Martin Scorsese on his Marvel backlash: I said what I said

Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese is defending his Marvel Cinematic Universe comments.
(Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)

What has accidentally become one of Marvel’s most thrilling sagas appears to have finally reached its endgame, with director Martin Scorsese having the last word — maybe.

After sparking backlash from Marvel executives, creatives and loyalists that has persisted for nearly a month, Scorsese defended his highly publicized opinions Monday, and added some more for context.

In a lengthy op-ed for the New York Times, the “Irishman” filmmaker doubled down on his controversial remarks in which he argued that MCU films aren’t “the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”


“I was asked a question about Marvel movies. I answered it,” the industry veteran wrote. “I said that I’ve tried to watch a few of them and that they’re not for me, that they seem to me to be closer to theme parks than they are to movies as I’ve known and loved them throughout my life, and that in the end, I don’t think they’re cinema.

“Some people seem to have seized on the last part of my answer as insulting, or as evidence of hatred for Marvel on my part. If anyone is intent on characterizing my words in that light, there’s nothing I can do to stand in the way.”

Directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola have belittled films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, claiming they’re “despicable” and “not cinema.”

Oct. 23, 2019

Scorsese went on to emphasize the subjectivity of his words which, he clarified, are “a matter of personal taste and temperament,” while explaining that his idea of “cinema” is molded by the types of entertainment he consumed growing up, long before superhero tent poles dominated the box office.

He also expressed concerns that their domination has been detrimental to original storytelling.

“For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional and spiritual revelation,” he said.


“Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.”

Of course, the auteur’s most recent statements reignited the debate — not that it ever really had the chance to burn out, thanks to a constant trickle of reactions from Marvel heavyweights such as “Iron Man’s” Robert Downey Jr., “Avengers’” Samuel L. Jackson and Disney CEO Bob Iger.

“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” co-director Peter Ramsey, who once advised others to “chill” when Scorsese’s original comments circulated, this time penned an extended Twitter thread addressing the filmmaker’s freshest take.

“Just to get one last blow in on a horse that died long ago, I largely agree with Martin Scorsese, especially on the dangers to and degradation of the art form,” he wrote Monday. “But that leads me to my notion that people who criticize the films are looking at them in the wrong way. Their strength and innovation is that they’re all telling one interconnected story, the same innovation that Marvel brought to comics.”

Ramsey continued on to acknowledge the assembly line process by which franchise films are produced and distributed, but differed from Scorsese on whether such a manufactured method is a threat to the medium.

“That’s by design,” he tweeted. “The aim was to create a series of consistent, connected chapters and interlock and inform each other. It works as popular serialized storytelling on a mass scale ... and also as a crazy clever way to pull people into theatres for what SEEMS like the same thing over and over but is actually parts of a whole told over a span of years.”

Scorsese had another perspective on that last topic.

“They are sequels in name but they are remakes in spirit, and everything in them is officially sanctioned because it can’t really be any other way,” the director said. “That’s the nature of modern film franchises: market-researched, audience-tested, vetted, modified, revetted and remodified until they’re ready for consumption.

“So, you might ask, what’s my problem? Why not just let superhero films and other franchise films be?” he continued. “The reason is simple. In many places around this country and around the world, franchise films are now your primary choice if you want to see something on the big screen. It’s a perilous time in film exhibition, and there are fewer independent theaters than ever.”

Scorsese is not the only filmmaker who has been forced to expand on his MCU skepticism. In late October, “The Godfather” director Francis Ford Coppola walked back his own remarks about Marvel films, arguing that the word “despicable” was previously taken out of context when he was asked to weigh in on his contemporary’s anti-Marvel stance.

“I feel that approach is taken to reduce the economic risk of movies and I feel the ‘risk factor’ is an element that makes movies sometimes be great,” Coppola told Deadline, clarifying that he intended to aim the word at the state of the movie business as a whole. “Also the formulaic film draws most available resources to them, leaving little for more daring productions, reducing diversity.”

“Taxi Driver” director Scorsese echoed Coppola’s sentiments, ending his op-ed on a somber note lamenting the increasingly limited opportunities for up-and-coming artists who have novel ideas in an industry that financially rewards mostly franchise installments from studio giants like Disney.

“For anyone who dreams of making movies or who is just starting out, the situation at this moment is brutal and inhospitable to art,” he argued. “And the act of simply writing those words fills me with terrible sadness.”