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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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Original page November 2019 | Updated Dec 2019