The opposite paths undertaken by what could be called the old-school cinema and the multi-billion dollar superhero films, which have now spawned a bonafide universe of its own, were meant to bump into each other.
There have been numerous occasions in the past where the two squared-off against each other such as leading film festivals like Cannes refusing to play films produced by non-traditional platforms (read Netflix) or Steven Spielberg urging the powers that be to not allow movies that aren't made for the big screen the same honours bestowed upon the likes of him.
As 2019 ends, it could well be documented as the year where the two worlds finally collided, and while there were no victors or losers, not yet, at least, the stage has been set for the biggest face-off between the two worlds. The schism between what is considered cinema and mere entertainment has become more pronounced in the last couple of years. In October 2019, Martin Scorsese commented that Marvel movies were not 'cinema' and compared them to theme parks.
Considering that Scorsese is regarded as not only one of the greatest auteurs ever, but also a legendary cinephile, his words seemed to matter more than anything else that had been said on the issue. After Scorsese's comments, celebrated filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola and Ken Loach also expressed their views, which were far less flattering. Unlike Scorsese, who said that he tried but failed to watch the new brand of superhero films, Coppola labelled them 'despicable' and pondered if anyone got anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again.
The British director, Ken Loach, dubbed them 'boring' and nothing to do with the art of cinema and felt they were 'commodities like hamburgers'. Expectedly, there was much criticism of Scorsese's comments from the 'other' side as the cinema legend had criticised a genre that only a few months ago had delivered the highest-grossing film in history, Avengers: Endgame that raked in a whopping $2.8 billion at the global box-office.
The remarks pivoted on two broad themes - commercial success and level of fan engagement. The head of Marvel, Kevin Feige, felt that it was easy to brush away the Marvel Universe films simply because they did not win awards and were laden with special effects.
It's not like superhero films haven't attracted much love from the classicists; Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy laid the foundation for interpreting films about comic book heroes in an entirely new light. This year's big-ticket film, the gritty and realism-laden Joker, was a film that Scorsese considered coproducing with director Todd Phillips when it was first announced in 2017.
Perhaps the traditionalists are not too keen on making the narrative SFX-heavy or working on a somewhat assembly-line style. It would be interesting to see how in the days to come Ava DuVernay's adaptation of DC's New Gods could add a new layer to interpreting the superhero in real-world terms.
The back and forth between team Scorsese and team Marvel carried on for a few weeks. There were op-ed pieces dedicated to defending and counter-attacking the arguments made by both sides.
The Oscar fight
For a brief period, the Marvel backers played the underdog card to get the upper hand. Soon, the critical success of The Irishman, Scorsese's latest big-ticket offering, buoyed the ones who believed, for want of a more suitable expression, in the 'purity' of cinema. The budget for Scorsese's three-and-a-half-hour gangster epic is $175 million, which is eye-watering by any standard as it doesn't feature any costumed superhero. Up until now, the argument between the two schools of thought had been limited to what was said and how it was said. The audiences' acceptance of Marvel heroes, and the extent of their appreciation, somewhere made the critics maintain a safe distance and not 'judge' them on the lines of a Scorsese or Coppola. This could change to some extent in 2020 for a host of reasons.
The Marvels of the world would love a seat at the high table (read awards) to look the purists in the eye, while the likes of the Academy would find it challenging to ignore Scorsese's The Irishman when it comes to next year's Oscars nominations. If the Academy acknowledges Avengers but not The Irishman, which features a bravura performance by Joe Pesci or vice versa, you would know if the theme parks have ceased to be amusing or if the old school can still pack a punch. Get the popcorn ready, the fight isn't over yet.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)