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Denis Villeneuve Is the Latest Auteur Director to Critique Marvel Movies and We’re Very Tired

The Dune director referred to the MCU films as "cut and paste".

denis villeneuve

Welcome back to the never-ending saga of Cinema vs. the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a discourse where nobody wins and everyone is wrong! Dune director Denis Villeneuve is the latest auteur filmmaker to throw his hat into the ring and call out the MCU. In an interview with Spanish newspaper El Mundo, the French Canadian director was asked about Martin Scorsese’s Marvel op-ed in the New York Times, where the Goodfellas director argued that Marvel movies weren’t cinema.

Villeneuve responded, “Perhaps the problem is that we are in front of too many Marvel movies that are nothing more than a ‘cut and paste’ of others,” adding that “Perhaps these types of movies have turned us into zombies a bit… But big and expensive movies of great value, there are many today. I don’t feel capable of being pessimistic at all.”

The criticism is fair: most Marvel movies follow familiar plot beats that culminate in an epic CGI laser light show battle. But Marvel isn’t pretending otherwise: they’re in the business of four quadrant big family entertainment, and everyone knows it. Villeneuve is also making his own multi-million dollar science fiction epic with Dune, which stars a host of superhero actors alongside enormous CGI-made monsters.

At this point, this discourse is literally the Spider-Man pointing at himself meme. Villeneuve admits as much, and remarks on big budget movies that tell original stories, saying “Just think of the golden age of Hollywood to see that commercial films can make a different artistic proposal and, therefore, political, … I have never felt like a loss or an impediment to have a generous budget to do what I wanted to do. Upside down. Who said that a movie on a big budget can’t be artistically relevant at the same time? I am currently thinking of people like Christopher Nolan or Alfonso Cuarón.”

Villeneuve, like Nolan, has made a career out of cerebral sci-fi, with Arrival and Blade Runner: 2049. But he’s not the only acclaimed director making inroads with major studios and franchises. In fact, Marvel has already recruited several critically acclaimed filmmakers to helm their movies. People like Ryan Coogler (Black Panther) and Oscar winner Chloé Zhao, who directed Marvel’s Eternals. Zhao even said she used frames from Villeneuve’s films to pitch her take on Eternals.

But why this discourse, and why now? Marvel may have a chokehold on the box office, but it’s not dissimilar to Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay films in the ’90s. Or Stallone and Schwarzenegger films of the ’80s. So what changed? Social media for one thing, which breeds an obsessive sort of fandom that cannot tolerate the most benign criticism. Then there’s the nature of online discourse itself, where opinions are given the same clout as facts.

Denis Villeneuve’s gentle criticism of Marvel inspires an outsized pushback from loyal fans who still carry the scars of being bullied for their nerdy passions. Once upon a time, reading comic books and loving Star Wars made you a social outcast. Now it just makes you a person that likes pop culture. Nerd culture has been mainstreamed AND critically awarded (see LOTR: The Return of the King‘s Oscar collection). But like children who don’t want to share their toys, a certain fan faction is clinging to their content like they own it. But Marvel and Disney don’t need you to defend them. They’re a multi-billion dollar conglomerate with millions of fans across the globe, printing money with every film release. They’re fine.

If you like Marvel, cool! So do we! But if you don’t like Marvel, that’s fine too. Everyone has different opinions and are allowed to like what they like! And who knows what the future holds? We could very well see Villeneuve’s own MCU film in the coming years. And I’ll be first in line to go watch it, discourse be damned.

(via El Mundo, image: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.