Cinema or Child’s Play? That is the question Marvel Studios has had to face recently. This month Marvel fans were dealt a one-two punch at the hands of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. At that start of the month, Scorsese compared the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to theme park rides. Coppola backed this sentiment while being interviewed by journalists in France by claiming that “we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration.” Coppola went on to say that Marvel films never fulfill those promises of real cinema and are, therefore, “despicable.” Ouch.
Critics of the Marvel Studios have also noted that the Avengers and their pals are too predictable. The Marvel formula has been perfected into a money-making machine, and that is what worries die-hard cinephiles. This same concern was voiced when Westerns took over theaters.
Although stand-alone films are having a difficult time rising above the blockbuster success of Marvel films, “true cinema” will never disappear. Movies like ‘Us’, and ‘Roma’ are proof of that.
I would argue that in the simplest of terms, the MCU is a form of cinema. Moviegoers might not walk out of a film with any inspirations to become a better person, but visual effects artists might walk away inspired to push their own work to the next level. Costume designers may leave with new knowledge that will assist them in an upcoming project. Even screenwriters could potentially walk away from a Marvel film with new insights on character development so that their audiences have a stronger human connection with the actors on screen.
What do moviegoers actually walk away with? Avengers: Infinity Wars aside, moviegoers leave theaters with a sense of lightness. They didn’t have to think about hidden meanings or face hard truths. For roughly two hours, fans were carried along with the film while sipping on their soda and munching on popcorn.
Now, we can go back and forth on the merit of Marvel films all day, but that isn’t what I’m interested in. I want to focus on why Marvel films have taken over movie theaters. To do so we must step back from the current influx of superheroes and examine the larger picture.
Development for Iron Man began way back in 1990 when Universal Studios originally bought the character rights. Between 1990 and 2005, Iron Man changed hands several times before finding a home with Marvel Studios. With John Favreau taking the wheel and Robert Downey Jr. leading the cast, Iron Man (2008) was a gamble that Marvel Studios was willing to take.
That gamble paid off in a big way.
2008 saw American troops fighting in Afghanistan for the seventh year in a row, Barack Obama was elected president, and the political scene shifted in a big way. President Obama was pushing a progressive agenda that large portions of the country were less than willing to embrace. After eight years of Hope and Change, President Trump took office and proceeded to dismantle democracy from the inside. These days, Americans struggle to keep up with news headlines and need to stand up to defend facts and truth.
In times of turmoil, it is common for societies to turn to flights of fancy for escape. While older countries have turned to fairy tales in the past, here in America we have turned to superheroes. Comicbook stories are formulaic. They are predictable. There is a clear line between good and evil. In a chaotic political atmosphere that as divided the country, it really isn’t surprising that audiences have flocked to the MCU.
Cinema should teach, enlighten, and inspire, but it should also be allowed to entertain every now and then. Superhero movies won’t be around forever, and I think Marvel knows that which is why they are striking while the iron is hot. So while it feels like the MCU is destroying cinema, we should remember that audiences deserve a break from reality. When the nation begins to heal, we won’t need superhero movies as much as we do today. The MCU will fade into the background as we grow up, ready to face whatever comes our way. Until then, let’s enjoy the MCU amusement park a little while longer.