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Martin Scorsese and you are on the same page when it comes to superhero movies

Don't we all want movies to... be better...?

Martin Scorsese

There are a couple of interesting things about director Martin Scorsese’s latest comments about comic book movies, but neither of them are directly related to what he actually said. After all, Scorsese didn’t say anything remotely controversial when it comes down it — but the fact that other people think that he did is curiously fascinating.

For those who haven’t seen the new profile of the iconic director from GQ, Scorsese talks about his belief that movies will always be shown theatrically, but adds that theaters have to work to become more attractive to viewers in comparison to streaming at home. This leads to a comment from the interviewer about theaters being restricted to movies being made by studios, which primarily means comic book movies and franchise movies, which prompts Scorsese to say the following:

“I do think that the manufactured content isn’t really cinema... What I mean is that, it’s manufactured content. It’s almost like AI making a film. And that doesn’t mean that you don’t have incredible directors and special effects people doing beautiful artwork. But what does it mean? What do these films, what will it give you? Aside from a kind of consummation of something and then eliminating it from your mind, your whole body, you know? So what is it giving you?”

Again, he’s not saying anything controversial, and he’s also not wrong; he’s basically just proclaiming the value of art with emotional depth, which is… well, universally recognized as a good thing. Who, really, could have a problem with someone asking that art makes us feel something, and gives us more than simply a transactional experience of fleeting value or collector mentality?

That is one of the interesting things: that there are people who have a problem with it. This happens with such regularity that it’s become dispiriting; whenever anyone says anything deemed not appropriately respectful enough to superhero movies — and, for the most part, Marvel movies, as if their cultural dominance is so fragile that any complaint could be damaging — they’re condemned as elitist in some way, or worse, simply a hater. What is actually said is never engaged with, or even disputed; simply the idea that someone doesn’t share devotion to the superhero movie genre as a concept is deemed transgressive enough to be a problem. That’s, bluntly, ridiculous, but it happens every. Single. Time.

The second interesting thing is… Scorsese is making an argument that comic fans have made countless times themselves, to some degree. The complaint that some comics aren’t telling interesting stories, or are unnecessary cash-grabs — that a character is being used gratuitously, or appearing in too many titles so that completists buy comics they don’t really want… Isn’t that the same complaint that Scorsese is making about “manufactured content”? How is what he is saying — that good work, that art that is created with the intent to make the audience feel something other than a lighter wallet , is necessary and good — worse than, or even that different from, the complaints of superhero fanboys griping about a publisher killing off their favorite character just to boost sales?

(You know exactly the kinds of complaints I'm talking about; you've probably made them yourself at times. I know I have. It's almost a tradition for comic book fans to go through at some point in their fandom career, a rite of passage of sorts, albeit a frustrating one for everyone around them.)

Yet, it’s as if the more fannish complaint is considered permissible by some people, because… it’s said with love…? Or perhaps familiarity, at least; the call is coming from within the house, so to speak, as long as the house is “other nerds who’ve spent their time and money on this stuff.” It’s a depressing state of affairs, not least of all because to actually look at what Martin Scorsese is saying is to realize that he’s not actually complaining about the existence of superhero and franchise movies, but that they’re usually done without heart and soul. He’s not asking for people to stop making them, but to make them better. And, really, isn’t that what everyone should be asking for, if you give it even a minute’s thought?

It feels somewhat worthwhile to note that Popverse’s own Tiffany Babb pointed out that one of the things that made Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 so worthwhile was that it had heart so many superhero movies lack.

Graeme McMillan

Graeme McMillan: Popverse Editor Graeme McMillan (he/him) has been writing about comics, culture, and comics culture on the internet for close to two decades at this point, which is terrifying to admit. He completely understands if you have problems understanding his accent.


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