During an interview promoting his adaptation of Dune, Denis Villeneuve called out Marvel movies, saying that audiences are “in front of too many Marvel movies that are nothing more than a “cut and paste” of others” and that “perhaps these types of movies have turned us into zombies a bit“. His comments come a few months after Martin Scorsese referred to them as “theme park rides”. Understandably, the internet had a lot of opinions on this. But like all arguments there are two sides to this, so do they have a point?
Blockbusters Vs Art
While these directors have specifically called out Marvel movies, the term “Marvel movie” has become a bit of a shorthand of late. Even “comic book movies” doesn’t feel accurate as the likes of Fast and the Furious are often mentioned in the conversation. So it’s likely they’re referring to the big-budget, CGI filled blockbusters, the likes of Avatar, Star Wars and Transformers should probably also be involved, but “Marvel movie” is a catchier term.
People looking down on comic book movies, in particular, is nothing new. Comic books themselves were looked down on for years, and the genre had a few stumbles like Daredevil and Green Lantern before The Avengers started its world domination. Part of that success is something called “The Marvel Formula”. While not a strict set of rules, there are noticeable similarities between a lot of MCU films that do make feel like copies of each other. Iron Man is often considered the blueprint. It introduces a snarky hero, knocks him down a peg, he’s humbled and fights a villain who is a mirror image of himself. A plot that could describe most MCU origin films.
Of course, these complaints are nothing new, and the franchise has made steps to avoid these criticisms. Phase Two in particular made efforts to make individual films stand out from each other, with Captain America: The Winter Soldier is influenced by spy/political thrillers and Ant-Man is a heist film. While they may not appeal to some people, the MCU is the highest–grossing film series of all time, so clearly lots of people do like them. Many families and groups of friends gather to watch the latest release, and many people are kept in jobs by working on them and writing about them. When they eventually go out of fashion, we’ll have a new popular genre that’s looked down on.
Prequels, Sequels and Remakes
All of this doesn’t mean that they don’t have a point. There has always been a divide between movies that are “popular”, designed to appeal to the broadest audience possible, and a directors passion projects. But the two aren’t as separate as one may think. Many smaller directors use films like MCU projects as stepping stones. Marvel likes to hire new directors, which gives them an experience of a much bigger production than they are used to. This puts them in a great spot going forward and often allows their next project to have a much bigger budget and/or reach. Filmmakers like Taita Waititi, Jon Favreau and even Christopher Nolan have all been given a much bigger platform and opportunities than they had before after directing a superhero film While Scorsese has had a very successful career making his own films, very few filmmakers are so lucky, with fewer opportunities for films to fail today. Likewise, many actors have got their big break from starring in these projects, with actors like Chris Evans, Tom Holland and Simu Liu becoming household names and getting many more great opportunities.
Of course, some directors just can’t get by with all the restrictions. The phrase “Creative Differences” is thrown around a lot when a director seems to clash with the studio. Edgar Wright spent years developing Ant-Man before it was intended to be in the MCU, eventually departing when the studio’s style clashed with his own. Although Wright has recently made peace with it and was still able to make his dream project Baby Driver (which was successful in its own right), it’s understandable why some directors would steer clear. It’s also important to acknowledge that these comments from Scorsese and Villeneuve came while promoting their own films, The Irishman and Dune respectively, so it makes sense they would be slightly frustrated at “Marvel movies” dominating the conversation.
At the end of the day, everyone has different tastes. Not everyone is going to like every film, and that’s ok if anything it’s good. That’s how we get different films. Some directors may not like Marvel movies and steer well clear of them, but for many of their peers, they are an important step in a career. Many great films may not exist if people didn’t go see big blockbusters, as they help bring in audiences and keep cinemas open. So don’t feel bad because you enjoy a nice bit of popcorn action, just don’t expect to see Scorsese’s take on Batman anytime soon.