Martin Scorsese has always been vocal about his love for cinema and the importance of telling stories that are about the complexities and beauty of characters and the worlds they inhabit. His mission is clear and alive in his latest feature, Killers of the Flower Moon. Despite the film being a box office bomb, Killers is visually stunning, using both vintage and modern cameras to enhance the story, as well as having an ending that is shockingly moving as Scorsese comes out to end the story of the Osage murders.

Beyond Killers, Scorsese is still teaching us important lessons. Strangely, the lessons we learned from his recent appearance on his daughter's TikTok and his Letterboxd account show that he is paying attention to the culture and is trying to stay informed about how the current and dominant generation wants to be entertained (despite making films that are so long that theaters have to bring back intermissions).

However, not everyone in Hollywood cares about what the American auteur has to say about cinema.

According to Variety, Joe Russo (of the Russo Brothers) caused a riff on social media after responding to the aforementioned TikTok that featured Martin Scorsese. In the video, Scorsese playfully directs his dog, Oscar. Russo responded by posting a video, saying they share the same muse. The camera pans to reveal Russo holding his own dog whom he jokingly calls "Box Office."

While Russo's video is attempting to be playful, the joke falls flat. Russo's jab comes at a time when Killers isn't performing well at the box office. So far, the $200 million Western epic has earned critical acclaim and Oscar-buzz, but has only grossed $40 million at the domestic box office and $84 million worldwide.

Many film writers and industry professionals seemingly found Russo's jab at Scorsese to be out of spite or pettiness. Scorsese has infamously criticized Marvel for putting a stronghold on film exhibition, forcing mid-budget and adult-targeted movies out of the mainstream marketplace, and for having a negative impact on cinema.

"I don't see them. I tried, you know? But that's not cinema," Scorsese told Empire about in 2019 while promoting The Irishman. “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.”

Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., floating through space in 'Avengers: Endgame''Avengers: Endgame'Credit: Walt Disney StudiosMotion Pictures

We have talked extensively about superhero films that Marvilizaiton of Hollywood. The fatigue is real. The impact of it can be felt in each and every studio. It's become a common joke in the best and worst films and shows. The truth is unavoidable. Hollywood rather spend millions upon millions for movies that hit all four quadrants, reassuring that the investment will see a return. The Marvel formula worked for a decade, and Hollywood became greedier than average and tried to place the Marvel formula on every movie. It tarnished the art of cinema.

In an op-ed essay in The New York Times, Scorsese writes that cinema is about “revelation, aesthetic, characters—the complexity of people and their contradictory and sometimes paradoxical natures, the way they can hurt one another and love one another and suddenly come face to face with themselves.” That is all absent in Marvel movies, he wrote, adding that while “many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures,” ultimately “what’s not there is revelation, mystery, or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.”

The difference between Scorsese comments about Marvel are not directed to Russo and are not discrediting the highly successful filmmaker. Rather, Scorsese doesn't believe that Marvel films (and many of the Russo Brother films that have followed after their success directing several Avengers films like The Grey Man and Cherry) don't put the character at risk. There is nothing threatening them to change to solve the problem. Everything ends as it begins: safe and happy.

Leonardo DiCaprio as Ernest Burkhart in 'Killers of the Flower Moon''Killers of the Flower Moon' Credit: Apple Original Picture/Paramount Pictures

Sure, Russo makes great box office films that hit all four quadrants, but many creators understand that there is barely any substance behind these films.

“Joe Russo took hundreds of millions from Netflix to make whatever he wanted, and came up with…The Grey Man,” wrote Toonami co-founder and Warner Bros. Discovery’s SVP of action and anime series Jason DeMarco on X. “Marty got hundreds of millions from Netflix and Apple, and made The Irishman and Killers of The Flower Moon. I know which movies ppl will talk about in 20 years…”

“In 50 years no one will know who Joe Russo is,” added film writer Louis Peitzman.

The official X account for Los Angeles’ genre film festival BeyondFest was even more blunt, writing: “Let’s just be honest, Joe Russo is a rich asshole hack who won the lottery when [Marvel Studios president Kevin] Feige plucked him from obscurity and let him tagalong.”

There is nothing wrong with creating easily digestible films, but there is something to be said about comparing those films to the complex character studies that take their time to work with the community and highlight real stories that have been pushed out of the minds of Americans who don't want to face the truth.

Does an Oscar or box office success define a great film?

Scorsese has already said that he doesn't care about box office numbers since they are not a good way to measure art, but the box office is all that studios in Hollywood seem to care about.

From my perspective, no. But I have also not made a multi-million dollar box office film nor have I been nominated for an Oscar. I also am not the studio executive looking at the data and deciding what gets the green light. Instead, I am someone who encourages mid-budget movies with strong character studies that bring back those grounded stories rather than multi-million dollar spectacles that feel flat and uneventful.

Do you think there is a clear marker of success in Hollywood? Let us know in the comments.

Source: Variety