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Superhero's VS Cinema

Over the past decade action films such as the Mission Impossible franchise, Fast and furious and the iconic marvel franchise, have become incredibly popular. These franchises which spawned an idea, concept or very engaging story with one movie became successful  earning millions and then a universe was created. 


The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was born in 2008 with the success of ‘Iron Man’ directed by Jon Favreau and Shane Black starring Robert Downey Jr as the titular Iron Man. The film made 585.8 million US Dollars and from its success has spawned over 20 Marvel Movies spanning over a decade and Marvel film productions which are currently owned by Disney.    


However, not everyone is enjoying the marvel films, multiple legendary Hollywood directors, producers and writers have come forward in recent years saying how bad these movies are for Hollywood. One of the first Hollywood legends to speak out against Marvel was Martin Scorsese, director of Goodfellas and The Taxi driver. Scorsese discussed Marvel in an interview he did with Empire Magazine in October of 2019, saying he didn’t consider them true cinema. ‘I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema…’ Scorsese referred to them as theme parks, childish and providing brief moments of joy and entertainment. He also suggested actors were doing their best as if their stories were not engaging.


A few weeks later Francis Ford Coppola, director of the Godfather trilogy, after his acceptance of the Prix Lumiere he told France 24 ‘When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he's right. We expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration.’


Whilst Marvel movies are an incredibly entertaining spectacle of magic and powers with engaging characters who are heroic or abhorrent. They do seem to follow a very specific narrative structure, the traditional three-point beginning, middle and end with a plot twist somewhere along that timeline. It is a structure that has worked for Marvel for many years and they do not seem to be swaying away from the structure, only recently straying from their tried-and-true formula with the award-winning TV show ‘WandaVision’ which paved the way for the TV series of Marvel. 


Furthermore, what a lot of Hollywood directors and further cinema as a whole seem to dislike is the lack of thought provoking content. A lot of Marvel films seem to just be about defeating the villain or setting up a future film, like Scorsese said Marvel films don’t challenge your perception or ideals or make you think about the world around you, essentially they just provide a brief moment of entertainment. This resonates with the theme park analogy made by Scorsese, they provide moments of heart pumping entertainment but apart from that not much else, while they are written well, and the story contained within that universe is cohesive and makes sense it provides little to the audience in terms of challenging their views and perceptions of the world around. 


On the other side of the argument, are directors not associated with Marvel but have nothing but praise for the films. Paul Thomas Anderson who is the director of the critically acclaimed There will be blood and Boogie nights, says that his household is obsessed with Marvel and it's a family bonding event when they go to see a Marvel movie in the cinema; ‘Shang-Chi was good fun. There’s a terrific energy about it… continuing the journey of these Marvel stories is exciting to us.’  


Whilst the cinema greats seem to hyperfocus on the lack of engaging narrative, perhaps not every story needs to make the audience question the world they live in. According to Paul Thomas Anderson perhaps just bringing people together and witnessing an engaging story or spectacle is enough. Films, particularly when experienced in a cinema, have the ability to bring people together and you have a bonding experience with those people.   


Directors are not the only ones who have stepped up to Marvel’s defence, some of the Marvel actors and actresses have spoken out against the criticism. Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard, who plays Erik Selvig in the Thor trilogy says ‘I’ve got nothing against superhero movies, I’ve been in a couple and they definitely have a place’ he told the Guardian and stated that Marvel can and should co-exist with auteur cinema. He states the true problem with cinema is that only major companies can seem to produce the mainstream films leaving independent filmmakers to rarely exist unless living in a major city.


Monopolisation is an issue that has been facing the world of film and cinema for some time, where big studios like Paramount, Disney and Fox produce all the major films, the ones with the biggest budgets, the best marketing and technology. This makes it incredibly hard for independent or upcoming filmmakers to get their ‘foot in the door’ of the industry. Marvel does switch out its directors or keep on directors for short term contracts, giving the director the exposure and profit to go on and make other films. An example of this is Taika Waititi who a lot of people did not know until he directed Thor: Ragnarok and then went on to make the  award winning ‘JoJo Rabbit’.


Another person who has spoken out against the marvel criticism is starring Actress Elizabeth Olsen who said recently ‘But I do think throwing Marvel under the bus takes away from the hundreds of very talented crew people.’ In response to Marvel’s criticism saying it was a lesser form of art. All film productions hire hundreds of people for cinematography, set design, makeup and editing which was crucial during the pandemic when so many people were out of work. 


Overall, whilst the cinema greats are rightfully concerned that the quality of story in cinema may be going downhill and no longer be what it once was, can this be sacrificed if these ‘lesser art’ films are employing people and bringing people together for a bonding experience with friends and family?


Image Credit: No Film School

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