By Andrew A. Smith
Tribune Content Agency
Jan. 30, 2020 — So now Quentin Tarantino has jumped on the anti-Marvel bandwagon.
“When you say, despite the sequels and the Avengers: Endgame and all of that, I actually think a war for movies got played out this last year,” Tarantino told Deadline Jan. 13. “As far as I can see, the commercial product that is owned by the conglomerates, the projects everybody knows about and has in their DNA, whether it be the Marvel Comics, the Star Wars, Godzilla and James Bond, those films never had a better year than last year. It would have been the year that their world domination would have been complete. But it kind of wasn’t.”
Tarantino went on to say that cinema of the non-blockbuster variety “made its last stand last year.” He went on to credit his own movie, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood as being important in this war. “If it hadn’t done it this year, it might have been the last stand for movies like that.”
Well. Don’t pull a muscle patting yourself on the back, Mr. T. Especially when you’re spouting nonsense.
I know, I know – he’s a famous director, and I’m just a lowly ink-stained wretch. Who am I to question his judgment?
But honestly, it’s not just my opinion. It’s the opinion of all those people who went to the movies Tarantino is dismissing. People who put their money where their mouth is by getting off the couch, going to a theater and buying a ticket. You know, the sort of thing directors should cheer.
Tarantino is just the latest auteur to take a swing at Marvel movies, similar fare from Warner Brothers (DC Comics) and others. And while I firmly believe everyone is entitled to their opinion, these kinds of comments are not just wrong and petty, but self-serving.
Because when I hear Tarantino, or Martin Scorsese, or Francis Ford Coppola, or James Cameron, or Terry Gilliam complain about Marvel movies, a translation spontaneously occurs in my head. What I hear is, “I don’t want people to like the movies other people make. I want them to like the movies I make.”
Take Scorsese, who kicked off this debate. “That’s not cinema,” Scorsese said of Marvel movies to Empire Magazine last year. “Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
Seriously? Black Panther inspired people. Thor: Ragnarok thrilled us, and made us laugh, too. Avengers: Endgame left the audience at my screening in tears. Joker was terrifying. That is the very definition of filmmakers “trying to convey emotional … experiences to another human being.”
Scorsese is an expert in his field. Obviously he has a very narrow definition of “cinema,” which is fine. But he doesn’t get to define it for the rest of us — especially when his definition of cinema kinda sounds like “the movies I like, not the movies you like.”
Next up was Francis Ford Coppola, who also wants to tell us what to think.
“When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he’s right, because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration,” said Coppola at the Lumière Festival in Lyon, France, last October. “I don’t know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again. Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”
That’s … astonishing. Here is a filmmaker saying the work of other filmmakers — successful ones, who have brought joy, thrills and excitement to hundreds of thousands of people — is “despicable.” Because they make a kind of movie he doesn’t prefer. This from the man who made Captain EO.
As to “seeing the same movie over and over again” … how many Godfather movies has Coppola made? How many gangster movies has Scorsese made? Obviously, neither of these august gentlemen are averse to going back to the same well when it suits them, or repeating what audiences seem to like. But others are “despicable” for doing the same.
That brings us to James Cameron, who may have been the first filmmaker to voice his Marvel displeasure.
“I’m hoping we’ll start getting ‘Avenger’ fatigue here pretty soon,” Cameron told IndieWire in 2018. “It’s just, come on guys, there are other stories to tell besides hypergonadal males without families doing death-defying things for two hours and wrecking cities in the process. It’s like, oy!”
I can’t imagine what other stories Cameron might be talking about, unless it’s the four Avatar movies he has in the pipeline. Since Avengers: Endgame displaced his own effects-heavy Titanic as the highest grossing movie, he might be feeling a little heat.
In defense of Cameron, though, he graciously congratulated Marvel on Endgame’s success, and embraced what should be the main takeaway from Marvel films. “You’ve shown that the movie industry is not the only alive and well, it’s bigger than ever!” he told Variety last May.
Starring in Avengers: Infinity War (above) and Avengers: Endgame are, from left, Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk) and Benedict Wong (Wong). It is now the highest grossing film in history. (Chuck Zlotnick, © Marvel Studios)
However, director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) believes exactly the reverse.
“They’re taking all the money that should be available for a greater variety of films,” he said to IndieWire in December of last year. “There isn’t room or money for a greater range of films. You make a film for over $150 million or less than $10 [million]. Where’s all this other stuff? It doesn’t exist anymore.”
