The Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn in particular, are seeing more MCU stars come to the defense of superhero movies in the wake of directing icon Martin Scorsese’s remarks last week that genre blockbusters that rely heavily on CGI and comic book setups are “not cinema.”
Nick Fury (aka Samuel L. Jackson) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) have added their voices to those of MCU directors Joss Whedon, Peter Ramsey, and Gunn himself in defending Marvel’s big-screen track record, even while paying plenty of respect to a prolific director whose own films, from Taxi Driver to Goodfellas to The Last Temptation of Christ, have shaped and influenced their careers.
Jackson was most blunt in his reaction, telling Variety that even films from a cinematic titan like Scorsese have their detractors — just as superhero movies do. “I mean, that’s like saying Bugs Bunny ain’t funny. Films are films. Everybody doesn’t like his stuff either,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s got an opinion, so I mean it’s okay. Ain’t going to stop nobody from making movies.”
As Nebula in Avengers: Endgame, Gillan held the distinction of being a one-woman movie projector herself, playing back a captured conversation that essentially let Thanos in on the plot to go back in time and upend his universe-halving snap. So what does the actor whose role literally was cinema have to say?
“I would absolutely say that Marvel movies are cinema," Gillan told The Hollywood Reporter. ”Cinema is storytelling with visuals.”
Gillan came to Gunn’s defense especially, after the director made polite overtures to Scorsese on Twitter while still admitting he’s “saddened” that one of his big-screen heroes can’t find cinematic value in his MCU work.
“There's so much heart and soul, and it's James' soul in there," she said. ”He injects so much of his own personality, his sense of humor ... that's a very big representation of who he is as a person, and therefore it's very cinematic. He's an artist.”
Scorsese ruffled some MCU fans’ (and creatives’) feathers last week when Empire magazine released an interview in which the Raging Bull director said he just can’t get behind comic book movie spectacles.
”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," Scorsese said, explaining that he at least gave it a shot. “I don’t see them. I tried, you know?” he added. “It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”
Scorsese’s reluctance to embrace a burgeoning form of entertainment, one that’s taken root in the hearts and minds of present-day fans and creators, isn’t exactly new. Late film critic Roger Ebert famously waged a years-long debate with video game enthusiasts, maintaining that games aren’t art. And, more recently, legendary sci-fi director Steven Spielberg has stood at the forefront of a campaign to keep original features from Netflix out of the Oscars race, even as he’s praised their quality — and, evidently, their exclusive aptness — for the small screen.
We’re obviously talking to a sympathetic crowd here, but where do you come down on the whole “when is it art” debate? Is any of the emotional impact of Star-Lord’s “no you didn’t” plea with Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War — or Tony Stark’s heroic final moments in Avengers: Endgame — lost because they occur in a Marvel CGI blockbuster? Share your thoughts in the comments — and, though it’s far from genre, be on the lookout for Scorsese’s The Irishman, which premieres on Netflix on Nov. 27.