Scorsese, Coppola, and The Marvel Comic Universe: Cinema or Not

People are overreacting to Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola’s diss that superhero movies, like those of the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU), are not cinema.
Frankly, the defense of the MCU from an impassionate Kevin Smith, James Gunn, et al, reminded me of an old SNL skit where a film snob pointed out there was a difference between FILMS and MOVIES.  Using that naming convention, I have no problem sorting out my viewing entertainment.  There have always been popcorn movies. The better ones are made by the MCU and DC. My favorite movies are directed by Matthew Vaughan (KINGSMAN, KICK ASS). My favorites films were directed by Ridley Scott, David Lynch and Danny Boyle.
LOS ANGELES – AUG 11: Martin Scorsese arriving to Emmy Awards 2011 on August 11, 2012 in Los Angeles, CA
Why is there such offense to call MCU movies “not cinema”? This reminds me of some ugly conversations I’ve had with agents who see actors and movies strictly as dollars and commercial properties.  We live in a world where there is some very good fast food.  It’s nice to know we can stop and have a gourmet meal too.
LOS ANGELES – APR 29: Francis Ford Coppola at the Francis Ford Coppola Hand and Foot Print Ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theater IMAX on April 29, 2016 in Los Angeles, CA

Making franchise movies and what goes into them.

The problem is that a large movie franchise has very different priorities.  True, all film and movies require money to produce, but once the studios sniff big REVENUE, suddenly a movie gets cast carefully and purposely as if a coach was assembling a winning team roster.  Look at the periodic fanfare around the casting of Batman or the Joker! Suddenly the franchise has to include shots of China and cast a Chinese actor to attract the Chinese box office.  I don’t know where the line is between a great film and a great movie, but I’ve never heard Martin Scorcese or Francis Ford Coppola cast their films with an eye on box office.

Made by Martin Scorsese or not, a popcorn, franchise movies or otherwise, it is the viewer who must decide on the mix of films he or she wants to watch.


And perhaps that’s the difference. With film, the audience is attracted to the craftsmanship of the filmmaker, the interpretation of the script, the performance of the cast.  With a movie, we are in for that roller coaster ride or spectacle. We are dazzled by the special effects. That’s why Spiderman’s and Batman’s have been largely replaceable and interchangeable. The giant MCU release calendar has its movies schedule out like a product release calendar. This is epic storytelling in the vein of the Homer.  But like classical music versus pop, there shouldn’t be a rivalry between these genres.  The MCU crew should be happily rolling in their money that the success of their work keeps the entire film industry alive.
What Scorcese and Coppola remind us, using my food analogy, we filmgoers need to calibrate our palettes every now and then to appreciate a good film.
The Big Mac shouldn’t mind being called a Big Mac. And I still appreciate a really good steak. Both satisfy hunger, but one meal you’ll savor longer. Ultimately, if what you’re watching moves you emotionally, it’s done a good job, no matter whether you call it film or movie.
About the contributing writer: Harrison Cheung is the award-winning author of the Christian Bale biography, THE INSIDE STORY OF THE DARKEST BATMAN.

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