I imagine much of the news today will be Joker-related as the film has managed to not only peak interest among audiences but started whole debates on cinema given it’s attempts to create a plausible take on a noted bombastic comic book character as well as public fears of the film’s nihilistic tone causing real world violence akin to the 2012 Aurora shootings that occurred during the showing of The Dark Knight Rises. But going back to the debate of the validity of comic book films, of course it’s no surprise that Martin Scorsese, who produced Joker, would give his two cents on the issue.
It was noted early on in production that the new Joaquin Phoenix-starring film was heavily influenced by the director’s own early masterpieces such as The King of Comedy, Mean Streets, and Taxi Driver. Thus, much like when Christopher Nolan used Michael Mann’s classic crime film Heat to influence The Dark Knight, Joker attempts to bridge itself more into what is considered artistic cinema.
Many directors have spoken about their thoughts on the modern superhero trend. Steven Spielberg thinking they will someday disappear like the Western genre did. Matthew Vaughn, while directing X-Men: First Class, felt that eventually studios would implode from reliance on such big budget endeavors to fill quarterly quotas and be forced to go back to smaller films. And the list goes on.
However, Scorsese chose to speak specifically about the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with him quoting the following this week in an interview with Empire:
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.
Several filmmakers immediately responded to this with Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn writing the following on a Twitter post:
Martin Scorsese is one of my five favorite living filmmakers. 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. That said, I will always love Scorsese, be grateful for his contribution to cinema, and can’t wait to see The Irishman.
It is irony that a director noted for doing stories about anti-heroes seeking redemption (While having a low opinion of the society around them) has a low opinion himself of films about earnest, morally sound heroes who have a high opinion of society around them. The debate rages on, but it is interesting to note that the four films directed by the Russo Brothers for Marvel (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame) have delved into very heavy subject matter. Ranging from global surveillance to political stances on freedom to the validity of population control, it’s hard to argue that Marvel isn’t doing their best to give something entertaining AND intelligent.
It’s also important to note that DC films have hardly been great films as of late. While Wonder Woman has spoken to contemporary issues, the film has been debated as being nothing more than, go for irony, a rip-off of Captain America: The First Avenger. Zack Snyder’s bombastic attempts with Man of Steel were considered mixed and hardly high art. Suicide Squad was just considered a mess and Aquaman, while highly successful and entertaining, was not particularly considered great cinema either. In fact, Warner Bros. seems to struggle making solid films outside of Superman and Batman-related properties.
The issue will rage on whether comic book movies really offer something deeper, but it could just be that Scorsese’s opinions are rooted in a director who films are essentially an antithesis in theme and style to superhero films. The world may never know. Or it doesn’t care. I imagine each of you out there will know based on whether you agree with the themes of Joker or not. Stay tuned!