For any action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and when it comes to opinions of artistic merit that often comes in the shape of renowned artists denouncing what is trendy and popular as unartistic.
In the world of filmmaking, the most recent instance of this phenomenon entails multiple big name directors denouncing comic book superhero movies. The popularity of such films did not spring up overnight, however, so this begs a major question: Why now?
Although artistic derision of franchise blockbusters is not necessarily new, with Steven Spielberg saying superhero films were a fad that would soon pass into obscurity back in 2015, there has certainly been a flare up in the past month. Martin Scorsese made a controversial comparison between MCU films and "theme parks," then later doubled down on his comments by saying they were inartistic and devoid of expression. Though Scorsese's comments attracted much criticism, fellow famed director Francis Ford Coppola backed up Scorsese's comments and went even further, calling such films "despicable."
What really changed recently to spur on such comments? Superhero films have been popular for two decades now, easily. Even before the MCU's birth with Iron Man in 2008, the Spider-Man and X-Men movies rocked box offices leading up to then. The main difference now may not just be that the films are so popular, but that they are receiving such serious critical attention. Not only is Joker generating Oscar buzz, but last year saw Black Panther become the first superhero film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.
The directors denouncing Marvel movies aren't known as major box office blockbusters, but as critical darlings. With superhero films receiving greater critical praise, the change in the climate that spurs on such comments could be that the films are increasingly encroaching on their "territory." It's one thing for the MCU to be popular with audiences, but maybe another once they're popular with critics.
However, even then, Coppola's comments are particularly puzzling given that Coppola himself reacted positively towards Black Panther during an early screening with its director, Ryan Coogler. Martin Scorsese was even known to show great interest in directing Joker before Todd Phillips was attached. It seems clear that despite the broad nature of their comments, both directors seem separately capable of recognizing the artistic potential of such films. As James Gunn aptly pointed out, the early successes that made the careers of both directors were even works in a genre that were previously derided by earlier generations, with gangster movies dismissed as simple-minded and violent before The Godfather and Goodfellas solidified the legitimacy of the genre.
There does seem to be some legitimacy in the criticisms proposed by the directors in that the popularity of such films elbow out competition and homogenize cinema in a way antithetical to diverse experimentation. Even then, however, such big name directors are not exactly the best source to make such criticisms. Neither Coppola nor Scorsese will ever have any difficulty getting a film made with their names attached, and while the criticism has legitimacy it would be far less hypocritical coming from an indie-filmmaker or someone just starting out in the business than two of the biggest names that ever hit the silver screen.
Cynically enough, it's possible that what motivates the directors' comments is not some cry for artistic integrity or disenchantment with the tastes of film-goers, but precisely the same profit-driven nature they seek to criticize. Scorsese's comments are attached to promotional appearances for his new film The Irishman, a passion project he has worked on for years that will debut soon on Netflix.
Coppola's own comments come on the heels of talking about his project Megalopolis, which he describes as his "most ambitious film" yet with a budget far exceeding Apocalypse Now. Rocking the MCU boat is an easy way for such established directors to attract attention to their own projects, and when evaluating their comments it's important to keep this in mind. Even if they seem critical of the industry, fans should always keep it at the forefront of their mind that these men are the industry.