James Gunn vs. Martin Scorsese opinions on superhero films go viral

In an interview, The Suicide Squad director James Gunn expressed his contrasting perspective versus Martin Scorsese’s opinion about superhero films as "not cinema".

The Suicide Squad just came out and is already creating a lot of buzz amongst fans and industry professionals alike. Despite the film’s theatrical box office returns falling short of expectations due to renewed pandemic fears, The Suicide Squad is garnering massive praise.

The Suicide Squad's James Gunn has something to say about Martin Scorsese's opinion on superhero as "not cinema". (Images: DC/Warner Bros. and Netflix)

But it does not stop there. Director James Gunn recently expressed his views during an interview in relation to the perception of another filmmaker, the legendary Martin Scorsese, regarding superhero films as "not cinema".

What did James Gunn have to say about Scorsese’s personal take on Marvel Studios films and on the superhero theme in movies? Check out the details below.

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War of the words

In order to get the full context, we have to look back a couple of years. James Gunn’s retort, of course, is in response to Martin Scorsese’s infamous rant in a New York Times opinion piece, voicing his disdain for superhero films back in 2019:

Scorsese went on to say that he does not watch superhero films and compared them to theme parks:

I don’t see them. I tried, you know? But that’s not cinema. Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.

The long-time movie director elaborated his own approach to films and why Marvel movies had no appeal to his creative interests, going at length as to what his idea of what counts as cinema:

For me, for the filmmakers I came to love and respect, for my friends who started making movies around the same time that I did, cinema was about revelation — aesthetic, emotional, and spiritual revelation. It was about characters — the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face-to-face with themselves.

The award-winning filmmaker has had most of his success through operatic films that focus on organized crime and street-level politics such as Taxi Driver (1976), Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), Gangs of New York (2002), and Netflix’s The Irishman (2019), among many others.

But in the last decade or so, the entertainment industry has been absolutely dominated by the superhero genre, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, in particular.

This opinion aired by the seasoned filmmaker received mixed reactions. Some have given Scorsese a pass, as he has built a legendary career in filmmaking. But others, particularly fans of the superhero genre, expressed their displeasure as to what amounted to sourgraping over the undeniably overwhelming success of a genre that the director has no interest in doing.

James Gunn’s response

But one particular director has a differing opinion about the matter of Marvel movies, and the prevalence of superhero films in general: James Gunn.

Having been a fan and a filmmaker who has done his takes on superhero films, James Gunn is hip-deep in the genre. Gunn cut his teeth working with B-movie legend producer Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma Films. As early as The Specials (2000), Gunn was an associate producer and writer of the story, as well as appearing as the superhero Minute Man for the low-budget superhero project.

Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) calling Marvel and other superhero films "not cinema" sparked debate since 2019.

Gunn's second full feature film directorial effort was the dark superhero comedy Super (2010), before getting the reins on his first big budget superhero film, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Just recently, Gunn directed The Suicide Squad for Marvel/Disney’s chief competitor, DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures.

In an interview with Josh Horowitz for his Happy Sad Confused podcast, Gunn expressed his disagreement with Scrorsese in plain terms:

Gunn stated:

I just think it seems awful cynical that he would keep coming out against Marvel and then that is the only thing that would get him press for his movie. So he 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.

However, Gunn followed up by clarifying that he means no disrespect to the veteran Scorsese, and expressing his own admiration and inspiration from the latter’s works:

He’s one of the greatest filmmakers who’s ever existed. I love his movies. I can watch his movies with no problem. And he said a lot of things I agree with. There are a lot of things that are true about what he said. There are a lot of heartless, soulless, spectacle films out there that don’t reflect what should be happening. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve talked to film directors before they went and made a big movie, and said, ‘Hey, we’re in this together, let’s do something different with these big movies.

This, of course, created a lot of buzz, particularly with The Suicide Squad’s release on August 6, 2021, just a couple of days later. Gunn’s comments contrasting Scorsese’s is not surprising, and some fans claim that Gunn was simply stating what everyone was thinking. However, Gunn further clarified his comments on his own social media. As Gunn states in a tweet:

If James Gunn can make audiences care about King Shark, surely that must be cinema!

Not the first time

This is not the first time that Gunn has sounded off against Scorsese's criticism of the superhero genre. When Scorsese first aired his comment regarding Marvel superhero movies as "not cinema", Gunn took to social media to show his disappointment that the older filmmaker had such a low appreciation for the superhero genre in movies:

Clearly, Gunn had disagreed with Scorsese’s opinions two years earlier, when the latter first aired his distaste for superhero films. Now, to Gunn’s credit, he expresses his admiration and appreciation for Scorsese’s accomplishments in both instances. But the director who has worked on both Marvel and DC superhero properties clearly disagrees with the idea that films of this genre should automatically be judged as "not cinema".

It should be noted that James Gunn is not the only filmmaker who has handled superhero properties that do not share the same perception as Martin Scorsese. Zack Snyder (Justice League), Joss Whedon (Avengers), Jon Favreau (Iron Man, Star Wars: The Mandalorian), and Kevin Smith (Masters of the Universe), and more have stated that they respect Scorsese’s opinion, but do not agree with it.

The debate on whether superhero films are legitimate, but different, forms of cinema seems to be far from over. But as far as James Gunn is concerned, it is cinema. With the positive feedback The Suicide Squad is getting both critically and through audience appreciation, he is probably right.

The Suicide Squad is now running in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service.

Geoff Borgonia
Geoffrey "Borgy" Borgonia is a veteran writer, artist, journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur based in the Philippines. When not contributing to some of the top pop culture sites on the planet, he spends the rest of his time running his business, practicing martial arts, working on and developing books, comics, and games. In his man-cave, his only luxury is sleep. Borgy on Linkedin.
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