Tag Archives: Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

Scorsese Follows up Regarding Marvel

Last month, I wrote about how accomplished filmmaker Martin Scorsese termed the many, many Marvel films as “not cinema.” His colleague Francis Ford Coppola joined in, going further in calling the films “despicable.”

Superhero fandom has not been kind. (Thankfully, some superhero actors keep on being superheroic, so there’s that).

Martin Scorsese

On Monday, Martin Scorsese wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about the interview that kicked this all off — and where he was coming from in his comments.

I appreciate him taking the time to explain his viewpoint. He’s eloquent, passionate, and has an absolute love of film. If you’ve seen him in interviews and especially from some of his segments on Turner Classic Movies, this man loves cinema — all types of cinema — and I don’t think it’s at all controversial to opine that he’s contributed greatly to cinema through his films.

But while I agree with many of his observations, I don’t agree with the breadth of his conclusions.

Films are made more by committee these days. They are tested and –more likely than not– drained of anything that might be “controversial” as the studios continue to be risk averse in a way that really doesn’t avoid risk (see the box office disappointment of the latest Terminator film). Filmmakers who want to find a voice, tell a singular story, or otherwise be unexpected do find an uphill battle in the face of the studios near monolithic insistence on their vision. And I don’t doubt that the majority of filmmakers would love to make films for the sizable silver screen versus streaming.

But I feel Scorsese is conflating this studio stubbornness and corporate zeal to eliminate “art as risk” with its current method of promoting this blandness: superhero movies.

And there’s a lot of nuance in here, because he clearly understands and loves all sorts of movies. He identifies Hitchcock films as the thrill rides of his day, but I think he discounts the character, craft, and sheer enjoyment one finds in superhero movies. He’s entirely fine to say, as he does, that superhero movies are not to his taste — I just don’t think it’s fair to say superhero movies are in poor taste.

To give an example using the rough equivalent of the “superhero” film of his time growing up: imagine if Studios not only favored Westerns, but they insisted on franchises of Westerns and any new idea was met with, “But can it be a Western?” I can’t imagine Scorsese would enjoy this state of affairs any more than the state of affairs with superhero films — and he’d probably say some of the same things.

And you know what? He’d be right that the studios are too dismissive of anything done for art’s sake. He’d be right that many a Western is weighed down with hoary tropes and is more of a thrill ride that a film that engages you on all levels, but he would not be right that westerns are second-class films as a genre or type by virtue of being Westerns. Amid the slickly produced, forgettable ones, there’s early classics like “Stagecoach” and more meditative affairs like “High Noon,” character-driven action like “Winchester ’73,” and operatic takes like “Once Upon a Time in the West.”

Likewise, he’s missing all the character and nuance that you find in films like “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Black Panther.” Action sequences don’t take away from the tale of a man who dedicated his life to serve finding the institution he served has been betrayed from within. CGI armored rhinos don’t negate the nuance of a son coming to terms with things his father never told him as he tries to find a way to lead his people. I get that superhero films are thrill rides –the comics they’re based on have fight scenes and action sequences more often than not– but just like the Hitchcock films and Westerns of old, they’re not uniformly disposable trifles.

I suspect it’s hard not to conflate studio attitudes with superhero films because Scorsese is such a phenomenal, singular filmmaker. The studios are playing their superhero-franchise-over-everything-else card and that’s an impediment to precisely what Scorsese longs to do, (and what he’s done very well doing). He wants to make art. He understands that it’s show business, but he’s knows there’s art in the show and he’s presented with a bunch of drudges who feel showing art is bad.

And I bet if he was able to make all the films he pleased, he’d still be sad on behalf of the next generation of filmmakers.

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

~Martin Scorsese

Like I said above, this guy loves art. Think of his appearance as Van Gogh in Dreams: he’s a painter who wants you to paint. He implores you to paint for the sheer joy of painting. I think he’s just forgetting there’s other paintings that are artful, even when they’re paintings the studios are trying to mass produce.

“ars gratia artis” indeed.

I’m so looking forward to The Irishman, but I’m also looking forward to several superhero films. There will be art in both I’m sure (and I still find myself coming back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s piece in response to Scorsese).

Everyone take it down a notch and enjoy some movies already.

