The acclaimed director, Martin Scorsese, once described Marvel movies as being “closer to theme parks” than movies. To him, Marvel movies are less about the art and more about the money. That is certainly an understandable take, but does that mean we should discount the franchise as just another cash-grab? There is a mix of opinions on the question of whether Marvel movies can be considered cinema, and as a regular watcher of movies with no other qualifications to make that decision, I would like to add my thoughts.
The primary purpose of a movie has always been to entertain, though Scorsese and others would argue that movies are art forms that should be seen through the lens of complex character arcs and stunning visuals. At the core of it, a movie is designed not only to entertain but to immerse the audience in the world of the film. Marvel movies are, in my opinion, an incredibly immersive experience. Don’t just take my word for it; in less than a month, Spider-Man: No Way Home has made $1.8 billion dollars putting it at the eighth spot in the list of the top 10 highest-grossing films of all time. Not bad for a “theme park” movie. I went to see Spider-Man: No Way Home on the night of its premiere, and, based on the audience, I would bet that most, if not all, of the moviegoers were thoroughly entertained.
Rotten Tomatoes is one of the most popular review sites, and critics have rated nearly every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie above 70%. Marvel fans are clearly not the only people who enjoy these movies. These films are universally loved. There has to be a reason beyond the attraction of the franchise and its notable superhero characters. One critic wrote that No Way Home is “touching, exciting, and amusing.” Another noted that the movie “has a heartbeat.”
Well, wait a minute, is it possible for a big-budget superhero movie to have both fast-paced action sequences and an emotional storyline? Of course, it can, because a Hero’s Journey is never easy. One can get lost in the surface-level superhero vs. villain fight, but there is often an underlying theme of morality that tests the limits of the heroes we love. Think for a moment of Captain America: Civil War. The plot of this film revolves around the events that took place in Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which the team practically decimated an entire country in order to stop a villain who was intent on destroying the world. The heroes were faced with the consequences of their actions and the question of whether accountability in the form of government control was worth giving up the freedom to help those in need, despite the devastating costs that often come with the job.
Now, I am certainly not saying that every Marvel movie needs to have some thoughtful underlying message, but they often do, because script-writers are human, and humans love to think. I like to finish movies asking questions about the universe and wondering what will happen next. At the same time, it is nice to walk out of a movie thinking, “Hey, that was a really fun time” because that says to me that I have escaped the drabness of real life and experienced a new world for two hours. Any form of media that can make you feel that way is art. Whether you think Marvel movies are “real cinema” is up to you, but maybe just maybe, we can all agree that movies are meant to be enjoyed, and sometimes it is just that simple.