CS Soapbox: Scorsese and Coppola Secretly Love Comic Books
Nothing fuels an argument like a good ol’ fashioned generation gap. People tend to focus on differences rather than similarities, writing anything that doesn’t vibe with their agenda off as alien. This societal handicap applies not only to the more seasoned members of our community (who hate franchises and CGI) but to the more youthful as well, who just can’t understand why you wouldn’t want to watch something in three dimensions. Art will always be subjected to a differing of opinion; recent comments made by some of the greatest filmmakers of all time, in which they bash Marvel movies, illustrate the evolution (and perhaps monetization) of popular cinema.
Earlier this month, acclaimed director, Martin Scorsese called Marvel movies “something else.” He said that they were “theme park rides” unconcerned with “trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” Equating superhero movies with amusement parks, Scorsese acknowledged comic book films as a new art form that is revolutionizing cinema; however, his concern revolves around the idea that these blockbusters may take screen time away from more humble cinematic “events.” Francis Ford Coppola whole-heartedly agreed with Scorsese, saying that Marvel films are “despicable.”
Two heavyweight filmmakers like Scorsese and Coppola are anything if not credible. Without fixating on the comments that made headlines, the directors are concerned about the future of cinema. Going to a theater and seeing one movie playing on 10 screens is jarring for anyone who wants a diverse selection of art to be displayed. Attacking Marvel’s overwhelming popularity would have been a more rational approach than to attack the narratives themselves.
Scorsese and Coppola found success embracing storytelling in their own unique way; seeing trailers for an entire universe of storytelling (that seems like it comes straight off an assembly line) could easily appear generic and uninspired if you’re unfamiliar with it—we have to assume they have seen a single Marvel movie in its entirety. While it’s fair to feel ostracized at a time when rodent-oriented conglomerates rule the world, it’s unfair to write off films that are inspired by source material much in the same way as your own.
Source material’s double standard
Critically acclaimed novels have a better chance of becoming successful films than ones that don’t already have a fan base. Therefore, filmmakers and studios often seek out the popular source material. For example, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, an experimental picture book of sorts (what is a comic book?), was an award-winning book and best-seller before Scorsese ever adapted it into a film. In fact, a quick glance at his IMDB page makes Scorsese’s proclivity for adapting popular books very apparent. Raging Bull was adapted from the memoir Raging Bull: My Story, Casino from Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, Goodfellas from Wiseguy, The Departed, Shutter Island, The Wolf of Wall Street, Silence, and even his newest, The Irishman—all based/inspired by literature. Francis Ford Coppola’s career shares a similar affinity for books; The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Dracula, and The Rainmaker are all inspired/based on popular novels. Coppola even worked with comic book artist and writer, Mike Mignola on Dracula.
Some of Scorsese and Coppola’s films feature similar narrative arcs and elements to that of a comic book movie. First and foremost, they’re popular and well-told. There’s almost always an origin story about an unknown discovering he/she has a certain set of skills/talent/power and an antagonistic presence that challenges the newly uncomfortable protagonist. There’s no shame in wanting to tell a popular story on screen. While comic books and graphic novels can be (And often are) written off as childish or lacking depth, the narratives are just as dense as anything written by critically acclaimed novelists. Cinema’s obsession with big-budget events might even mirror the rapidly-changing literary landscape—the contemporary best-sellers (fiction) are often equatable to an event film/franchise (and will probably one day be adapted).
One of the reasons Marvel is so popular is because of its tendency to produce content of the highest quality (working with a variety of talented filmmakers). Marvel will often hire experimental/courageous writers and directors who make films much like the ones Scorsese and Coppola say Marvel is overshadowing. For example, before directing Thor: Ragnorok, Taika Waititi worked on films infused with his own brand of artistry such as What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. You can even argue that Waititi’s big-budget exposure has now given him the freedom to work on whatever projects he wants—his new indie film, Jojo Rabbit, about a Nazi youth who has an imaginary friend in the form of a childish Adolf Hitler, is anything but generic.
For some reason, when people throw a cape, tights, and a superpower or two on something, it tends to lose its credibility in the eyes of serious storytellers. One could argue that this may be the case for Warner Bros’ attempt at the DECU; Marvel’s competition clearly tried to replicate their success in assembly-line fashion. What Marvel has done was already done in the comics. All the comics are connected in one way shape or form; the idea of creating a universe of intertwined stories has been done on the page time and time again. The magnitude of accomplishing that on film clearly has some people rattled. Although the MCU may appear to be just another handful of 21st-century comic book movies (piggybacking off of X-Men in 2000), its meticulously intertwined brand of storytelling is indicative of tenacious collaboration.
The future of cinema
To say Marvel films are unconcerned with “conveying convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human” is a disservice to everyone who balled their eyes out at the end of Endgame when Tony Stark snapped his fingers. It negates the credibility of all the comic book/anime fans who discovered their manhood when Goku went Super Saiyan for the first time, were horrified when the Joker beat Robin to death, or just needed something to help them forget about everything going on outside their bedroom door. The MCU is a cinematic triumphant for filmmakers and fans alike; it’s an example of what is possible within popular genres: 23 quality films.
You can’t call out Marvel without calling out the rest, especially since Marvel did it right. Let’s be honest, Suicide Squad could be labeled “despicable” but not Ant-Man? How about the real and scary politics of Captain America: Winter Soldier? The MCU (and sporadically, DC) are doing what comic books did long ago: using a whimsical medium to tell real stories. If you love storytelling and cinema, you have to love, or at least respect, comic books.
Much in the same way that Scorsese and Coppola changed cinema, what Kevin Feige and company have done with the MCU has paved the way for studios to bring an unprecedented amount of attention to talent that is otherwise ignored (genre aside). People aren’t going to watch superhero movies forever and eventually Marvel will run out of steam. Young audiences will want to slow down. Restrained character pieces will always have their place in cinema (wasn’t Martin Scorsese a producer on Joker anyway?), but for now, comic book movies rule the roost. Opinions aside, Scorsese and Coppola can relax because…
Movies rock regardless.