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In defence of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

By Haris Votsis

Marvel films can and should be considered proper cinema.

When asked about the cinematic value of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films, Martin Scorsese described them as akin to “theme parks”, and a far cry from what he denoted as the “cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences”. This comparison refers to the films’ repetitive tropes, reflecting the desire of their creators to manufacture an appealing product for mass consumption. If this is the end goal of said creators, then they have succeeded marvelously (The saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to mind). But is Scorsese being unfair in his assessment? Are MCU films closer to cinema than we first think?

Let’s consider what cinema is. I recall seeing the first Bad Boys film on TV years ago and being captivated from start to finish, yelling in pure euphoric exhilaration during the climactic action sequences. I was invested in the story and the characters, the soundtrack was brilliant, and there was undeniable chemistry in every scene. The film did not necessarily have the emotional complexity of some of Scorses’s characters (think: Travis Bickle and Jake LaMotta). However, for me, and at that moment, Bad Boys was everything a film could hope to be. It was engaging, rewarding, and exhilarating; undoubtedly a cinematic experience.

The extent to which a film can be considered cinema surely depends on the impact it has on the viewer during the moment of viewing. Consequently, what constitutes a “cinematic experience” is subjective and can occur in the unlikeliest of films. Human complexity is wide-ranging; what is Casablanca to some can be Superbabies to others (and vice versa). To categorise films as having cinematic value based on certain factors tailored to specific individuals’ preferences, such as Mr Scorsese’s criterion of emotional/psychological experience, is pretentious and elitist. 

Regardless, MCU films do occasionally contain emotional scenes where the characters are forced to make sacrifices, such as Tony Stark’s climactic sequence of Endgame. These scenes can serve as a mirror through which a viewer might see himself, or appear as a reflection of someone dear. This enhances each film’s impact on the viewer, due to the subjective and personal attachment each person can make between the film and their own experiences. Repeated appearances of characters in MCU films also allows for character development, further facilitating viewer engagement as fans become more invested in the choices characters make, or the consequences they face. An example of this is the character of Peter Parker, whose friendly persona becomes a reassuring figure in the MCU universe. 

Despite the MCU’s reliance on tropes, and their occasional resemblance to a manufactured product for mass consumption, they hold cinematic appeal for millions of viewers. Its lasting popularity and success only attest to their cinematic effect. Of course, there is the possibility that these films are simply a trend, and are consumed solely out of fear of social exclusion. However, if these films are as beloved as they appear to be, and the subjectivity of cinematic value is true, it would be hard to argue against the MCU films qualifying as cinema to the millions of people who enjoy them around the world.


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