Perhaps it was the timing of Joker’s release that prompted a response from Martin Scorsese this week, distancing himself and his work from superhero films, even adding a call to action to keep them from invading theaters.
Joker, after all, plays like something bordering on a Scorsese fan film, and in many ways feels like a two hour collision between what Scorsese has designated as “cinema”, and “theme park movies.”
This coming along just as he is only about a month away from releasing his much anticipated mob epic The Irishman-and straight to streaming no less. This could be seen as forcing a response on the continual dominance of superheroes at the multiplex.
Of course, anyone’s definition of things like “story based” or “serious minded”, or any other distinction you want to reserve for original, non-franchise films is going to be arbitrary, and superhero defenders will promptly um…assemble in their defense.
Semantics are guaranteed to bog down a debate like this and particularly leave the declarers of “cinema” and “non-cinema” sounding inevitably snooty and out of touch. Yet we all know exactly what Scorsese is talking about.
As he attempted to clarify later (while digging the hole a little deeper), emphasizing that “it’s a different experience”, and riling various corners of geekdom by saying “It’s not cinema, whether you go for that or not.”
The world of the MCU had a number of its’ key players; including Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Downey Jr., and James Gunn respond to the supposedly controversial comments, but all in all it didn’t amount to much more than a collective “who cares?”, though Gunn seemed to take genuine offense on the grounds that Scorsese made the comments without having actually sat through an entire Marvel film.
One might be tempted to think they were simply hesitant to wade into this fray because they don’t want bad blood among their industry co-workers. Remember Jackson even had a small role in Goodfellas.
However, we can rest assured he doesn’t hold back when he thinks one of this fellow filmmakers have spoken out of turn, as evidenced by the way he raked his regular collaborator Spike Lee over the coals when he criticized Django Unchained. It’s just not that exciting. Internet bloggers were in their glory trying drum up as much online contention and clickbait as possible, but it’s a non-starter.
I would simply argue that Scorsese, in his frustration, has poorly articulated a very real disappointment or malaise that we’re all feeling about what he calls the “take over” of superhero films, even when we enjoy them. There will always be theme parks, and they’ll always be an enjoyable and perfectly legitimate way to spend our downtime.
But nobody wants to live there. A lack of other options is perhaps part of Scorsese’s romantic and subjective “cinema” definition; an impersonal feeling created by material that gets broader and broader in until it seems it’s barely there at all.
Comic books-and films-have been heaped with this kind of criticism since their inception, even when their material has been discretely mined for “respectable” literature and movies.
This stuff has always rolled off their fans’ backs good naturedly, and while entertainment can be compartmentalized, human beings are a little different. They can like two different things at once. Many of the same people who watch The Irishman on Netflix will be in line for the next Star Wars movie a month later.
Let’s not kid ourselves, message board warriors. The only thing to take away from this pseudo controversy is to remember that no film trend has ever reigned supreme for long. Audience tastes change fast, and everyone is free to jump the lines of their implied camps. If the theater has become a theme park, then the only thing to do is enjoy the rides, because even a universe will eventually close for the season.