Did Marvel kill 'smart' cinema?

Film editor Elisabetta Pulcini gives us her take on the impact of superhero movies on cinema following Martin Scorsese & Francis Ford Coppola's divisive comments.

Elisabetta Pulcini
27th October 2019
Image: Wikimedia commons
Francis Ford Coppola has expressed disdain for superhero movies, worrying in particular about their "invasion" of cinemas. While the merits of the movies themselves can be debated, the distrust laid by studios on original content in favor of a continuous rehash of recognizable IP is a creative tragedy.

Legendary director Francis Ford Coppola.  Image: Wikimedia commons

Although Scorsese and Coppola’s comments may come off as unfair generalizations, in calling Marvel movies "Despicable" and "Theme park rides", his concern for the way cinema is changing is valid. In fact, the main problem is not with superheroes themselves, as much as it is in the homogeneity of MCU films.

Due to all being part of the same cinematic universe, there is no doubt that Marvel movies all seem to have a specific look and feel to them, which does not allow for much variation from its pre-determined tone. Even the homogeneity of one film franchise would not be bothersome, did it not come from Disney. Especially considering their recent acquisition of Fox, the idea of a monopoly on cinema by one studio is real and troublesome.

In fact, the variety that a genre like superheroes has the potential to offer is instantly killed the second Disney is in creative control, due to their unbreakable tie to being a family-friendly brand, and their cynical concern with merchandising. In fact, films like Joker (2019) and Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse (2018), who have both gathered commercial and critical success, are incredibly daring projects that would not be encouraged by Disney, who seeks to create one homogenous universe.

2019's Joker. An example of a 'smart' Superhero movie? Image: IMDB

Considering how we are living in the ‘golden age of television’, it is not surprising that movies are adapting to a serialized way of story-telling. And while many studios failed miserably in creating their own money-making universe, Marvel is doing it successfully. The effect Marvel is having on the industry explains the hatred many feel towards the studio. In fact, more and more studios seem to be attempting a recreation of the big events by relying on recognizable IP, rather than actually good movies. A perfect example is Jurassic World (2015).

A complete bastardisation of the themes presented in the original, this movie butchers the legacy of the visionary Jurassic Park (1993), and demonstrates just how bad blockbuster movies can be with no strong creative vision to guide them. Despite the abysmal execution, Jurassic World is still one of the top ten highest grossing movies of all time. It is rare these days to come across a good movie with an original concept that dominates the box office. At the same time, television is breaking those boundaries, and delivering more original content than ever before. It seems that studios feel that the only way to attract people to the cinema is to create big events starring their favourite characters. Depressingly enough, out of the top ten highest grossing movies of 2019 in the United States, Us is the only one to not be tied to a recognizable IP.

The Irishman director Martin Scorsese. Image: Wikimedia commons.

This is not to say that Marvel movies are cannot be good: Black Panther (2018) and Captain America: Civil War (2016) sought to convey relevant discussions, through complicated characters and realistic relationships that the audiences have come to know and love. However, despite directors having been granted greater creative control, these movies can still be hindered by the fact that they are made by Disney. For example, the third act of Black Panther is beneath the message of the movie: instead of focusing on the discussion between T’Challa and Killmonger, the film ends on a generic Marvel showdown which, despite the moving death scene of the antagonist, cheapens both the characters and the themes.

The prevalence of one genre at the box office is not new. Superheroes are popular the way cowboys were in the 1950s and '60s. However, while Hollywood has not given up on smart films, it is seemingly giving up on supporting original content.


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AUTHOR: Elisabetta Pulcini
Film Editor 19/20 and Law (LLB) graduate. An Italian passionate about journalism and the law: always up for a debate. @ElisabettaPul

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