The fight between aging auteurs and comic book adventures touches on jealousy, greed and a fear of progress.
We went from the Greatest to the Thin Skin Generation in a matter of decades.
The former stormed the beaches at Normandy. The latter launched righteous hashtag campaigns at those with whom they disagreed.
And that leads us to the Great MCU Debate. No, this has nothing to do with Captain Marvel vs. Thanos. It’s two of Hollywood’s greatest directors talking trash about comic book movies.
Martin Scorsese fired the first shot, saying comic book movies aren’t “cinema” by any stretch of the imagination. The “Irishman” directed later doubled down, trashing films featuring costume clad heroes.
Francis Ford Coppola of “The Godfather” fame later rushed to Scorsese’s side. He called MCU-style fare “despicable.”
“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. 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. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”
Pearls were clutched on both sides of the fight, ignoring the bigger questions in play.
Let’s target the economic realities behind the kerfuffle. Scorsese is a cinematic genius, arguably our greatest living director. Yet he still struggles to find funding for his films. His latest, “The Irishman,” required Netflix, a streaming company renowned for keeping people OUT of movie theaters, to pick up the check – anywhere from $140-160 million.
Paramount initially circled the project but suffered sticker shock, partly due to the film’s expansive CGI work. Scorsese could have used younger actors to play the main characters in their formative years, a common film practice and kept the budget low.
Instead, he craved that CGI splendor, and it jacked up the budget accordingly.
That “Irishman” budget is cheap by MCU standards, though, and Scorsese knows it. The last two “Avengers” films cost between $300-400 million.
At least the “Raging Bull” auteur snares enough funding to stay active in Hollywood.
Coppola has directed just four films since 1998. None gained a fraction of the box office glory, or critical huzzahs, of his early hits. He’s repeatedly bemoaned the fact that Hollywood won’t cut big enough checks for his vision anymore.
His aversion to superhero films, therefore, shouldn’t surprise anyone. Coppola copped to his frustration four years ago in a Yahoo! Movies interview tied to his 1992 hit “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”
That’s why I ended my career: I decided I didn’t want to make what you could call “factory movies” anymore. I would rather just experiment with the form, and see what I could do, and [make things] that came out of my own. And little by little, the commercial film industry went into the superhero business, and everything was on such a scale. The budgets were so big, because they wanted to make the big series of films where they could make two or three parts. I felt I was no longer interested enough to put in the extraordinary effort a film takes [nowadays].
He has a point, but it reflects the evolving nature of both content and how we consume it. Yes, Hollywood studios are increasingly risk averse, clinging to reboots, sequels and branded material (like the “Transformers” series). Mid-sized movies are becoming the exception, allowing for even more bloated CGI affairs.
And guess what? That’s what the movie going public wants to see.
Even a movie like “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” derided as sub-par by most critics, snared $36 million in its opening weekend. That’s far better than most new movies earn during the same time frame, and exponentially higher than any art house film in recent memory.
In short, the people have spoken. And it’s elitist to rage against them.
Yes, the marketplace is evolving. Consumers have dozens of ways to watch content, and they’re reserving the theatrical experience for larger than life escapism. Go big or stay home.
Meanwhile, we’re basking in the Golden Age of Television 2.0. Platforms like HBO and Netflix are giving creators virtual carte blanche to tell the kinds of stories that speak directly to their souls.
Some of the most groundbreaking content in decades. “Breaking Bad.” “Better Call Saul.” “Game of Thrones.” “Fleabag.” “House of Cards.” “Atlanta.”
Singular visions. Fresh voices. Unparalleled quality. Visionary talents unleashed. If Scorsese came of creative age today he might be a showrunner on a killer HBO series.
One could argue it’s the greatest time to be a storyteller in modern history, assuming your stories appear on 65-inch televisions … or 10-inch tablets.
Old-school visionaries like Scorsese and Coppola may cringe at that reality, but it doesn’t change the facts.
Which makes dismissing the record-shattering MCU as anti-cinema sound silly. That also ignores what the MCU does right.
The Marvel movies deliver robust, one-of-a-kind action sequences. The funnier installments, including “Thor: Ragnarok,” out-perform most live-action comedies.
How many movie goers were touched, if not teary-eyed, as Robert Downey, Jr.’s Iron Man squared off against Thanos one last time in “Avengers: Endgame?”
Isn’t that what going to the movies is all about?
Of course “Iron Man” doesn’t reach the emotional heights of “Godfather Part II” or “Taxi Driver.” It’s a wholly separate genre with unique expectations. Few would argue John Carpenter’s “Halloween” isn’t a horror classic that stands the test of time.
It’s still not as emotionally significant as “Raging Bull.” Different genres, different goals.
Despite Scorsese and Coppola’s protestations, the Oscar movie season is upon us … again. Once more we’ll line up to see tales that have nothing to do with graphic novels or toy nostalgia. It’s the reason everyone is talking about “The Irishman” in the first place.
And, if the movie is as good as past Scorsese efforts, we’ll be talking about it well into 2020. It’s still up to creators like Scorsese to keep such talk alive.