• Joel Ryan

Are the Gloves Really Off? Settling the Auteur vs. Avengers “Feud” Once and for All

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 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 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 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.

Some responses have been perfectly rational and amicable. Others have not. To no one's surprise, Marvel people are going to support and stand by 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 most responses from Hollywood directors and Marvel Studios alumni in the last month, and quite frankly, not many of them are that incendiary or even substantial enough to be mentioned.

So who actually benefits from this back-and-forth?

Martin Scorsese?

Marvel Studios?

The media?

Bloggers and fans?

Is it actually trash talk or manufactured drama created 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?

It’s really not that complicated. Drama sells. And when reality is rather dull, our media, playing on our addiction to drama, sells us a story. Lines are drawn, heroes and villains are established, and we the viewer are tasked with picking a side, even if we don’t have a dog in the “fight.”

Friends become adversaries; neighbors become enemies; families are torn apart.

Who benefits? Who’s selling tickets to the fight? There’s your answer.

So let’s squash this “feud” once and for all.

People have their own opinions. That’s fine. Martin Scorsese, by his own admission, hasn’t seen every film in the MCU. Maybe he saw a few films and simply 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 adore everything in Scorsese’s catalog either.

I'm just one writer who has stories I like and ones I don't, and my taste is my taste.

Some films in the MCU have risen to the level of high art; many more are solid, entertaining blockbusters 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 by any means.

Despite what many claim, (because it’s easier to pick sides) he’s not the type of snob 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 has done more for film history and preserving its heritage than most will ever know. He 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 technical brilliance.

So for all the people who have flippantly dismissed Scorsese as just some bitter and disenfranchised elitist, think again! 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.

Marvel movies can be good; most are formulaic. They have attracted top Hollywood talent, both veteran and up-and-coming, and have raised the bar for movie franchises.

Comic books and superheroes are also a part of our modern mythology.

And 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 enjoyable 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 copy 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.

Pendulums, themes, and trends do swing, however.

Right now, the MCU is the major player in Hollywood, but eventually the MCU and audience interest will fade.

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, home distribution, 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 fair to say he’s not a fan of everything he’s seeing.

The MCU made a Hulk-sized splash in 2008 with Ironman. Time will tell if that film was the Sutter’s Mill of a new cinematic Gold Rush.

Filmmakers will adapt to the changing landscape of cinema 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. I don’t think he ever 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 that both Martin Scorsese and the MCU have solidified their place in film history in their own way. They’ve both influenced the art of cinema and inspired current and future generations of filmmakers with their work.

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama and emotions of a spirited debate. 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 we need to have about the ever-changing landscape of technology, cinema, and culture.

Until then, my encouragement is to keep enjoying great filmmaking and storytelling where you see it. I will be one of the first to see Black Widow when it comes out next year, but I also one of the first to respect director like Martin Scorsese for making the art of cinema what it is today.

And, yes, you can still be a fan of both.