Comic Book Brain

The Superhero Movie War

Are these films garbage? Junk? Are they even movies at all?

Any time spent studying how the entertainment world communicates with itself knows that success draw criticism, and that huge success always draws a backlash.

Martin Scorsese said "Marvel movies are more like amusement parks than movies"

Superhero movies

: are drawn from the movie serial days of Hollywood, low-budget fare used to fill in time on screens before or between feature films in the days when a patron could sit in a theater all day on a single ticket. Structured as serialized stories, this technique of splitting up a tale into segments had already been heavily utilized for short films during the era of silent cinema. A more modern example would be the 1936 13-part Flash Gordon serial which was marketed primarily at youth (and based on the Alex Raymond newspaper comic strip). Since the 1979 Superman film, superhero movies have been able to branch out into gaining an adult audience, but it is still grounded in a kid's world of entertainment, heavily reliant on comic books for material (and success). Broad deviations from the original comic book stories usually leads to box office disaster.

Joe and Anthony Russo counter attack Scorsese

Nov 17, 2019: As noted for credentials in this article at Hollywood Reporter, Joe and Anthony Russo have "have directed two of the five highest-grossing films of all time."

A point the team-directors make is:

Scorsese has noted that he has tried to watch a few Marvel films, but quickly abandoned them. The Russos note it's challenging to have a dialogue about cinema if the acclaimed director hasn't seen the films he is talking about.

"Scorsese is right except when he's wrong"

November 7, 2019: The Washington Post weighs in on the Martin Scorsese vs. Marvel Superhero Movies debate.

Story at Washington Post

"For too long, the press — yes, including critics — has been prone to grade the Comic Book Industrial Complex on a curve, hungry for clicks, cowed by the genre’s popularity with readers and worn out by hyper-defensive fans."

This paradigm mentioned by the writer (Ann Hornaday) could be applied to a lot more than just the "Comic Book Industrial Complex." A distinguishing characteristic of today's media machine is the effort to simultaneously cajole, while being afraid of, "youths."

Disney's Bob Iger shoots back at Scorsese with "I Don't Think He's Ever Seen a Marvel Film"

Nov. 4, 2019: The question could be a set-up for a brutal response. More about the Hollywood infighting at Hollywood Reporter

And Roger Corman piles on (Disney) also at Hollywood Reporter

And Newsarama prepares a checklist for Scorsese so he can catch up on what the rest of the world has been buying tickets for lately.

Scorsese continues his small war on Marvel superhero films, explains his rhetoric a little

Nov 4, 2019: Martin Scorsese strikes again at NY Times.

"...what’s my problem? Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be? The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. 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. ...In the past 20 years, as we all know, the movie business has changed on all fronts. But 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..."

I feel sympathy with Scorsese because in one particular way his frustration is understandable: film makers want their project to be on the big screen in a darkened room where movie watching is a near-hypnotic event where total absorption is possible, instead these more artistically inclined films are being pushed out by the domination of superhero films. By contrast, a viewer using a TV is likely watching a film on a significantly smaller screen, with significantly less-obtrusive audio, and is probably moving their eyes away from the movie to check their messages on their phone, tablet or laptop. Instead of the sheer physically-dominating event of a movie theater, the TV viewer is more of a master who stops, pauses, rewinds or forwards the movie, gets up and leaves and returns with snacks while the movie patiently waits. In a theatre the reverse is true and the submission of the consciousness of the viewer is more likely to be achieved, allowing for whatever qualities the movie possesses to make the most dramatic impression on the viewer.*

Scorsese admits the obvious in his piece, which is that had he been born later, this reaction to Marvel's movies might have been radically different to the extent he might like to make one himself. But as it stands, he has tried to watch a few of them and has come away with an accusation that the films contain no real sense of risk or excitement to him, but are so carefully constructed for easy "consumption" that, though he doesn't make this explicit, he seems to be saying they're not really films coming from Marvel Entertainment, but just "product."

