Are the Gloves Really Off? Settling the Auteurs vs. Avengers “Feud” Once and for All
Updated: May 13, 2020
Let’s be honest. Drama sells.
The more tension, conflict, and hatred that exists between characters, no matter who they are or what arena they’re in, the more popcorn gets sold. It’s why we go to the movies, cheer for our favorite sports team, and become obsessed with reality TV. Story is built on conflict, and it seems we can’t get enough of it.
People don’t watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians or professional wrestling to watch people getting along. They tune in for the fireworks. Why was “The Battle of the Bastards” one of the most watched episodes of Game of Thrones? Oh, that’s right. It was because of the epic clash between fan favorite Jon Snow and the universally despised Ramsay Bolton. At hockey games, one group of fans stands and cheers when their team scores. The other side does the same when their team scores. Everyone, however, stands when there’s a fight.
Nothing gets the blood pumping like a good contest or heated rivalry.
Heroes. Villains. Who do we like? Who do we cheer for? Who wins? Team Cap or Team Ironman? House Stark or House Lannister? Connor McGregor or Khabib?
Conflict creates interest.
Escalation creates investment.
Confrontation creates catharsis.
It’s the formula to crafting believable and sustainable conflict that is paid off and successfully (and satisfyingly) resolved. And it is the goal of every great storyteller. And yes, there is a narrative being written and sold with every wrestling match and episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
Now this is all well and good for movies, TV, and sports. But what happens when this level of conflict and dramatic tension filters into real life? What happens when real people get hurt by real (or manufactured) drama and the losers (and even winners) actually suffer real consequences?
Americans know firsthand how intense and dramatic American politics has gotten. We never thought we’d see this kind of grandstanding, trash talk, and vitriol outside of a matchup between The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant. And yet, here we are.
Life often imitates art, and sometimes, we wished it didn’t.
Now if you’ve been following the Hollywood trades are a just movie buff or a fan Marvel’s cinematic universe, you’re probably aware of or have maybe been pulled into Hollywood’s own brewing cinematic civil war between director Martin Scorsese and Marvel Studios.
To bring you up to speed, Martin Scorsese, the legendary auteur behind such films as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, Hugo, Silence, and The Departed, recently said in an October interview with Empire Magazine that he doesn’t regard Marvel movies as cinema. In his words, Scorsese argued that,
“the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
Apparently, that was all it took to send all of Hollywood and every blogger and comic book fanboy into a frenzy. Since then, it’s been a never-ending back-and-forth between Marvel Studios actors and filmmakers, who’ve been mercilessly goaded into providing their take on Scorsese’s comments, and Martin Scorsese and other auteurs like Francis Ford Coppola, who’ve faced a barrage of clarifying questions about what side they're on. Some responses have been perfectly rational and amicable. Others have not. And to no one's surprise, Marvel people are going to support and market Marvel's brand just as Scorsese and the auteurs are going to defend their brand of storytelling and filmmaking.
But who’s actually fueling this debate and keeping it going?
Are Kevin Feige and Martin Scorsese really at each other’s throats? Do Robert DeNiro and Robert Downey Jr. secretly now hate each other?
I’m willing to bet that neither Marvel Studios or Martin Scorsese are any worse off or burned by this “feud” or each other’s comments. Trust me. I’ve read every response from every Hollywood auteur and Marvel Studios alumn that’s been published in the last month or more, and quite frankly, not many of them are that incendiary or even substantial enough to be included in this post.
So who actually benefits from this back-and-forth?
Is it actually trash talk or manufactured drama propagated just for viewership, clicks, and ratings? Who keeps probing for more and stirring the pot, and why are we so quick to jump into the water and make it even choppier?
People have their own opinions. That’s fine. Martin Scorsese, by his own admission, hasn’t seen every film in the MCU. Would he argue that that Black Panther or Spider-Man: Homecoming fail to “convey emotional, psychological experiences” to audiences? Maybe. Maybe he saw these films and just didn’t like them. As an experienced filmmaker, that’s his prerogative. I personally am not a huge fan of every film in Marvel’s canon just as I don’t worship everything in Scorsese’s catalog either.
Some films in the MCU have risen to the level of high art; many more are solid, entertaining movies that have earned their fandom and place in film history. Scorsese never criticized the quality of superhero movies, and let’s also not forget that he played a significant role in the development of Joker and was at one point attached to direct. This is not a man who hates superhero movies. Despite what many claim, (because it’s easier to pick sides) he’s not the type of elitist to look down upon his contemporaries and colleagues who’ve stepped up to direct or star in Marvel movies.
He loves the craft and has been ardently supportive of his contemporaries and aspiring filmmakers throughout his career.
Martin Scorsese is, without question, one of the most talented and influential filmmakers in history. Period. When you mention the word “auteur”, his name deserves to be up there with the likes of Alfred Hitchock and John Ford.
