Seeing Cinema in a New Light: Criticism, Essays and Observations about Classic Cinema

Editorials, Rants

Why Martin Scorsese is Right About Marvel Movies

Acclaimed director, Martin Scorsese

Acclaimed director, Martin Scorsese

Legendary Director Gets Baited into Fueling Infantile Comic Book War

Contrary to social media, Martin Scorsese didn’t volunteer his opinion about Marvel movies being like theme parks. If anything, he was baited into making them, as a result of one of the most obnoxious, juvenile phenomena to ever emerge from the internet.

To explain further, over the past decade, there has been an extremely infantile, if not toxic fanboy war in cyberspace between Marvel and DC fandoms. If you don’t know what I mean by fanboy war, there’s a petty, toxic feud that adult men have been engaging in for years now, in which they keep trying to settle the question of which comic book IP is better: Marvel or DC. Keep in mind that we’re not talking about a cute, harmless, good-natured back-and-forth rivalry that usually takes place between fans of competing acts or IPs, like Rolling Stones fans vs Beatles fans or Simpsons fans versus Family Guy fans. For the fanboys waging this war, it’s serious business.

Initially, the fanboy wars started out as a typical juvenile spat over which movie adaptation of a comic book extended universe was better. Then it evolved into gloating over which IP had the best opening day weekend. When the kooky fanboys milked these angles dry, they created a new metric for their DC vs Marvel dick-measuring contest: critical reception, artistry and craftsmanship. So, over time, the entire fanboy war went from, “Which IP movie adaptation has the cooler extended universe,” to, “Which IP smashed the box offices better,” to, “Which IP is the better of the two in terms of cinematic importance and critical acclaim.”

I know what inspired this recent metric, too. It all started with Heath Ledger getting his posthumous Best Actor Oscar award for his performance of the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). Once that happened, comic book fanboys in their imaginary culture war wasted no time flooding the interwebs with propaganda about how Christopher Nolan was not only the next Kubrick but was so brilliant that not even Kubrick could hold a candle to him.

Enter Joker. This MINO–with all of its cynical nods to Scorsese and New Hollywood–had all the manbabies in a tizzy. Once fanboys started comparing that movie to Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, that pretty much settled the entire DC versus Marvel culture war. According to the fanboys, DC films reigned supreme, because they were cinematic masterpieces directed by this generation’s Scorsese.

Just as this entire thing couldn’t have gotten even more ridiculous than it was already, Empire Magazine had the sheer and utter gall to broach the topic of Marvel movies with Martin Scorsese himself. Keep in mind that Scorsese agreed to this interview to promote his film, The Irishman (2019). But the interviewer decided to use this opportunity to bring up Marvel movies. Why? Perhaps to bait him into making comments that could be used to appease all the manic fanboys looking for any type of validation that comic book movies had finally arrived as cinema? Or maybe to bait Scorsese for some other foolish reason? Who knows?

In any event, for whatever reason, Marvel movies seemed to have been brought up for a cynical purpose. Scorsese, I imagine, intuitively sensed where the interviewer might’ve been going with this line of questioning, which prompted him to make his famous (or infamous) remarks about Marvel movies not being cinema. Some might regard his comments as blunt, but to me it seemed to have been a clear case of the director thwarting the interviewer before there was a chance for that person to follow up with inane bullshit like, “So, hmm, what did you think about Joker? They’re saying it’s just like Taxi Driver and King of Comedy,” or, “Which comic book IP is making the better movies–Marvel or DC?”

Not only did Scorsese thwart the interviewer, he immediately drew a hard line in the sand, making a clear distinction between the non-movies that are comic book movies and actual cinema. The reason why he might’ve done that makes sense if you think about it. Martin Scorsese is an acclaimed director. A guy like that–who not only shoots genuine movies but mastered the art of cinema–isn’t going to waste time entertaining the obnoxious questions of a media hack fishing for some kind of validation that would establish in the eyes of knuckle dragging man-children which one out of the two most soulless, corporate-made franchises to ever come down the pike is the more cinematic. Whether we’re talking Marvel or DC it doesn’t make a difference; none of these IPs represent anything remotely close to cinema, and Scorsese wasn’t going to dignify such a ridiculous idea with a serious response, even as an intellectual exercise.

Nor would a person of Scorsese’s stature ever give comic book movies–or any genre of MINO–the least bit of credit. The reason is that filmmaking is a craft in and of itself, made by people who have a deep appreciation for it and for an audience who have a love for it. MINOs, I can’t emphasize enough–are the opposite: non-movies that contain none of the effort, artistry or skill that goes into making an actual film. Worst yet, the directors making these movies have themselves become emotionally and invested in this ridiculous culture war between CBM fanboys, so aren’t making comic book movies for a movie fanbase that loves cinema but for a manbaby one that is looking to settle the score in a childish feud.

Because comic book movies are pseudo-cinema, the worst thing that anyone like Scorsese could’ve done was imply that he was not only aware of them but cared enough to form an opinion about Marvel movies, let alone DC movies or any other MINO genre. Acknowledging one or the other would’ve legitimized the current crop of comic book MINOs as actual movies and lowered the bar of filmmaking than it has been lowered already.

But lastly, his possible reluctance to entertain any questions regarding comic book movies goes back to what I said in the previous section about how people need to stay in their own lanes. If filmmakers want to crank out MINOs, that’s one thing. But when they start demanding some kind of validation from master filmmakers that implies that they’re also creating cinema, they are crossing a line that–once breached–could pose the real danger of lowering the bar of filmmaking than it has already. So, Scorsese’s dismissal of Marvel movies was a reminder that yes, there are levels of craftsmanship and expertise when it comes to filmmaking and no, you don’t get to have your movies recognized as cinema because they meet the basic requirements of a theatrically released film.


  1. ary

    Agreed entirely. But I have to ask, and since I am but a film noob so no condescension intended, why does Joker not qualify as cinema? It’s could be a copy for sure but how is it a padded MINO? The point is sure it looks exactly like Taxi Driver but that means it’s at best an eyesore for experienced film viewers but how is it “padded”?

    I hope you get my point, writing wise it’s trash for sure.

    • Comment by post author

      Regarding Joker, it’s not that all MINOs are padded. Padding is a characteristic of MINOs, but a movie can be a MINO without being padded.

      For example, I talked about Disney’s Star Wars. These movies aren’t padded at all, but they’re MINOs because they’re shot and blocked like a TV series, and the storytelling played out like a children’s animated series, not a sweeping epic. The storytelling and direction, in other words, didn’t have the epic quality that separates cinema from a television show.

      It’s the same with Joker. It’s not that it was padded, but that the subject matter and story were not worthy of cinematic treatment. The fact that the Joker’s backstory wasn’t good enough to be made into a movie is why the film tried so hard to remind audiences of Scorsese’s works. Some are calling it homage, but it’s not so much homage as it is a self-consciousness that the story wasn’t really “movie” material.

    • Comment by post author

      I forgot to add one more thing: another reason why Joker is a MINO goes back to something that Martin Scorsese said when he complained about Marvel movies being “product”.

      Movies are a passion project. In other words, filmmakers shoot because they are driven by a creative vision, want to flex their creative muscles or want to do their part to change moviemaking for the better.

      “Joker” was not a passion project. It was both a cynical cash grab trying to capitalize on the “dark and gritty” comic book phenomenon, as well as a cynical attempt to give one of the most childish genres of all time–the comic book superhero–prestige. There was no personal vision in this movie, no real interest in the storyline or characters. It was a product.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: