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Why Are Marvel Stars So Sensitive To Criticism?

Shang-Chi star Simu Liu sparked backlash on Twitter after his defensive response to comments made by Quentin Tarantino on a podcast, in which Tarantino laments the “Marvel-ization” of Hollywood.

Tarantino is the latest director to criticize the monolithic dominance of the MCU; appearing on the 2 Bears, 1 Cave podcast, the director pointed out that traditional movie stars are dying out, and being replaced by franchise characters. Tarantino stated:

“Part of the Marvel-ization of Hollywood is…you have all these actors who have become famous playing these characters. But they’re not movie stars. Right? Captain America is the star. Or Thor is the star… It’s these franchise characters that become a star.”

Note that Tarantino isn’t really attacking Marvel movies, but simply making the point that IP has eclipsed big-name actors, hardly a controversial observation. Marvel star Anthony Mackie (who plays the Falcon) made exactly the same point during an interview at the 2018 London Comic-Con, stating:

“There are no movie stars anymore. Like, Anthony Mackie isn’t a movie star. The Falcon is a movie star. And that’s what’s weird.”

Marvel movies have become a tediously common talking point in interviews with Hollywood celebrities, as a mildly inflammatory soundbite can fuel an entire news cycle, inevitably sparking defensive responses from Marvel actors and directors. Liu is the latest MCU star to take the bait, writing on Twitter:

“If the only gatekeepers to movie stardom came from Tarantino and Scorsese, I would never have had the opportunity to lead a $400 million plus movie. I am in awe of their filmmaking genius. They are transcendent auteurs. But they don’t get to point their nose at me or anyone.”

Liu pointed to the progress made in onscreen diversity to defend the MCU, writing:

“I loved the ‘Golden Age’ too.. but it was white as hell.”

Film fans on Twitter couldn’t bring themselves to take Liu seriously.

Others pointed out that Marvel took a great deal of time to prioritize diversity (the original Avengers cast are all white), and highlighted Martin Scorsese’s efforts to preserve world cinema.

The MCU debate is tediously familiar for any film fan, as the topic resurfaces with alarming regularity. Superhero movies, particularly Marvel movies, have become something of a shorthand for “generic blockbuster,” similar to the way the Transformers franchise used to be.

Legendary director Martin Scorsese once described the MCU as “not cinema,” and compared superhero movies to theme parks, sparking something of a controversy. Later, Scorsese clarified his comments, citing the MCU as an example of the creeping homogenization of cinema, a Disney-branded behemoth that pushes indie films out of the spotlight.

Scorsese, who has done an incredible amount of work in film preservation, seems to have really struck a nerve with Marvel’s biggest names and most fervent fans, who insist on taking his comments as a personal attack, rather than a criticism of the current state of cinema.

Many of Marvel’s biggest names have had some kind of defensive response to Scorsese’s comments. Chris Evans (Captain America) said: “It’s like saying a certain type of music isn’t music. Who are you to say that?” Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) said that not “everybody loves [Scorsese’s] movies either.”

Avengers and Age of Ultron director Joss Whedon tweeted: I revere Marty, & I do see his point, but… Well there’s a reason why ‘I’m always angry.’” Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn said: “[Scorsese] just kept coming out against Marvel so that he could get press for his movie. He’s creating his movie in the shadow of the Marvel films, and so he uses that to get attention for something he wasn’t getting as much attention as he wanted for it.”

Disney CEO Bob Iger called Scorsese’s comments “nasty” and “not fair to the people who are making the movies.”

Mark Ruffalo, who plays the Hulk in the MCU, had the most insightful response to the controversy, correctly identifying that Scorsese’s problem is not specifically with Marvel, but the marketplace warping the shape of art. Ruffalo stated:

“If we’re living in a world where economics are how we measure the value of a society, then yeah, whoever makes the biggest thing is going to dominate. They are going to try and keep making it again and again. In that article [Scorsese] said something really interesting, and I wish he took it all the way. He said, ‘I am not suggesting that we subsidize films.’ But that’s exactly what he’s suggesting. We should have a national endowment of the arts that gives money to another kind of cinema and does support another kind of cinema.”

In the aforementioned podcast interview, Tarantino went on to say that the MCU would have very much appealed to him if he was still a young man, and avid comic-book collector, but he is concerned by the fact that Marvel manages to dominate pop culture discussion, to the detriment of, well, everything else:

“Look, I used to collect Marvel comics like crazy when I was a kid,” he said. “There’s an aspect that if these movies were coming out when I was in my twenties, I would totally be f**king happy and totally love them … But, you know, I’m almost 60, so yeah. No, I’m not quite as excited about them. My only ax to grind against them is they’re the only things that seem to be made. And they’re the only things that seem to generate any kind of excitement amongst a fan base or even for the studio making them.”

Tarantino is (gently) criticizing the MCU, but he doesn’t seem to be doing so in bad faith. His concerns are legitimate, and the fact that his comments can inspire so many headlines, and a direct response from Liu, proves his point; Marvel always attracts an incredible amount of attention, even if it’s always the same story, being regurgitated over, and over again.

Marvel movies still dominate the box office and receive generous ratings from film critics; considering the incredible strength and influence of the franchise, it’s a bit of a mystery why Marvel stars feel the need to defend the MCU so passionately.

After all, they’ve already won.




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