The ongoing battle between New Hollywood and Superhero Hollywood heated up on Saturday, as Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola told journalists in Lyon, France, that he finds Marvel movies “despicable.” Coppola, in France to receive the Prix Lumière at the Lumière Film Festival, joined a fracas started by his fellow New Hollywooder Martin Scorsese earlier in the month, when the Taxi Driver director told Empire magazine that he’d tried watching Marvel movies but didn’t consider them cinema, or at least not the “cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.” Scorsese compared Marvel movies to theme parks, which can at least be fun, but Coppola went further, according to France 24:
When Martin Scorsese says that 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. 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.
Coppola’s remarks have sparked another round of responses from filmmakers and fans on the pro-Marvel side of the aisle, most notably Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn. When Scorsese made his comments, Gunn tweeted that he was “saddened” and reminded of the people who picketed The Last Temptation of Christ. In the ensuing weeks, he seems to have decided that this is simply a generational conflict, writing on Instagram on Saturday that John Ford, Sam Peckinpah, and Sergio Leone were similarly unappreciated by their elders:
Meanwhile, Judd Apatow, who hasn’t yet directed a Marvel film, made the same argument in a slightly crueler fashion:
There are so many different cultural, psychological, and generational conflicts wrapped up in this spat over Marvel movies it’s difficult to even enumerate them. The least interesting part is the dispute over taste—James Gunn enjoys watching Marvel movies, Martin Scorsese does not—which is a waste of everyone’s time. Another part, slightly less dull, is the systemic way Marvel defenders treat critiques of the MCU’s mode of production—the slate-devouring budgets, the multifilm contracts, the heavy-handed franchise management—as a dispute over taste. Then there’s the smarm front, as bloody as ever, as fans of superhero movies, the dominant cultural form of the age, reveal once again that their confidence in their own taste is so fragile they get angry when their opinions are not held unanimously. There’s the “plague on both your houses” camp, arguing that Scorsese’s gangster movies and Gunn’s superhero movies are rotten fruit from the same toxic masculine tree. There’s the usual “make dad finally love me” generational strife that’s an unavoidable part of any conversation between elder statesmen and up-and-coming statesmen. And of course, there are people who position themselves as somehow above the fray in insufferable news posts, while pretty clearly leaning to one side or the other based on nothing more than their personal tastes, which, again, are by definition not subject to meaningful dispute.
In other words, although there’s no sign this argument about Marvel movies will ever become a meaningful or interesting conversation that improves anyone’s understanding of filmmaking, art, commerce, or life in general, we can expect it to continue at a deafening volume for the rest of our lives, occasionally rising to the level of “mildly entertaining” by bombast alone. Stay tuned for next week’s installment, when we’ll find out what Peter Bogdanovich thought of Avengers: Age of Ultron as the Marvel Discourse enters Phase Four!