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Disney CEO Breaks His Silence On Criticism Of Marvel Movies

Disney CEO Bob Iger has a few choice words for the filmmakers who have recently seen fit to disparage Mighty Marvel.

Speaking at the Wall Street Journal's Tech Live conference, Iger issued perhaps the most forceful defense yet of the superhero genre in general, and Marvel in particular, in the wake of unprompted attacks by the likes of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. 

First, a bit of background on the controversy, which began with an innocent question and has ballooned into an ongoing drama in recent weeks. During a sitdown with Empire magazine, Scorsese was simply asked whether or not he'd had a chance to catch up on the latest superhero flicks, which have grown to dominate pop culture since the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The great director's response was, shall we say, a bit terse.

"I tried, you know?" Scorsese said. "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."

Well, that certainly seems unnecessarily harsh — and given a chance to clarify his remarks for the benefit of his fans who might also enjoy the exploits of Captain America and Spider-Man, Scorsese helpfully... doubled down, super-hard. "It's not cinema, it's something else... We shouldn't be invaded by it. We need cinemas to step up and show films that are narrative films." 

Scorsese appeared to be of the belief that superhero films don't tell actual stories, a notion bolstered by his next comment, in which he returned to his "theme park" comparison. "Theaters have become amusement parks. That is all fine and good, but don't invade everything else in that sense. That is fine and good for those who enjoy that type of film and, by the way, knowing what goes into them now, I admire what they do. It's not my kind of thing, it simply is not. It's creating another kind of audience that thinks cinema is that."

We're going to go out on a limb to say that Scorsese is not speaking from an informed place, and Marvel filmmakers and actors from James Gunn to Samuel L. Jackson have publicly taken issue with his remarks (with Gunn pointedly expressing his surprise and sadness that Scorsese, who was boycotted by religious groups in the '80s over The Last Temptation of Christ, would be so dismissive of films he admits he hasn't seen).

The whole brouhaha may have then simmered down — if not for Scorsese's contemporary Francis Ford Coppola, who has also made some of the greatest films of all time, and who also has no patience for comic book films... even less patience, as it turns out, than Scorsese does. In a presser following his acceptance of the prestigious Prix Lumière award in Lyon, France, Coppola said: "When Martin Scorsese says that the Marvel pictures are not cinema, he's right because we expect to learn something from cinema, we expect to gain something, some enlightenment, some knowledge, some inspiration. I don't know that anyone gets anything out of seeing the same movie over and over again. Martin was kind when he said it's not cinema. He didn't say it's despicable, which I just say it is."

Okay, that goes a bit beyond the realm of "unnecessarily harsh" and waltzes straight into "egregiously mean" territory. Once again, Gunn and others leapt to the defense of their work — but they need not have bothered. Addressing the whole kerfuffle at the WSJ event, Iger simply went nuclear.

Disney's CEO went to the mat for Marvel's filmmakers

Asked if he was bothered at the vitriol being slung at Marvel by two of the most prominent filmmakers in history, Iger said that he was not — before first qualifying that response, then proving it to be an outright lie. (via Slashfilm)

"It doesn't bother me, except I'm bothered on behalf of the people who work on those movies... Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese are two people I hold in the highest regard in terms of the films that they've made, the films I've liked, the films we've all watched," Iger said.

Then, steam began to vent delicately from the CEO's ears as he really started to lean into his answer. "But when Francis uses the word 'despicable?' I reserve the word 'despicable' for someone who committed mass murder. These are movies! To whom is he talking? Is he talking to Kevin Feige, who runs Marvel? Or Taika Waititi, who directs, or Ryan Coogler, who directs for us? Or Scarlett Johansson or Chad Boseman, [or] Robert Downey, Jr.?"

Realizing that he was beginning to whistle like a teakettle, Iger attempted to dial down his anger just a touch, to no avail. "I think I've sounded a little more defensive than I wanted to be, because I don't really feel the need to defend what we're doing," he said, before launching into a passionate defense of what he is doing, both from a business and creative standpoint. 

"First of all, we're in the business of making money, we're a profitable business," he said. "At the same time, at Disney, we try to balance that with telling great stories to the world and infusing them with great values, and supporting an employee base of well over 200,000 people around the world with great care, and frankly, respect. So I just don't — I'm puzzled by it. If [Scorsese and Coppola] want to b***h about movies, it's certainly their right."

It certainly is, and it's also Iger's right to call B.S. and drop the mic, which he then proceeded to do by invoking Marvel Studios' most critically acclaimed picture. "You're telling me Ryan Coogler making Black Panther is doing something that is somehow or another less than what Marty Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola have ever done on any one of their movies? Like, come on. Yeah, I said it."

Just... wow. Look, it is a little frightening to see the blinding speed with which superhero films have taken over mainstream film. If you happen to work in that industry, you're going to have an opinion, and not everybody's opinion is going to be popular. 

But no matter what you think of superhero films, Disney, or "cinema," it's hard not to be inspired by the CEO of a megalithic corporation simply going to the mat for his employees like that, and taking on some of the biggest names in the history of his industry in doing so. We're sure the thousands of guys and gals who work hard to bring those films to their adoring fans appreciate the not-so-kind words from their big boss.

On a related note, remind us never to piss off Bob Iger.