As Luke Skywalker said to Kylo Ren: “Amazing. Every word of what you just said is wrong.”
I collated five different lists of movies with theater dates in 2020. More than 125 movies are expected to premiere this year. Exactly two of them will be from Marvel. Only eight could (charitably) be called superhero movies. Very few could be considered expensive tentpoles. If there’s no mid-range money, how can there be so many mid-range movies?
As to variety, expect double figures in action/adventure, horror, animated and fantasy films. Expect a healthy supply of romance, comedy, mystery, slice-of-life, historical and biography films, too. New adaptations of literary classics Call of the Wild, David Copperfield, Emma and Turn of the Screw will screen. Ben Affleck, Dave Bautista, Daniel Craig, Vin Diesel, Tiffany Haddish, Blake Lively, Eddie Murphy, Liam Neeson, Keanu Reeves, Alicia Silverstone, Will Smith, Hillary Swank, Kristin Wiig and Reese Witherspoon are among the A-listers headlining non-superhero movies in 2020. There are no less than three movies starring Tom Hanks, with nary a cape nor cowl in sight.
And let’s not forget the explosive surge of streaming services, which offer both funding and platforms for movies — like Scorsese’s own The Irishman.
Does that sound like superhero films are killing the movie industry? Or is this situation more like the comics industry, where sales of superhero books keep the retail outlets open, creating space for other, smaller genres to exist?
But Gilliam didn’t stop there.
I hated Black Panther,” he said. “It makes me crazy. It gives young black kids the idea that this is something to believe in. Bullshit. It’s utter bullshit. I think the people who made it have never been to Africa,” he said
Aside from the fact that, yes, a number of the Black Panther filmmakers did go to Africa, this the unkindest cut of all. It astonishes me that Gilliam, whose work leans so heavily on fairy tales and fantasy, is unaware of how that material is absorbed and used by children.
I doubt any of the kids watching Black Panther thought they were going to grow up to be royalty in a fictional African paradise. But they did see a world much better than their own, sparking imagination and ambition. And characters like T’Challa and Shuri are role models — not because of their super-powers, but because of their character. They show courage in the face of danger, tenacity in the face of adversity and humor in the face of despair. Children soak that up as life lessons.
The bottom line is this: Millions of people enjoyed these movies, and proved it with ticket sales. The films have provided both entertainment and inspiration. They have advanced the industry in terms of F/X. They have enriched theaters and streaming services, creating opportunities for other, less popular movies to find a home. Those are all good things.
The filmmakers who malign them are doing so at their own peril. It looks self-serving. It looks petty. It looks like intellectual snobbery. It looks like bullying.
I was bullied as a kid for reading comics, a less-than-popular hobby at the time. But I found inspiration in another slightly-built, bespectacled bookworm named Peter Parker. I learned a thing or two about character. At the very least, I learned not to attack other people’s hobbies because I don’t share them.
Marvel movies offer the same lessons. Maybe these filmmakers would benefit from watching a Marvel movie or two.
This sounds like the old "TV is killing the movies" bit. As I've said before, all blockbuster movies (not just superhero movies) make the money that keeps the movie houses open.
I'm surprised that Tarantino added to the piling-on. His movies are pretty big audience pleasers and have received their share of snooty disrespect. I just saw Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood. I enjoyed it immensely, including the performance of the versatile Margot Robbie. I suspect she might disagree with him about superhero movies.
This from the man who made Captain EO.
Oh, Cap, I thought the exact same thing when I read that crap from Coppola.
Also, don't forget regarding Camreon, he made his 3rd Terminator film last year. The sixth overall...
Oh well, whatever.
Thanks for rounding up -- and skewering -- all these off-the-mark complaints from august auteurs about Marvel films. I find Terry Gilliam's words especially pernicious.
A guy who has made his bones on films set in fantastical realms -- as well as one with a long, long record of problem productions and uncompleted projects -- is complaining because Marvel pulled off a vision of Africa that wasn't what an American-turned-Brit thinks it should be?
...As far as criticisms of superhero movies' popularity, this time from someone who is not a filmmaker, Bill Maher also complained a ways ago.
I haven't heard Maher's remarks, but I don't care for him anyway. I also included in the original column, and then removed (for space reasons), Jennifer Aniston's complaints that they should stop making Marvel movies and make more rom-coms. That's so obviously self-serving and witless that it's hardly worth commenting on, anyway.
Oh! Thanks, CK! Forgot about that. Yeah, my response to his Stan Lee comments can be applied to his criticism of superhero films as well.