As any entertainment journalist who has interviewed James Gunn will tell you, the director of comic book adaptations “Guardians of the Galaxy” and the upcoming “The Suicide Squad” is never shy about answering questions honestly and unreservedly. It’s a rare quality in such a public and successful figure in the entertainment industry, especially when so many interviewees today carefully mitigate and sanitize their answers to avoid all chance of possible controversy.
Like, for example, what happened on Wednesday when veteran entertainment journalist Josh Horowitz released an excerpt from his podcast interview with Gunn. In the clip, Horowitz asks Gunn what it’s like to always be the one defending superhero movies from people like Martin Scorsese, who infamously said in October 2019, while promoting his film “The Irishman,” that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is “not cinema,” comparing superhero movies to theme parks.
Gunn could have demurred by politely noting that — like the rest of Film Twitter — he weighed in on Scorsese’s remarks at the time, when he tweeted, “I was outraged when people picketed ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ without having seen the film. I’m saddened that he’s now judging my films in the same way” while also calling Scorsese “one of my 5 favorite living filmmakers.”
Instead, Gunn said that Scorsese’s remarks — which the Oscar-winning director doubled down on a month later in a New York Times opinion piece — were an “awful cynical” attempt to use Marvel as a way to draw attention to “The Irishman.”
— Josh Horowitz (@joshuahorowitz) August 4, 2021
“He just kept coming out against Marvel so that he could get press for his movie,” Gunn said. “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.”
It didn’t matter that, once again, Gunn praised Scorsese’s peerless skill as a filmmaker, or that Gunn said that he agreed with a lot of Scorsese’s criticism that “there are a lot of heartless, soulless spectacle films out there that don’t reflect what should be happening.”
The twitterpation got so heated that, less than eight hours later, Gunn felt compelled to clarify his remarks, heaping further praise on Scorsese as “probably the world’s greatest living American filmmaker” while noting that they disagree “solely on one point: That films based on comic books are innately not cinema.”
Also for the record, Martin Scorsese is probably the world’s greatest living American filmmaker. I love & study his films & will continue to love & study his films. I disagree with him solely on one point: That films based on comic books are innately not cinema, that’s all. 🙏 https://t.co/By9IBe8HAm
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) August 4, 2021
The endless battle over whether superhero movies exist outside the artform of cinema is built for Twitter and a media economy driven by instant controversy and easy outrage, so it’s no surprise that it kicked up again almost two years later. What’s fascinating is that even though feelings are still raw on both sides of this debate — heck, no less than Film Twitter lightning rod Zack Snyder was pulled into the fracas — so many people seem to basically agree that many (not all!) superhero movies exist as works of commerce exclusively rather than works of art. “Black Widow” director Cate Shortland even told Variety in July that she agreed with Scorsese that Marvel Studios’ films aren’t quite movies in the traditional sense — though her remarks, perhaps more delicately put, didn’t receive nearly the same attention as Gunn’s did.
Gunn also isn’t wrong to point out that Scorsese chose to weigh in again on Marvel, nor that discourse on “The Irishman” wasn’t exactly burning up the internet absent this controversy to stoke it. Of course, Gunn was asked about Scorsese while promoting his own movie, and elected to speak his mind rather knowing that his works could — and did — re-ignite an argument that, like so many superheroes, refuses to die.