The Incredible Hulk Star Agrees With Some of Martin Scorsese’s Marvel Criticisms, But It's Unfair to Dismiss Superhero Movies as "Not Cinema"

The Incredible Hulk star Tim Blake Nelson, who played scientist Samuel Sterns, the future big-brained Leader, admits to the existence of an “artist by committee aspect to superhero movies” that can threaten the authorship of auteur filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, who criticized Marvel movies when he said “amusement park” movies are “not cinema.” But Nelson, who now stars in HBO’s graphic novel-inspired television series Watchmen, says it’s unfair to dismiss Marvel or other superhero movies, arguing such works can be “gorgeously artistic” and “absolutely cinematic.”

“I think of course they can be cinema,” Nelson told BUILD Series when asked about Scorsese’s commentary. “I love Martin Scorsese’s movies, I’ve seen every one of them, I will see every one of them. I think he is an extraordinary man and an extraordinary filmmaker, one of the best who’s ever breathed.”

And Scorsese, who made his comments when promoting gangster epic The Irishman, “redefined what the gangster movie is.”

“When he has gone outside of that genre, the movies he’s made have been extraordinary. Does he make cinema, in the highest sense? Yes, absolutely,” Nelson continued, adding an op-ed piece Scorsese penned in The New York Times defending his position was a “great and persuasive piece of rhetoric.”

“But I think that a movie like Logan is cinema,” Nelson said. “And I think that there are images that appear in the Marvel movies that are absolutely cinematic.”

In the op-ed, Scorsese — who earlier admitted he doesn’t watch Marvel movies — explained those movies are lacking the elements that “define cinema” as he knows it. Scorsese also wrote Marvel movies are “everything that the films of Paul Thomas Anderson or Claire Denis or Spike Lee or Ari Aster or Kathryn Bigelow or Wes Anderson are not.”

Scorsese’s biggest worry: superhero movies are “taking over” the theaters, leaving less screens for filmmakers.

“Where I do agree with him is that, because there’s so much money involved, I think that, yes, there’s a kind of… artist by committee aspect to superhero movies that can threaten the sort of authorship that Martin Scorsese, or Francis Ford Coppola, or the Coen brothers, or Paul Thomas Anderson, many of these artists have,” Nelson said. “And I think once that gets threatened, that’s probably not good, in certain respects, for the risks that you want an artist to be able to take in the film medium. That, to me, was his most persuasive, trenchant point. With that I agree, and I think that’s an issue.”

Despite that concession, “You see images in the most cynical superhero movie that are gorgeously artistic.”

“They occur and therefore, since those images are cinema, or cinematic, I’m not sure you can so easily dismiss Marvel movies or superhero movies as prima facie, just not cinema,” Nelson said. “I don’t think that’s fair, and I’m not sure really how useful it is.”

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Nelson next appears alongside Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther), Brie Larson (Captain Marvel) and Jamie Foxx (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) in legal drama Just Mercy, in select theaters Dec. 25 and everywhere Jan. 10.

Photo credit: Matt Winkelmeyer / WireImage