James Gunn Responds (Again) To Martin Scorsese Marvel Movies Criticism
It’s been almost two years since Martin Scorsese rocked pop culture with his crticism about Marvel Studios movies and superhero films in general. It’s a subject we’ve discussed at length, and we’ve offered up our argument about why superhero movies are actually saving cinema rather than destroying it. Still, this ‘issue’ is one that those of us in the entertainment press don’t know how to let die. (And I fully admit, I am a part of this problem.) During an interview to promote The Suicide Squad, director James Gunn again responded to the criticism Scorsese aimed at Marvel. And, since Serious Film Twitter™ is not reactionary like superhero Twitter, his comments are being considered with measured reason. Psych, just kidding. People are losing their minds over it.
Part of the reason this subject is still being discussed is because the entertainment press keeps asking about it. Controversy can drive traffic, and both Marvel and Scorsese have passionate fans. In this version of the press-created-controversy, Scorsese fans are the ones feeling diminished, however. As Gunn offered up his guess as to why this is still ‘a thing,’ he subtly suggests that the is simply a press ouroboros, though that part of his critique is going unnoticed by angry movie Tweeters.
Of course, the other reason this controversy lingers is because of the harshness of Scorsese’s criticisms. He didn’t just say he didn’t like the movies or that they were hurting the business. No, he said they weren’t cinema, meaning devoid of artistic substance. Scorsese likened them to theme park rides, which is to call them mindless spectacle. And this is the kind of elitism that genre stories have faced, well forever.
What Exactly Did James Gunn Say About Martin Scorsese and His Criticism of Marvel Movies?
Image via Columbia Pictures
While this is mostly a theoretical discussion for us, it’s more personal for Gunn. Not only is he the director of what will be three Marvel films, along with The Suicide Squad for DC, he’s also someone who admires Scorsese. So, when he offered up his take on the controversy yet again, I think he tried to blame the press without insulting them while promoting a movie. He spoke to Josh Horowitz of MTV News who asked him why he keeps defending the movies he made, as if the answer is not obvious.
“I don’t know. I just think…it seems awful cynical…he would keep coming out against Marvel, and then that is the only that would get him press for his movie. So, he just kept coming out against Marvel, so that he could get press for his movie. So, he’s creating this movie in the shadow of the Marvel films, and so he uses that to get attention for something he wasn’t getting as much attention as he wanted for it. And he’s one of the greatest filmmakers who ever existed. I love his movies…and he said a lot of things I agree with.”
— Josh Horowitz (@joshuahorowitz) August 4, 2021
Now, do I think Gunn was saying that Scorsese was employing a strategy of attacking Marvel to promote The Irishman? No. Do I think he was saying that instead of talking about that movie the only thing that got attention was his Marvel comments? Yes. And, as we noted in our report two years ago, this is just a version of the same thing he’s been saying since the Summer blockbuster action movie appeared on the scene post-Jaws. So, if you ask Martin Scorsese about an ‘issue’ he’s been championing for decades, of course he will speak on it.
The other key point James Gunn makes about the Marvel movie criticism from Scorsese is that, by his own admission, he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. The director of Kings of Comedy (my favorite in his oeuvre) has never seen one of these films. Thus his remarks aren’t actual critiques of the movies but rather what he thinks these movies are.
So, Wait, Gunn and Scorsese Agree that Comic Book Movies are Bad?
Image via WB
If you’ve read my previous piece about this subject, linked above, then you know I was one of those folks who reacted strongly to this critique. It smacks of the elitism of those who thing all serious art can’t also contain whimsy. My goal in that was to argue in defense of these films as art, but I fully admit my bias because I grew up with these characters. Also, I like to like things. (It’s just easier that way.) With time and a cooler head, I can admit that while still definitely Cinema™, some comic book movies are just bad. Every Fantastic Four movie ever made, for example, is something of a disappointment. But, ironically, I would say that the “worst” one (i.e. never released) is actually the best of the group. Director Roger Corman was an expert at taking these movies that no one believes in, and filling them full of something appealing. The value in this movie has nothing to do with storytelling or subtext or anything like that. This is an example of barely getting lemons and still making one hell of a glass of lemonade.
Of the four films made about Marvel’s first family, my favorite is the Roger Corman version for that reason. It’s campy and cheap, but it comes the closest to what Gunn calls “heart.” The other films featuring these characters do have what feels like the fingerprints of meddling studio executives on them. Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four is a movie that feels like it’s trying to do something different. But when you take big swings, sometimes you miss equally big. As with all art, there are good and bad examples of it, and in determining which is which your mileage may vary.
Whether it’s a film like Black Panther or Fast Color, movies about superheroes and magic are often also about very real-world things. They can tell stories about massive social issues or deeply personal human struggles. There is no less value in dreaming of hope and heroes than there is in exposing the bleak nihilism of villains. Martin Scorsese is a living legend, but even he doesn’t get to decide what is and isn’t art of substance. But honestly, let’s just leave James Gunn and Martin Scorsese both out of the discussion of Marvel movie criticism from now on.
The Suicide Squad hits theaters and HBO Max on August 6, 2021
What do you think? Share your thoughts about what is and isn’t cinema, superhero movies, and how the business drives things in the comments below.
Featured image via Warner Bros.
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.