Earning 10 nominations at the 73rd British Academy Film Awards and five nominations at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, Martin Scorsese’s star-studded film “The Irishman” hoped to add an Oscar to its collection, but failed to do so despite receiving nine nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards. The film’s unfortunate outcome has since been viewed as one of the biggest snubs in Oscars history, but in the midst of all the praise being received by Scorsese, one can see how easy it is to forget that mere months ago, he found himself in hot water.
When asked for his opinion regarding the blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films in an interview with Empire, Scorsese responded with an honest “I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema,” and even went as far as to compare the franchise to a theme park. Not being a big fan of the MCU myself, I figured his opinion was rather justified, and frankly not a big deal. However, the blowback from these statements was rather, one might say, marvelous.
Rather than contribute to the promotion of “The Irishman,” whose release was approaching, big-name publications like The New Yorker, Vox, The Guardian and The Washington Post chose to partake in the “anti-Marvel” discussion. Doctor Strange screenwriter C. Robert Cargill even weighed in on the controversy, tweeting, “Anyone who thinks Marvel is only trying to make theme park rides is being unjust and cynical.”
In an effort to quell the blowback from his controversial words, Scorsese took to The New York Times. Doubling down in an op/ed, Scorsese said, “cinema [is] about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation,” as opposed to solely entertainment. Admittedly, the MCU films lack this element of “revelation” and instead are products of supply and demand — more about pleasing the consumer and maximizing revenue. Marvel knows that most fans hold onto the original team of Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye and are sure to place these characters in the spotlight, especially when it comes to promotion. By sacrificing novelty for nostalgia, Marvel is tactfully maintaining a stable fan base, one sure to reach into their pockets to see installment after installment.
At one point, I thought that Scorsese was just an overzealous cinephile providing unwarranted complaints about the popular media enjoyed and consumed by younger generations, but he does have a point. As an acclaimed film director who has been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, Scorsese must have some inkling of what a good film is comprised of. A good film, one which he labels as “cinema,” should keep the audience on their toes. Specifically, Scorsese contends that the film should give its audience “thrills and shocks” and most importantly, it should take a risk. Yes, Marvel movies do contain some element of shock value, but such dramatic elements do not last for very long.
In fact, I noticed that each MCU film follows the same general guideline: First there is a recap of the last film, followed by a moment of normalcy, then something “big” happens, leading to an ongoing fight scene, one in which the Avengers, of course, emerge victoriously. Perhaps there are one or two injuries and maybe even a death. Sprinkled in the midst of all of this action are a few painful jokes and half-hearted attempts at character development. As Scorsese says, films are meant to “confront the unexpected,” so if I just described the plot of your favorite Marvel film, it is clear the MCU falls short of being unexpected.
Another thing that remains stable among the MCU is its cast. As previously mentioned, the original Avengers consisted of Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye — all of whom are white. As a whole, 61 percent of MCU actors are of Caucasian descent. Given the boundaries it has surpassed in terms of gross and special effects, such lack of diversity is appalling. As a film phenomenon viewed by those worldwide and of all ages, the MCU should strive to represent a large breadth of viewers in each of its films; simply releasing “Black Panther” is not sufficient.
Scorsese’s words should be taken with a grain of salt. While he argues that the MCU’s repetitious plots and excessive lengths contradict what cinema is meant to be, “The Irishman” clocks in at 209 minutes and draws similarities to all of his other gangster films — like “Goodfellas,” “Casino” and “The Departed.” Is Scorsese’s work really that much different from the movies he condemns? Perhaps he should practice what he preaches.
Now, I’m not telling you to stop going to the theater and seeing Marvel films; they’re practically unavoidable. Just know that as you purchase tickets to the midnight showing of the next MCU installment and settle in an uncomfortable seat with a bowl of greasy popcorn in one hand and an oversized drink in another, this film will not be very different from the last. Instead, consider this: For every franchise film ticket you purchase, perhaps take a trip down to your local independent film theater. Even better, simply acknowledge the fact that we, as moviegoers, do not live in the MCU — independent and well-written films like “Parasite” currently reign supreme.
Justine Prince is an undeclared freshman.