Superheroics Outside the MCU

What with Marvel movies on the mind of late, just in case you didn’t see this make the rounds this past week, Chris Evans, aka the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Captain America, does some amazing stuff off-camera.

What kind of stuff? How about giving back to his childhood theater?

And then there’s the whole personal anecdote about dealing with anxiety and depression.

Good casting, Marvel. Good casting.

Coppola Channels Daffy Duck, Finds MCU “Despicable”

Francis Ford Coppola has joined his colleague Martin Scorsese in dismissing superhero films in general and Marvel in particular, calling them “despicable.”

Rosy Cordero covers it in Entertainment Weekly and David Crow has a nice contextual take over at Den of Geek.

Sigh. Much like Bugs Bunny, superhero films might not be considered “high art,” but they’re not going away anytime soon. Besides which, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar already covered this: he’s not wrong, but he’s not right.

Toxic fans and risk-averse studios seem much better targets for umbrage — and finding ways to fund the types of films Coppola and Scorsese make without relying on the hell-bent-for-content motivation Netflix has? That just might be more worthwhile.

“Comic Book Movies” and “High Art”

Just last month I was musing about how, even in the face of “nerddom’s” ascension in all aspects of pop culture, people still feel the need to belittle or otherwise distance themselves and their work from science fiction as if the genre itself was wildly radioactive.

Now, in the face of a more meditative and gritty look at the origins of Joker –with more than a few homages to Martin Scorsese’s films– Scorsese himself felt the need to denigrate the Marvel film juggernaut as not “cinema.”

Now, on the one hand, that assertion is silly. It’s like saying a hamburger isn’t food because its preparation and presumed nutritional value isn’t on par with the fare from a three-star Michelin restaurant (and yes, you won’t surprise me if you produce examples of people asserting just that).

On the other hand, the aspirations behind films (and food) can vary greatly. “The Remains of the Day” is going for something different than “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama” — and anyone insisting “they’re the same” because “they’re both feature films” can and should be summarily mocked.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a piece in the Hollywood Reporter that tackles just this dichotomy tackling the elephant in the room that is the notion of “high art.” It’s well worth a read.

Say, what about the Marvel movie music anyway?

So, I talked about comics and Captain Marvel specifically so far this week… and that got me thinking more about the Marvel Cinematic Universe and then I thought of “Every Frame a Painting’s” critique of Marvel’s movie music.

You may recall me raving about the YouTube series on the occasion of its end, but in any case, this approximately 14-minute video gives you a bit to ponder.

Nate Moore and the New Faces of Silver Screen Superheroes

Kelley Carter (not to be confused with Agent Carter) has a great article about Nate Moore and how we’re seeing some new superheroes on the big screen.

Besides being an interesting look at the ongoing development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the article reminds me how much one passionate person can make a difference.

Letting Go of the Canon

This is the 11th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks. Yes, we have gone to 11.

Asher Elbein’s excellent piece in The Atlantic is worth reading just to consider the nature of pop culture –our modern mythology– and our ownership thereto.

I’ve included it in the Crisis of Infinite Star Treks series because reading it helped distill two issues:

If a ‘Star Trek Canon’ Exists, Legal Ownership Belongs to CBS/Paramount
Not only that, they can change it, ignore it, or otherwise do with the ‘canon’ what they will. They own it in a very real and legally binding way.

This is what I love about Elbein’s article: it elegantly points out the fiction that  fealty to the creators’ canon is really fealty to the ideas holding favor within a given IP’s fan community. In fact, as the concept goes, the canon awkwardly resides with the fans no matter how many authors are successively granted the creative keys to the kingdom by the corporate owners.

No corporation is beholden to this vague and inconsistent concept.

This cold, hard fact is well known by fans — and perhaps because their lack of power is so evident upon inspection, it can touch a nerve. Fans may well cry foul and further inveigh such deviations from their interpretation of canon will bring financial ruin. This prediction depends on the assumption that the fan base is the profit base. But what many fans fear more than anything is that the corporate owners may change ‘canon’ and build their profit base away from the parts of the IP the fans . It might be bigger and might leave some of the fans behind.

