It’s fair to say that some in the old guard of Hollywood have complicated thoughts about superhero movies in general and Marvel Studios ones in particular. While the Marvel formula has produced more than 20 box office hits in a row like a well-oiled machine, the steady output of product infamously turned off Martin Scorsese, who recently shared his thoughts about why they’re “not cinema.” Now Academy Award winning legend, Francis Ford Coppola, is backing Scorsese’s claims and taking it a step further by calling Marvel movies outright “despicable.”
Speaking with journalists in Grand Lyon, France, where he was being awarded the lifetime achievement prize by the Lumière Film Festival, Coppola did not mince words when he talked about the state of American cinema.
According to Yahoo News, the director of The Godfather said, “When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration. I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again.”
He went on to add, “Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”
Coppola and Scorsese being unimpressed by the MCU oeuvre is not exactly a shock. In addition to both men spending most of their adult lives in a world where grown men largely did not anticipate the release of the next Captain America movie, they each came up in an era now dubbed New Hollywood. While they were reared on the Golden Age’s masters, including the likes of John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock, they each were among the first generation to leave film school (UCLA for Coppola, NYU for Scorsese) and attempt to remake the broken studio system with adventurous risk-taking. And at the height of Coppola’s heyday, in particular, dabbling in “genre” meant ambitious crime epics that verged on opera, like The Godfather, and war films that were psychedelic reimaginings of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a la Apocalypse Now. The most commercial project he worked on in those early years was the screenplay for World War II hagiography, Patton, which he won an Oscar for.
Ironically, a cynic might say that Coppola’s good friend from UCLA, George Lucas, first put the studio system on the path of franchised entertainment being a safe haven with Star Wars in 1977. Even then though, the original Star Wars movies aimed to change the state of moviemaking while recontextuatlizing a myriad of influences. By and large, it is fair to say Marvel movies like to stay in their lane and reap the benefits… certainly more so than any movie Coppola has worked on since his last hit, 1992’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and even that commercial affair was an experiment in reviving early cinema optical effects).
I cannot say I am shocked by their admonishment of an American moviemaking landscape where independent gems only get released in relatively few theaters, and a major undertaking by an auteur like Scorsese can only find financing on streaming via Netflix, as seen in next month’s astonishing The Irishman.
… Still, despicable? Seems a bit harsh from the filmmaker of Jack and Twixt.