This article is part of our 2019 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from 2019.
The old saying goes, opinions are like assholes; everyone’s got one. And if you’ve watched Twitter and social media evolve over the last decade, you’ll notice that we have more opinions than ever before. But we’ve become preoccupied with viewing our strong opinions – and the opinions of others – through a divisive lens we call the Hot Take. And no other take was hotter in 2019 then the bomb that Martin Scorsese dropped on the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In October, during an interview with Empire magazine on the press tour for his Netflix film The Irishman, Scorsese gave us this spicy soundbite about superhero movies:
“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.”
Yikes. The New York Times aptly summarizes hot takes as a “hastily assembled but perhaps heartfelt piece of incendiary opinionated content.” Incendiary may be an understatement in how Scorsese’s comments were perceived. Fans were rightly pissed, denouncing them as out of touch at best and stupid gatekeeping at worst.
Take: the Scorsese take is #dumb and #stupid and pretentious gate-keeping. By definition, "cinema" means… a movie or film. The MCU is made up of 23 (and counting) movies. Therefore, MCU movies are cinema because all moves are cinema. That's how logic works.
— Sagar Trika (@BlazersBySagar) October 4, 2019
He did have a contingency of defenders, though, namely Francis Ford Coppola who doubled down with this little nugget: “Martin was kind when he said it’s not cinema. He didn’t say it’s despicable, which I just say it is.”
But it wasn’t just the fans that took offense to his take; directors, actors, and writers all spoke out on Marvel’s behalf. James Gunn drew allusions to the disreputability in the 1970s of gangster films, a subgenre Scorsese built his career on. Kevin Smith pointed to the director’s provocative 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ as having a similar structure to the superhero narrative. “Of course they are cinema! They are at the movies!” exclaimed Taika Waititi in what was perhaps the most succinct response to the controversy.
So why did this statement get under so many people’s skin? After all, it’s just one man’s opinion. Obviously, Scorsese’s clout and legacy have something to do with it. He’s considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time with a respected opinion. So hearing him say something that is so at odds with our own experience watching a film is disappointing.
But I also think it’s more complicated than just frustration from someone else’s opinion. We enjoy making and hearing bold claims because they say as much about ourselves as they do about the films we are discussing. So when we hear a hot take that we find offensive, it feels like an inherent part of who we are is being criticized. Anger Management Specialist Ed Schild says, “Each of us has an unconscious need to be right. Therefore, too many of us can’t handle daily challenges because we interpret them as personal attacks.”
Scorsese’s appraisal of the MCU was internalized by its fans in such a way that it felt like his words were specifically directed at them. This is, in part, a result of viewing opposing opinions as takedowns; it makes us constantly feel like we have to defend what we appreciate. And, much like Twitter, that gets really exhausting, really fast.
So as we face down a tumultuous new year, how can we begin to recontextualize the way we discuss strong film opinions online?
It could start with breaking from our 280-character limit way of thinking. A lot of hot takes would have been extinguished if we initially took more time and consideration with what we were saying and how it might be perceived. Kind of like the consideration that Scorsese would eventually give in his clarifying op-ed. He said:
“I was asked a question about Marvel movies. I answered it. I said that I’ve tried to watch a few of them and that they’re not for me[…]”
“They’re not for me” is the important part that Scorsese left out of his previous comments. It may have been implied, but it’s not what he actually said. If it had been, perhaps his original statement wouldn’t have been met with such contention. While he goes on to say “if anyone is intent on characterizing my words [as an insult], there’s nothing I can do to stand in the way,” for someone on the world stage, he could have shown more self-awareness in how a comment like that would sound to those who find these films emotionally significant.
Perhaps being considerate with our comments will undercut the very definition of a hot take, but honestly: is that really such a bad thing? Our own Kieran Fisher made a meaningful hot take last year with his article “Godzilla (1998) Isn’t As Bad As You Remember.” Kaiju fans are vehement in their hatred for Roland Emmerich’s Americanization of the Japanese icon, but Kieran didn’t approach the subject with a “Us versus Them” mentality. Instead, he offered context and pointed commentary on why the film worked for him. This was all without resorting to contentious hyperbolic language to prove why his opinion is right and others are wrong. All he had to say to make his point was, “For all its faults, there’s a lot to love.”
But even though that reappraisal of Godzilla was thoughtful, it still made a lot of people mad, online. So we’re not naive enough to think that the combativeness of hot takes will go away just because they’re carefully considered. But we can hope that the from-the-hip mentality of expressing our opinions will evolve over the next decade to allow for a more productive pop-cultural dialogue. Because is anyone actually looking forward to the brazen vitriol bound to come in the wake of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Are we really thrilled about the hot takes already surrounding Robert Pattinson’s upcoming Batman film? What new headaches should we brace ourselves for if “the Snyder Cut” is actually released?
We don’t know what will become of hot takes over the next decade. All we can do is remain optimistic as we head into The New ’20s that our strongly held opinions can bring us closer together, rather than wedge us further apart. This new year, maybe we should take a note from Jeff Bridges’ The Dude and keep in mind that hot takes, at the end of the day, are just, like, your opinions man.