This is the fear touched on within my second article from last December. And to be clear, I think fans have cause to point out violations to canon. They might be pointing to elements of the narrative that created fans in the first place. It’s also not a wise idea to ignore long-term fans in pursuit of immediate profits as that can erode one’s profit base. But as I also point out in that article, Paramount is hell-bent to extract more profit from its Star Trek IP. It seems to be developing a formula for doing so and if we long-time fans aren’t on board for their take on space opera, than we can go watch re-runs for all they care: as far as their bean counters are concerned, they’re growing the fan base.

Again, I think this could be short-sighted because there should be ways to meet the fans’ wants economically. Not only that, fans are no longer content to simply be passive consumers of IP — at least the fans which brands like Star Trek should want, which brings us to…

There has to be a way for fans to participate in Pop Culture Storytelling
Sorry, corporate guys and gals. You’ve already let go of some mythical absolute that your IP exists solely as a profit center where you can control its every iteration in the public sphere. You enjoy the benefits of memes, remixing, and re-interpretation of your ideas to spread the IP and increase its value. In fact, you can and will reap those benefits. You can and certainly will make sure people other than you can’t reap the financial benefits of the IP improperly, but when it comes to restricting eyeballs and remixes and musings, much of that toothpaste is out of the tube by your own design.

That’s what sticks in the craw of many fans when it comes to the Axanar lawsuit. To go full Warner/Chappell Music after letting fan productions exist and flourish is something fans rightly cry foul over. These are our folktales. These are the myths of our time — and the tools of our time allow us to discuss and re-tell these folktales in a multitude of ways. Our society says you can make a living from this manner of knowledge work and corporations clearly make a tidy sum doing so. Is it really so surprising that the most ardent fans are inspired to create themselves?

A counterargument –a very compelling and quite legal one– goes back to point number one: these stories aren’t in the public domain. Use Star Trek and similar fan-fueled IP to create your own space opera. Heck, Indiana Jones exists in part because Spielberg and Lucas wanted to do a Bond film and started brainstorming about what kind of derring-do would get them globetrotting. But I do think that the urge to honor the object of your fannish affection and the urge to create something anew inspired by fannish affection are different impulses — and perhaps the object of another blog post. Suffice to say now, I imagine the most popular tales 10,000 years ago were passed around campfires far more readily than entirely new tales were concocted. A tale enthralls us, and we retell it, gradually with more flourishes. That a corporate entity owns tales and the rights to retell said tales is a relatively recent invention.

The storytelling urge is deeply human and very powerful. It will not be legislated or sued out of existence. The aforementioned tools are Promethean in their disruptive potential. I’m not saying it’s an easy path, but the corporate titans need to make peace with the fact that we mere mortals have fire. Better to work with us about how and where we’ll use it or too many people will get burned.

At the same time, I agree with Asher Elbein: canon is personal. For those keepers of fandom flames, I feel your pain. Just ask me about my ups and downs watching the new Doctor Who. But in the end, it’s not my restaurant. I can be the best regular diner at that restaurant. I might even influence them as to what they include and don’t include on the menu. Maybe I even re-create some of their dishes at home. But even though I can ‘vote with my feet,’ I don’t own the restaurant.

Daredevil on Netflix Might be for you if…

In honor of the impending Season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix this Friday, I’m going to re-posting a list I put on Facebook after my wife and I finally got around to seeing it last Summer.

For those of you wondering if you should jump in, you should definitely start with Season 1… and I stand by all these observations.

Warning: Potential Spoilers for people who want to go in with no expectations…

Daredevil on Netflix might be for you if:

1) You watched The Dark Knight trilogy and thought, “Oh, they’re trying to be dark and edgy. How cute!”

2) You like to play “Spot the Accent” (Betcha don’t catch ’em all!)

3) You really want to feel better about yourself as a father by comparison

4) You like crusty old reporters whose wrinkles have wrinkles

5) You want to see a creative new spin on “Shut up, Wesley!” You’ll know what I mean.

6) You’ve always wanted to see if Vincent D’Onofrio will literally explode. I mean literally, not figuratively. Like the crew knew some of them would die in the D’Onofri-blast, but they still wanted to film it just to include the real footage in the show.

7) You want to see Rosario Dawson hang a lantern on it like a boss

8) You want validation that art people can dress in white but be just as weird. Seriously, what the hell is that person thinking?

9) You want to see someone completely miss the point of a Bible story.

10) You want to see an amazing drama with engaging characters which is also arguably the best superhero TV show ever made.