Today we're going to deviate from our usual gaming-focused topics because a very interesting discussion on the site's forum gave me the reason to write some things about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, what is considered real cinema and what is the message we as viewers are getting. Renowned director Martin Scorsese some time ago expressed the view that Marvel films "are not cinema," later clarifying in a related article that "cinema is about characters - the complexity of people, their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical nature, the ways they can hurt or love each other and in the end come face to face with themselves." It's a beautiful phrase that encapsulates the main reasons why the cinematic genre of drama - I use the English word to emphasize that we're talking about the film genre, not the ancient Greek theater - monopolizes the film awards every year. It explores, it moves, it touches, it critiques. But does this mean that no other genre has the right to be called "cinema"?
Before I go any further, let's state the obvious: Surely the average MCU film cannot be considered as weighty to art and culture as a drama from a legend like Scorsese. A drama has the focus and luxury of devoting its 2+ hours of running time to exploring and analyzing its characters. Conversely, a blockbuster (whether we're talking about a Marvel film or classic 80s action titles) seeks to thrill the audience with action, effects, impressive sequences. Both genres ultimately seek to entertain in its broadest sense, but dramas are more interested in exploring their subject matter and delivering their message to the viewer's mind rather than entertaining them. The distinction and controversy between 'high' and 'popular' art is certainly not a new phenomenon, and here perhaps a gap in Scorsese's argument can be found, as American cinema in particular has had a tradition of creating blockbusters almost since its dawn. From the historical epics of the 1950s and Steven Spielberg's Jaws, which gave birth to the term blockbuster, to today's super-productions, Hollywood has always had films that put spectacle first.
All that aside, however, I'm not going to get into the debate about whether Marvel movies are "garbage", as a friend on the forum called them. Anyone who has settled on an opinion on this subject isn't waiting for me to write a couple of lines in order to change it. We each have our own criteria, our own preferences and opinions, our own thinking, so we are free to judge any media as we see fit. After all, as gamers we all know very well how opinions on a game can differ, one man's masterpiece is another man's trash. So I prefer to make an argument for why Marvel movies and series, no matter how high quality one considers them, are important to all of us. For the society we have and for the society we want to have.
Marvel films are aimed at a wide, global audience and therefore have the privilege of being able to influence tens of millions of people with their messages. So what do we see in a superhero movie? Ordinary people who acquire supernatural powers and decide to put them at the service of humanity. People with flaws, with problems, with dilemmas and instincts who nevertheless try to put their lives in order and contribute to the common good. People who face and fight serious social issues, who put their ideals above personal gain. People who come across the dark part of themselves and overcome it. Films with mass appeal and huge audiences tell us all to "try to be a better person and care about those around you."
Tony Stark is a self-absorbed, self-righteous arms dealer who comes face to face with the consequences of his actions. His story ends with him sacrificing himself, leaving behind wealth, family and personal happiness to save his fellow man. Steve Rogers begins as a soldier who blindly wants to serve his country. He ends up as a man who learns to appreciate the joys of life. Thor believed his destiny was to be a king, eventually he accepts that he must love who he really is. Marvel films have spoken to us about the irresponsibility of the global commercial-military lobby, the dangers of mass surveillance and control, the guilty past of colonialism, the consequences of the powerful's indifference for the weak. These issues were commented on with a light touch, of course. Superficially, one might say, without the depth that a drama with similar themes would have. I don't disagree. But it is important to consider how powerful the message being sent is and how effective the message is when it is conveyed through films that the whole world sees.
Even if these films provide a simple stimulus, for some it will be enough for them to delve and expand into other works with a fuller analysis. Some, many, will stop there, but even in this case that initial stimulus has great value. Generations of children, teens, adults watch and love characters who want to do good, who want to give. Is there anything more beautiful than that?