In early October, Oscar-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese stirred up a storm as powerful as those conjured by Thor’s hammer. During an interview with Empire, the director shared his opinion that Marvel Studios films are more akin to theme park rides than cinema. “It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being,” said Scorsese. In the ensuing weeks, both detractors of Marvel (Francis Ford Coppola) and its defenders (Jon Favreau) have shared their thoughts, with Scorsese expanding upon his comments in a New York Times op-ed published Nov. 4. Throughout it all, one voice has been silent, until now.
Kevin Feige, Marvel chief creative officer and the architect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is sharing his first public comments about the Scorsese debate in a wide-ranging conversation with The Hollywood Reporter awards columnist Scott Feinberg on the latest episode of the Awards Chatter podcast.
“I think that’s not true. I think it’s unfortunate,” Feige says when asked about the notion that superhero movies are a negative for cinema. “I think myself and everyone 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.”
You can listen to the full conversation here:
Since launching with 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel Studios has helped to reshape the theatrical landscape into one which critics have said leaves little room for non-franchise projects. Four of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time come from the Disney-owned studio, including Avengers: Endgame, which in July surpassed Avatar to become the highest-grossing film of all time.
While audiences have flocked to those films, Scorsese has argued they have no real stakes. “What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger,” Scorsese wrote in his Times piece. “Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.”
But Feige has long maintained that Marvel Studios seeks to make different types of films, and over the years has touted 2015’s Ant-Man as a heist film and 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier as a political thriller. In response to Scorsese, Feige brings up more recent examples of the risks the studio has taken, noting that Marvel hasn’t made an Iron Man film since 2013 and instead pitted Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark against Chris Evans’ Captain America in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
“We did Civil War. We had our two most popular characters get into a very serious theological and physical altercation,” Feige says. “We killed half of our characters at the end of a movie [Avengers: Infinity War]. I think it’s fun for us to take our success and use it to take risks and go in different places.”
Scorsese has also argued that the greatest risk a studio or financier can make is to allow a filmmaker to show his or her unified vision. He sees franchise filmmaking such as Marvel’s eliminating the delicate tension between art and commerce, and simply allowing commerce to rule. “The situation, sadly, is that we now have two separate fields: There’s worldwide audiovisual entertainment, and there’s cinema,” Scorsese wrote for the Times. “They still overlap from time to time, but that’s becoming increasingly rare.”
Feige, who does not personally know Scorsese, notes that in the end, art is a subjective thing.
“Everybody has a different definition of cinema. Everybody has a different definition of art. Everybody has a different definition of risk,” says Feige. “Some people don’t think it’s cinema. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. Everyone is entitled to repeat that opinion. Everyone is entitled to write op-eds about that opinion, and I look forward to what will happen next. But in the meantime, we’re going to keep making movies.”
The exec points to what the studio has in the pipeline as to the risks it is taking. Feige recently visited the set of WandaVision, the upcoming Disney+ show starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany that has been described as having 1950s sitcom roots.
“It is unlike anything we’ve done before. It’s unlike anything this genre has done before,” he says of WandaVision. “And yes, if you are turned off by the notion of a human having extra abilities, and that means everything in which that happens is lumped into the same category, then they might not be for you. But the truth is, these are all — like all great science-fiction stories — parables.”
Feige is currently developing shows based around Ms. Marvel — the studio’s first Muslim hero — as well as She-Hulk and Moon Knight. All three will appear on the big screen after their Disney+ debuts, the exec confirms.
Feige also points to Angelina Jolie’s The Eternals, currently being shot in the Canary Islands by filmmaker Chloe Zhao and starring characters that few outside of Marvel die-hards have heard of.
“It is a very big movie. It is a very expensive movie. And we are making it because we believe in [Zhao’s] vision and we believe in what those characters can do and we believe we need to continue to grow and evolve and change and push our genre forward,” says Feige. “That’s a risk if I’ve ever heard one.”