Marvel Chief Creative Officer Kevin Feige has finally weighed in on whether or not he believes the series of films he has been overseeing for years, which he refers to as the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” qualifies as cinema. It turns out he thinks it does! Feige was speaking to the Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg for his Awards Chatter podcast when Martin Scorsese’s recent comments about Marvel came up. Here’s what he had to say:
Scott Feinberg: There’s been this, obviously, news cycle very recently with some comments by Martin Scorsese, and I just have to ask you, “What do you say to—”
Kevin Feige: [Laughs]I haven’t heard about this. What is this?
SF: Just, well, I mean, the fact that there are some people out there who feel—and I know they’re probably quite a minority—but that superhero movies are detrimental to the business. That in some ways, it’s been overrun by remakes and sequels and adaptations. Or that people are dating movies before having the concept. What is the response to that? To Scorsese, to people who feel that superhero movies are not a positive thing?
KF: I think that’s not true. I think it’s unfortunate. I think myself and everybody who works on these movies loves cinema, loves movies, loves going to the movies, loves to watch a communal experience in a movie theater full of people. And we’ve been very lucky that our movie theaters are often full of people when our movies play, and that’s a very special thing. I love all types of movies and always have, which is why we try to blend our films with different genres and take the success that we’ve had and do different things. Which is why we haven’t made an Iron Man movie since 2013. We did Civil War. We had our two favorite, most popular characters get into a very serious theological and physical altercation. We killed half of our characters at the end of a movie. I mean, I think it’s fun for us to take our success and use it to take risks and go in different places. Everybody has a different definition of cinema, everybody has a different definition of art, everybody has a different definition of risk, I guess. All I know is I’m surrounded by people twenty-four hours a day who live and breathe and love cinema. And some people don’t think it’s cinema. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, everyone’s entitled to repeat that opinion, everyone’s entitled to write op-eds about that opinion, and I look forward to what will happen next. And in the meantime, we’re going to keep making movies.
While Feige avoids the excesses of some of his compatriots in responding to Scorsese—people were seriously suggesting that Scorsese should quit complaining and do something to promote cinema himself—everyone still seems to be talking past one another. Scorsese’s op-ed made the following points:
• The movies Scorsese loves are “about revelation—aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual revelation” and “the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures.”
• Although Hollywood movies have always had “thrills and shocks,” Scorsese thinks the best tentpoles of earlier eras—e.g., Hitchcock movies—were concerned with the lives of human beings in ways Marvel movies are not.
• The scale and cost of Marvel movies requires them to play on thousands of screens, pushing other films out.
• That same scale and cost makes producers less likely to take risks with the form or the content of the films themselves; instead, they are built-to-order experiences more akin to thrill rides, a genre Scorsese calls “Worldwide Audiovisual Entertainment.”
• The popularity and financial success of superhero movies are too often offered as proof that the movies are good art.
To this, Feige offers the following rebuttal:
• Everyone working on the Marvel movies loves cinema.
• Marvel movies take risks by incorporating elements from different genres.
• Many people go to see Marvel movies, which is good for preserving the theatrical experience.
• Captain America: Civil War is about “a very serious theological and physical altercation.”
None of this is responsive to Scorsese’s comments, except for his general characterization of “some in the business” as having an “absolute indifference to the very question of art and an attitude toward the history of cinema that is both dismissive and proprietary.” Feige says that’s not the attitude he personally holds or sees in the people he makes Marvel movies with, which, fine. But however much Feige and the Marvel filmmakers love movies, their work enables a corporation that holds exactly the attitude Scorsese described: Disney is quite literally using the money it makes from Marvel films to buy the rights to old movies, then preventing the public from watching them in theaters. The rest of this comes down to taste: Very serious theological altercations are wherever you find them, and if Kevin Feige finds them in Captain America: Civil War’s interminable airport fight, well, that’s between him and his Captain America. But that’s not the only point Scorsese was making.