorous in their portrayal of good and evil for a more complex and realistic portrayal of human experiences. However, would I go out of my way to not call these movies cinema? Nope. Not if we’re going by Scorsese’s standards.

With his comment, he fails to envision the potential of superhero movies to shed light on some of our biggest societal enigmas — from corrupt politicians, to family discord, to individual struggles, to the complete downfall of our real-life heroes.

I especially find Scorsese’s comments annoying because many of his acclaimed movies have centered around a sort of Italian male bravado that is automatically going to polarize some audiences to thinking his movies aren’t great cinema either. If part of cinematic acclaim is attributed to dynamic lighting, complex acting, purposeful editing and intentional camera coverage, yes Scorsese is worthy to be praised and studied. However, the subjects he choses to focus on aren’t going to connect with everybody. As a matter of fact, they might outright offend some people.

Raging Bull was great, but the patriarchal violence Jake LaMotta’s wife Vickie experienced definitely could’ve been explored more from her perspective. And lord knows the fast pacing of Goodfellas leant itself more to an action movie than a careful character study of mob life. It would have been a different movie if Scorsese had gone for the latter.

Every film has its limits and every director is going to decide on a movie’s limits usually based on the genre they’re aiming for. Comic book movies lend themselves to the fantasy and sci-fi genres. The main purpose is to escape into another world almost like a “theme park,” if we’re using Scorsese’s words. There might be more limits to “emotional, psychological experiences” in these genres, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely deplete of them. Does Scorsese not believe 1977’s Star Wars is cinema, or Steven Spielberg‘s E.T. (1982) , or Ridley Scott‘s Alien (1979)?

When I exited the theater after watching Avengers: Endgame, my general reaction was “meh.”

However, when people told me they teared up or outright cried over certain characters, clearly, there was a connection there. Clearly, the emotional experience moved them, even if some of the characters technically weren’t human beings.

Who am I to deny them that kind of cinema.