IIs Quentin Tarantino just the latest in a long line of auteur filmmakers being savaged by Twitter for daring to challenge the ongoing hegemony of superhero films at the global box office? That’s the story you might think you’ll be reading from various reports this week, including this article in the Hollywood Reporter.
“I don’t love them,” Tarantino told Tom Segura’s podcast 2 Bears, 1 Cave when asked about superhero movies. “No, I will not do that. I don’t hate her. But I don’t love her. I mean, look, I used to collect Marvel comics like crazy as a kid. There’s an aspect that if these movies came out when I was in my 20’s I would be totally happy and totally loving them. [But] It wouldn’t be the only films being made, it would be these films alongside other films. I’m almost 60, so I’m not that keen on them.
“My only challenge is that they seem to be the only things that seem made,” Tarantino continued. “And they’re the only things that seem to generate any sort of excitement from a fan base or even from the studios that make them… So it’s just the fact that they’re the entire representation of that era of film right now.” There’s not really much room for anything else. That’s my problem. It’s a representation problem.”
“Part of the Marvelization of Hollywood is that all these actors who have become famous are playing these characters,” he added. “But they’re not movie stars, are they? Captain America is the star. Thor is the star. I’m not the first to say that. I think that’s been said a million times, but it’s those franchise characters [that] become a star.
“In 2005, if an actor is in a movie that’s doing as well as the Marvel movies, that guy is an absolute star. It means people like him or her and want to see them in things. Sandra Bullock is in Speed and everyone thought she was great in it. Everyone fell in love with her… They were smitten with Sandra Bullock and wanted to see her in something different. That is not the case now. We want to see the guy [keep] Play Wolverine or whatever.”
Regular readers of this column will recall that we’ve been here (sort of) before, when Martin Scorsese started the original anti-Marvel furor with comments during his Bafta David Lean talk in October 2019. The venerable director described the cinema as “like ‘amusement parks’ thanks to a glut of superhero films. In an interview with Empire, he went even further, saying, “The value of a movie that’s like a theme park movie, like the Marvel-esque imagery where the theaters become the theme parks, that’s a different experience…it’s not a cinema , it is something different.”
Francis Ford Coppola later tailed off with comments he made to journalists in Lyon after accepting the Prix Lumière for his contribution to cinema.
“When Martin Scorsese says the Marvel movies aren’t cinema, he’s right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration,” said the director of Apocalypse Now and the Godfather Trilogy. “I don’t know if there’s any benefit in watching the same movie over and over again. Martin was nice when he said it wasn’t a cinema. He didn’t say what I’m saying is despicable.”
Tarantino’s comments have notably drawn the ire of Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings star Simu Liu, who wrote on Twitter, “If Tarantino and Scorsese were the only gatekeepers to movie stardom, I never would have had the opportunity.” to direct a $400+ million film. I admire her cinematic genius. They are transcendent authors. But they can’t point their noses at me or anyone. No film studio is or ever will be perfect. But I’m proud to work with a company that has made a sustained effort to improve diversity on screen by creating heroes who empower and inspire people of all communities, everywhere. I loved the golden age too… but it was white as hell.”
Liu has a point, of course, and yet I think the majority of commentators on the Farrago have missed Tarantinos quite a bit. The Pulp Fiction director doesn’t claim that Marvel regulars aren’t movie stars because they lack presence or the requisite thespian nous. He laments a lost era where movie buffs watched the latest Cary Grant or Tom Cruise movie instead of the new Thor or Iron Man flick.
Tarantino has always been drawn to a magnetic screen presence. That’s why he’s revitalized the careers of so many Hollywood stars, from John Travolta to Daryl Hannah and the late David Carradine. He wants us to shudder with joy at seeing the once-and-to-be-famous face before us, now reimagined through a filter of beautifully choreographed, gory-soaked drama and with six times as many perfectly concocted lines as any of the films we once used them for knew.
Noting that Marvel actors aren’t actually movie stars is an almost stereotypical Tarantino-esque statement. He mourns the loss of a system that has given him so much, for the filmmaker is none other than a supremely talented magpie, cutting in half the best parts of cinema of yore and reconfiguring them in such a stylish and carefree way that the result often surpasses the original.
But in the superhero world there is nothing for him to grab, nothing to steal, because the stars here are the cartoon characters fans have known and loved for decades, not their performers.
So future Tarantinos might struggle a bit. The rest of us (and Marvel) will likely do just fine.