So for all the people who have flippantly dismissed Scorsese as just some bitter and disenfranchised elitist, think again!
Martin Scorsese has done more for film and preserving its heritage than most will ever know. I personally spent years in film school picking apart and analyzing his films, line by line and shot by shot, and let me tell you, this is an absolute master of his craft. You may love his work, you may hate it, but it’s hard to deny its impact or excellence.
If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to go watch Hugo. Like now! Because if you want to know what kind of artist Martin Scorsese is at his core, Hugo is a movie that mirrors the love and passion this man has for cinema, and it’s beautiful. If we all could love what we do with the same level of awe and childlike wonder that Martin Scorsese has for cinema, this world would be much prettier place.
So when Martin Scorsese says that Marvel movies aren’t cinema, while I may strongly disagree, I am also not so quick to be dismissive or declare sides against his point of view. This is a voice that has earned the right to be heard when it comes to all things cinema… or movies, or films, or whatever you choose to call them.
The truth is, Marvel movies are often incredible pieces of filmmaking that I will proudly reference to film students and student writers. They have attracted top Hollywood talent, both veteran and up-and-coming, and have raised the bar for movie franchises and blockbuster movie making. They also have something to say about the current state of heroism, community, culture, and world politics.
Superhero movies are a part of our modern mythology.
And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with the kind of immersive storytelling that is experienced and enjoyed in most theme parks. It’s a different form of entertainment, for certain, but this kind of experience can be just as inspiring and emotional as anything on the silver screen… in its own way.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe changed the game in major ways. More than just a smash one-off summer blockbuster, Kevin Feige and his team took major risks with an extended cinematic narrative that continues to build upon itself one chapter at a time, and guess what? It worked. People bought in. The success of Avengers: Endgame and the rest of the MCU was no accident. And now, other studios are looking to the MCU as an example of what could be and will no doubt, if they haven’t already, start dreaming up their own extended universes to try and emulate the success of the MCU.
Will it work? Maybe. Maybe not. But they’re going to try, and the market is already starting to look a lot different as a result. This, however, is nothing to be surprised by. It’s not even anything that new. Serialized storytelling, franchising, and big budget spectacles have been a part of film and television for decades.
Pendulums, themes, and trends, do swing.
Right now, the MCU is the major player in Hollywood, but eventually the MCU and audience interest will fade. Furthermore, great stories, no matter their spectacle, budget, or IP connection, still get made every year.
For every Black Panther, there’s a Moonlight; for every Spider-Man, there’s a Juno; for every Captain America, there’s a Rocky; and for every Ironman, there’s an Irishman.
Has the MCU influenced how movies are made, how many movies get made each year, and what kinds of movies studios are willing to invest in? Absolutely. But so has streaming media, distribution rights, social media, and technology in general.
For a filmmaker who’s been around as long as Martin Scorsese, in the midst of this new era of cinema, it’s possible he’s not liking everything he’s seeing.
That being said, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has earned its place film history. It is cinema! Plain and simple. Perhaps not the kind of cinema that Scorsese is accustomed to, but then again, neither were his films in the eyes of his predecessors either.
The MCU made a Hulk-sized splash in 2008 with Ironman. Time will tell if that was the Sutter’s Mill of this new cinematic Gold Rush.
Filmmakers will adapt to the changing landscape of storytelling or they won’t. Great storytelling and great filmmaking will find an audience, whether it’s on the big screen, televisions, or streaming devices. Martin Scorsese should never be run out of the business just because he doesn’t direct a superhero movie, franchise sequel, or existing big budget IP, and I don’t think he will.
So instead of arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong, or which side of the debate we’re on, maybe we need to step back and see both sides. Martin Scorsese and the MCU have solidified their place in film history and deservedly so. They’ve both influenced the art of cinema and inspired current and future generations of filmmakers in positive ways.
Right now, we’re living in the midst of the Avengers Era. Time will tell if what Marvel Studios and Disney are doing is “to” cinema or “for” cinema. Maybe Scorsese might be right in the end.
Geniuses and auteurs should never be dismissed, but neither should innovators either.
It’s easy to get caught up in the drama and emotions of a spirited debate. We’ve seen this time and time again in politics and social media. Maybe it’s time, however, to put the gloves away and recognize that this isn’t a battle to be won so much as an ongoing discussion to be had on the changing landscape of cinema, which extends WAY beyond the MCU and Hollywood in general.
Until then, my encouragement is to keep enjoying great filmmaking and storytelling where you see it. I will be one of the first in line to see Black Widow when it comes out next year, but I also one of the first to respect the auteurs for making the art of cinema what it is today.
And, yes, you can still be a fan of both.
Until Today, Storytellers