Who would’ve thought that a random comment by Martin Scorsese on the MCU would go on to be one of the biggest talking points on the internet among the film community? Oh, who am I kidding? Of course, it was gonna blow up. It’s the internet in 2019. For those of you who have been living under a rock over the past couple of weeks (I envy you), basically 3 weeks ago, in an interview to promote his upcoming film The Irishman, legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese was asked what he thought of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The filmmaker said: “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.”
This basically burned Film Social Media to the ground, as filmmakers and fans alike shared their thoughts on Scorsese’s opinion. Some, like Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) agreed with Scorsese. Coppola even went on to call these films “despicable.” Others, like James Gunn were heartbroken by Scorsese’s comments. One big-timer in the industry who very much disagreed with Scorsese (and Coppola’s) criticisms is Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company (the company that owns Marvel Studios). While at the Wall Street Journal‘s Tech Live Conference, Iger had this to say:
“It doesn’t bother me, except I’m bothered on behalf of the people who work on those movies…Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese are two people I hold in the highest regard in terms of the films that they’ve made, the films I’ve liked, the films we’ve all watched. But when Francis uses the word ‘despicable?’ I reserve the word ‘despicable’ for someone who committed mass murder. These are movies! To whom is he talking? Is he talking to Kevin Feige, who runs Marvel? Or Taika Waititi who directs, or Ryan Coogler, who directs for us? Or Scarlett Johansson or Chad Boseman? I could name a number of people – Robert Downey Jr.?”
While I don’t think Coppola meant that these films were as terrible as mass murder, I do see where Iger is coming from here. Iger then continued:
“I think I’ve sounded a little more defensive than I wanted to be, because I don’t really feel the need to defend what we’re doing. We are in the business of – first of all, we’re in the business of making money, we’re a profitable business. At the same time at Disney, we try to balance that with telling great stories to the world and infusing them with great values and supporting a employee based of well over 200,000 people around the world with great care, and frankly, respect. So I just don’t – I’m puzzled by it. If they want to bitch about movies, it’s certainly their right.”
I will push back on what Bob Iger said here. I don’t think anybody criticised Disney’s ability to make profitable movies. Scorsese and Coppola were talking about Marvel films’ artistic merit.
But the CEO wasn’t done yet. Iger finally said that a lot of the filmmakers at Marvel Studios “are putting their creative souls on the line,” and even went on to compare Black Panther to Scorsese and Coppola’s classics.
“You’re telling me Ryan Coogler making Black Panther is doing something that is somehow or another less than what Marty Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola have ever done on any one of their movies? Like, come on. Yeah, I said it.”
This is a bold statement from Bob Iger, one that I do not necessarily disagree. While I do think that a lot of the superhero films today can be soulless spectacles, some of them like Black Panther and Captain America: Civil War are emotionally resonant character-oriented political action-dramas that should be taken as seriously as many Scorsese and Coppola’s films. Look, I’m not saying Black Panther is as good as Raging Bull or The Godfather. What I am saying is that the film is undoubtedly a piece of pure cinema.