Before the turn of the century, which wasn’t so long ago, superhero movies were kind of a pariah in the film industry. Critics hated them and the general moviegoing audiences found them fun at times but they were usually terrible cash grabs movie studios hoped to grab a quick buck. Then, in 2008, something happened. This was the year when Iron Man, the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was released. This was a turning point and it showed that films based on superheroes can not only make a lot of money, but be beloved by everyone.
Well, not everyone. There were bound to be a few people who still didn’t like them based on the principle that superhero films are just based on silly comic books. There are even those rooting for superhero films to finally crash and burn because the genre has become so popular. There’s also a portion of even the people who generally like them that are just burnt out by all the superhero movies. This is especially true for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as this was the catalyst for the change.
However, despite the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s success and being well liked by most critics and audiences, there is a more serious segment of haters that don’t like these film because, well, they’re kind of making a mockery of the art of film making. We have the likes of the great Martin Scorsese saying that the MCU are more like “theme park” and “not cinema.” We also have other directors like Francis Ford Coppola saying that the MCU is “despicable.” Even Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Strange himself, does partially agree with what Martin Scorsese said! Ovay, Martin Scorsese did sort of revise his initial statement by saying that the MCU is ushering a new art form but he is worried about how movie theaters will just concentrate on putting as many of them on the screen while shunning other movies. Nice spin there, Martin Scorsese!
Now, here’s the thing: I do kind of agree with Martin Scorsese in both the spirit of his original statement as well as his reworked criticism. In fact, I also have to kind of concede to, well, not exactly what Francis Ford Coppola said about the MCU, but rather to the reason why he called them “despicable” in the first place. Basically, what these fine directors are saying is that, to them, the MCU and comic books in general are attracting too much attention and soaking up the limelight that other, let’s just say, more thought provoking movies are being pushed out.
Now, I’m not going to the whole debate about “what is cinema?” because that’s frankly a whole other topic altogether. However, there is a lingering feeling in the back of my mind that most movies today seem to be just out to make as much money as they can. Of course, that’s obvious since that’s why most movie studios shell out millions of dollars to produce them. That’s why they spend so much money on big-named actors, pour so much money on special effects and carve out a good chunk of the budget for marketing the film. It does feel at time that the entertainment landscape and, in effect, a lot of geekdom is always focused on them and the talk about other more original films are being laid along the wayside of the conversation.
Also, we do have to face it that most superhero movies, especially the ones from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, are just following a well-established formula. The trappings may be different, like Ant-Man is a heist film and Captain America are spy films, but they ultimately just follow the same thing over and over again. It’s a fun and entertaining formula but they are very predictable.
However, to say that they are creatively bankrupt is a rather overblown accusation. One of the things they do say is that there isn’t any character development in superhero films. I strongly beg to differ on that point. I don’t think we would have gotten so attached to Tony Stark if we didn’t see him change from the selfish, war-mongering prick at the start of the first Iron Man film up to his self-sacrificing moment in Endgame. The characters may not be as tormented or as heavy or as serious as a lot of dramatic films but they do appeal to us and we do think them as living, breathing human beings that live in the real world. In fact, breathing in personality and growth in their characters is part of the Marvel formula of sorts.
The worst accusation that they do make to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they’re just fun movies and are just full blown commercials. Honestly, that’s kind of true because, not only do they rake in billions of dollars around the world, they’re also licensing the property out for toys. You also can’t forget that these are comic book characters, so, in a way, they are also advertising that the comics still exist.
Even if that is the case, the people that produce the films take it seriously. Why? Because when they growing up, they were also kids and watching overblown commercials as well!
A lot already has been said about how the older films inspired some great directors to produce spectacular works of film. You have George Lucas who grew up watching live action shorts of Buck Rogers. Steven Spielberg loved the classic Disney animated films. Quentin Tarentino loved cheesy grindhouse films. Yes, they also loved some Oscar worthy flicks but a lot of their inspiration came from movies that are decidedly formulaic and lacking any sort of “artistic integrity” that the other serious films have.
In fact, a lot of you people reading this post have felt the effects of watching glorified full-length commercials and how it formed your current way of thinking. After all, we all grew up watching shows like GI Joe, Transformers, MASK, Thundercats, Robotech and the list goes on.
These things help develops a lot of us to become the people that we are right now and, while they were made to sell toys, we didn’t see that as kids. What we saw were things that inspired us to create and let our imaginations run wild.
The same thing can and will be said for today’s superhero movies and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, specifically. These will help cultivate the creative ideas of the children of today and inspire them to do things for cinema. The children that do watch them may become their generation’s Lucas, Spielberg, Tarentino and even Scorsese and Copolla. And isn’t that one of cinema’s goals? To inspire people?
I do get Scorsese’s point of view in that the Marvel Cinematic Universe simply dominates the film landscape of today and that may be making it more difficult for those film makers who want to make non-superhero themed films. In a sense, they aren’t cinema in the classical sense. But, at the same time, they definitely are.
What’s your opinion on the entire controversy? Do you think the MCU are producing cinematic masterpieces? Or are they just glorified theme parks? Let me know in the comments section below!