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‘Despicable’? Really? Disney chief slams Hollywood legends shading Marvel

The Avengers
The Avengers and their Marvel Cinematic Universe have successfully irritated some veteran filmmakers.
(Marvel Studios)

The Avengers are increasingly becoming villains to prestige directors who are trashing Marvel’s blockbuster franchise for sullying the good name of cinema. And Walt Disney Co. chief Iger isnt’ having any of it.

Oscar winner Martin Scorsese belittled the hulking superhero films earlier this month when he told Empire that he doesn’t watch the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and they’re “not cinema.” You know, despite them making billions of dollars and the word “cinema” being being part of the MCU’s name.

The remarks riled Marvel-related filmmakers who look up to him and sent a Thanos-sized snap through the entertainment industry. They also enlivened the ongoing debate about quality filmmaking, on par with Steven Spielberg’s diss of streaming giant Netflix and its disruption of the moviegoing experience. (Incidentally, Netflix is releasing Scorsese’s forthcoming Oscar contender, “The Irishman.”)

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A few weeks after Scorsese’s jab, five-time Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola, the auteur behind “Apocalypse Now” and “The Godfather” films, doubled down on his colleague’s comments, taking the disdain even further by calling the comic-book films “despicable.”

Many actors and directors, especially those involved in the ever-expanding MCU, respectfully disagreed.

The word “despicable,” in particular, put Iger, the Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO, on the defensive Tuesday when he frankly addressed the revered filmmakers’ criticisms.

“I reserve the word despicable to someone who committed mass murder. These are movies,” Iger said at a WSJ Tech Live event. “I don’t quite get what they’re trying to criticize us for when we’re making films that people are obviously enjoying going to because they’re doing so by the millions.”

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He then added: “I’m puzzled by it. If they want to bitch about movies, it’s certainly their right.”

Here’s a breakdown of who has said what in the ongoing debate over the merits of Marvel movies:

No, they’re not cinema

Martin Scorsese, director

Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese
(Victoria Will / Invision/Associated Press)

“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, 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,” Scorsese told Empire.

Francis Ford Coppola, director

Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
(Evan Agostini/Getty Images)

“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,” Coppola told Agence-France Press, adding: “Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”

Ken Loach, director

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“The superhero movies I just find boring. They’re made as commodities like hamburgers, and it’s not about communicating, and it’s not about sharing our imagination,” the British filmmaker said on Sky News.

“It’s about making a commodity which will make a profit for a big corporation — they’re a cynical exercise. They’re a market exercise, and it has nothing to do with the art of cinema. William Blake said, ‘When money is discussed, art is impossible.’”

Yes, they’re cinema

James Gunn, “Guardians of the Galaxy” director, writer and producer
“I was outraged when people picketed [Scorsese’s] The Last Temptation of Christ without having seen the film. I’m saddened that he’s now judging my films in the same way.”

After Coppola’s tirade, Gunn also responded on Instagram: “Superheroes are simply today’s gangsters/cowboys/outer space adventurers. Some superhero films are awful, some are beautiful. Like westerns and gangster movies (and before that, just MOVIES), not everyone will be able to appreciate them, even some geniuses. And that’s okay.”

Joss Whedon, “Marvel’s The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” writer-director

“I first think of @JamesGunn, how his heart & guts are packed into GOTG,” he wrote on Twitter. “I revere Marty, & I do see his point, but... Well there’s a reason why ‘I’m always angry.’”

Karen Gillan, Nebula in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films

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“I would absolutely say that Marvel movies are cinema. Cinema is storytelling with visuals,” Gillan told the Hollywood Reporter. “There’s so much heart and soul, and it’s James [Gunn’s] soul in there. He injects so much of his own personality, his sense of humor ... that’s a very big representation of who he is as a person and therefore it’s very cinematic. He’s an artist.”

Peter Ramsey, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” co-director

“Martin Scorsese is a god. Marvel movies are fun and good,” Ramsey tweeted. “Chill.”

Robert Downey Jr., Iron Man in the MCU

“It’s [Scorsese’s] opinion. ... I mean, it plays in theaters,” Downey told radio host Howard Stern days after Scorsese’s comments were published. “I appreciate his opinion. I think, it’s like anything, we need all of the different perspectives so we can come to center and move on.

“Look, it’d be like saying Howard Stern isn’t radio. It makes no sense to say it,” he added. “There’s a lot to be said about how these genre movies, and I was happy to be part of the problem if there is one, denigrated the era, the art form of cinema. By the way, when you come in like a stomping beast and you eliminate the competition in such a demonstrative way, it’s phenomenal.

“Do you actually think Martin Scorsese is actually upset about Marvel movies?”

Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Fury in the MCU

“That’s like saying, ‘Bugs Bunny ain’t funny,’” the actor said while attending the opening of Tyler Perry’s new studio in Atlanta. “Everybody’s got an opinion, so it’s OK. It’s not going to stop anyone from making movies.”

Natalie Portman, Jane Foster in the MCU

“I think there’s room for all types of cinema,” the “Thor” actress told THR. “There’s not one way to make art.”

Taika Waititi, “Thor: Ragnarok” director

“Of course it’s cinema! It’s at the movies,” the filmmaker told the Associated Press.

Kevin Smith, director and comic-book aficionado

“Martin Scorsese is a genius,” Smith also told THR. “But to be fair, my entire film career — even prior to my film career — he’s been pretty much saying the same thing about action movies.”

He added: “These [Marvel] movies come from a core. They come from a happy childhood. And they’re reflections of a happy childhood. He’s not wrong, but at the same time, neither are we for loving those movies. And they are cinema.”

Jon Favreau, “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2" director-producer and Happy Hogan in the MCU

“These two guys [Scorsese and Coppola] are my heroes, and they’ve earned the right to express their opinions,” Favreau told CNBC. “And I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if they didn’t carve the way. They served as a source of inspiration, you can go all the way back to ‘Swingers.’ ... For me, they can express whatever opinion they like and we’ll leave it at that.”

Bob Iger, Walt Disney Co. chairman and CEO

"[The remark] doesn’t bother me except I’m bothered on behalf of the people who work on those movies. They don’t see how the audience is reacting to [the films] first of all,” Iger said. “They’re entitled to their opinions.”

He also added: “I’m puzzled by it. If they want to bitch about movies, it’s certainly their right ... It seems so disrespectful to all the people that work on those [Marvel] films who are working just as hard as the people who work on their films and are putting their creative souls on the line just like they are. . … Are you telling me Ryan Coogler making ‘Black Panther’ is somehow doing something that is less than what Marty Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola have ever done on any one of their movies? Come on. There I said it.”

Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange in the MCU

“I know there’s been a lot of debate with many fine filmmakers coming to the fore saying that these film franchises are taking over everything,” Cumberbatch told SiriusXM’s Jenny McCarthy. “We’re lucky as actors who get to do both kinds of [films] at either polarity of budgeting. I agree, we don’t want one king to rule it all and have a kind of monopoly. Hopefully that’s not the case and we should really look into and continue to support filmmakers at every level.”

Cumberbatch also raved about his costars and how the films come together: “It’s remarkable. It is a form of artistry, however it’s denigrated by some. I think it still requires a hell of lot of craft at a high level and the popularity speaks to that as well as whatever else it’s about.”


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