Martin Scorsese, Marvel, and the Never-Ending Nerd War
There’s a common, over-arching through-line in much of the discussion of popular culture in the last decade. Nerds, and those who love nerd-adjacent things, rule the world. Nearly every aspect of mass popular culture are dedicated to pandering directly to them. And yet, they’re not happy, as they’ve not been pandered to quiet enough.
This has come to the fore once again this month, after Martin Scorsese, one of the most accomplished filmmakers in the history of the medium, gave an interview with Empire magazine in which he opined that Marvel’s comic book-based movies are “not cinema.”
Marty vs. Marvel
“I don’t see them,” Scorsese said of the films. “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.”
Scorsese addressed the topic once again, about a week later, in a New York Times op-ed piece.
It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.
“Many franchise films are made by people of considerable talent and artistry,” Scorsese wrote. “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.”
The director did note, however, the undoubtedly true point that superhero and franchise films are taking up the majority of the screen real estate in much of the country, therefore crowding out smaller films both from being produced, and from being shown.
Fanboys Strike Back
The comments set off a highly negative reaction among MCU partisans, and also ensured that just about every single director over a certain age who’s interviewed for the next year would be asked if they agree (Francis Coppola and Ken Loach already have been).
It’s not about whether or not Scorsese is wrong – I actually believe that the MCU movies are more cinematic and skillful than he gives them credit for. But even if you love the Marvel movies, they take up a larger part of the overall American cinema culture than they perhaps should.
Furthermore, the fact is that Martin Scorsese, as a cinema legend who is 76 years old, doesn’t have to like MCU movies. They don’t require his approval or benediction, or that of anyone else. In the same interview, he even praised Todd Phillips’ Joker, a comic book movie I detested, and one that stole most of its ideas from movies of Scorsese’s in the ’70s and ’80s, and even had Scorsese attached at one point as an executive producer.
In the same interview, he even praised Todd Phillips’ Joker, a comic book movie I detested, and one that stole most of its ideas from movies of Scorsese’s…
Scorsese has not called for Marvel superhero movies to be banned, censored or suppressed, or anything beyond stating that they’re not to his personal taste.
So what we have is, movies – about 15 of them a year, in addition to numerous TV shows on all sorts of platforms – are being made about every superhero who has ever existed, and those movies have completely taken over the centrality of our popular culture, along with Star Wars and other nerd-loved properties.
But that’s not enough. The fanboys, it appears, will not rest until every last holdout has submitted. Box office records, and even Oscar nominations, are one thing, but the takeover won’t be complete as long as someone, somewhere, is giving an interview in which they say out loud that they’re not a fan.
He’s even been called a “gatekeeper,” which is a laughable thing to say about a filmmaker who founded the World Cinema Project and Film Foundation.
Against Fan Identity Politics
It’s part of the horrible trend of people viewing their fandom as a form of identity politics, and what follows is the ridiculous notion that if someone doesn’t like Batman or Iron Man as much as you do, it’s the equivalent of actual prejudice or discrimination.
You’re not part of a vilified, marginalized minority because you like the Joker, or Star Wars.
There are multiple annoying subcultures in all this. There’s the “Release the Snyder Cut” people, who are obsessed with a movie from two years ago that was long and bad, and only wish it could only become longer and worse. There are those who have taken a side on the Marvel vs. DC rivalry, and see all movie reviews and reporting that goes against their side as conspiratorial bias against them. Then, worst of all, there are those who denounce the inherent “agenda” and “SJW bias” of any movie that dares put women or racial minorities in prominent roles.
There’s room in the world for both Martin Scorsese and Marvel. Not everybody has to like the things you like, and sometimes people you admire are going to have views with which you disagree. Realizing that is, for most people, a part of growing up, but it’s clear that a lot of the stans of the world haven’t done that yet.