*How many films have you seen in a theatre that impressed you, then seen again on a TV the film was rather boring?

Superhero movie punch-up

October 23, 2019: Director Francis Ford Coppola said:

"When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he's right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration," he said, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency and France 24.

"I don't know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again. Martin was kind when he said it's not cinema," Coppola added. "He didn't say it's despicable, which I just say it is."

Story and quotes at Gamespot

Deadline Hollywood protests that Coppola is misquoted/translated.

More about this at Washington Post: Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola bashed superhero movies, but why should we care what they say anyway?

And, Cinemablend has a list of six directors who've all taken shots at superhero films.

Kicking Marvel in the kneecaps

Any time spent studying how the entertainment world communicates with itself knows that success draw criticism, and that huge success always draws a backlash. Whether the complaints of luminaries like Scorsese and Coppola are legitimate are for the reader to decide (and I can imagine there are Hollywood stars and crew right now puzzling over what their personal response is to this kind of poke in the eye of a huge box office draw like Superhero movies. Making money is one thing in Hollywood, but prestige is quite another. Some will see Scorsese and Coppola as making the statement they wish they could also safely make).

Focusing on genre

Splitting cinema into genres is a fundamental way of gaining a grip on the vast spectrum of activity within filmdom, and superhero movies are just one genre among many, and currently its the one that is able to bring in high box office. When Scorsese says that Marvel superhero movies aren't "cinema" he is in error in an exact way since the word 'cinema' itself only denotes visual motion and has nothing whatsoever to do with qualities or quality of the motion.

But apparently Scorsese means that "cinema" is a collection of movies that provide certain qualities that he finds lacking in Marvel fare. Coppola elaborates on Scorsese's comments by saying "...he's right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration."

What this means immediately is that Coppola doesn't/can't perceive any of these qualities from a Marvel movie. So what? Finding a bored moviegoer in a theater showing a Marvel movie isn't hard to do (I've seen nearly every single Marvel superhero movie in a theater setting, and have spotted plenty of viewers who are bored, hostages to their families enthusiasm). But that Scorsese and Coppola can articulate that boredom (or, really, distaste) into a specific charge is "news" because of who they are and because of the subject (which is a big, wonderful combination of click bait and legitimate news for organizations like the NY Times and Washington Post.)

Coppola and Scorsese are princes of the movie world for having made so many recognized titles of high quality and "importance," and their revolt against a top-selling genre is possibly an expected event. Avengers: Endgame isn't from a series exactly like the highly lauded three Godfather movies, but there are important similarities. That distinction is worth considering:

First of all, a significant difference is that superhero movies are drawn from the old movie serial days of Hollywood when low-budget stuff was made to fill in time on screens with serialized stories, and the main audience for those episodic films (an example would be the 1936 13-part Flash Gordon) were young kids. Superhero movies have been able to branch out into gaining an adult audience, but it is still grounded in a kid's world of entertainment.

Second of all, for example, the Godfather movies are elaborate and well-written upgrades to another Hollywood genre, gangster movies. The constrictions of that genre are just as evident in the Godfather movies as the constrictions of Marvel superhero movies are to the old Hollywood serials (and comic books. Ironically, as far as Coppola's version of gangsterism goes, his gangster films are about family just like the Marvel superhero movies are films about families.)

The needs of the audience for a gangster movie is different than a Marvel superhero movie, and having the leaders of one genre aghast at the other genre is akin to a Pepsi drinker in umbrage at the consumption of a coca-cola drinker.

There are plenty of charges one can lay at the doorstep of Disney for their Marvel movies (I can think of many) but pretending the films aren't cinema is silly.

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The proposed 2020 superhero movie slate

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American Comic Book Chronicles: 1965-69 Hardcover from TwoMorrowsAMAZON

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Amazing Spider-Man by Ditko and Lee from Penguin CLassics

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Original page November 2019 | Updated Dec 2019