November 4, 2021

CINEMA | Marvel and Chloé Zhao Mythologize the 'Eternals'

"Everyone dies except us."
Kumail Nanjiani Gemma Chan Lia McHugh Chloé Zhao | Marvel's Eternals
Marvel Studios
Reigning best director Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao takes her minimalist direction and blows it up for Marvel Studios' latest superhero team-up blockbuster spectacle. Eternals tells a jam-packed, sprawling mythological epic of immortal god-like aliens living on Earth as protectors who agree not to interfere in human activity… until they don't.

Starring Gemma Chan and Richard Madden as Sersi and Ikaris, the leaders of the eponymous superhero group of said extra-terrestrials sent by interstellar beings called "Celestials" and tasked to defend humans from evil monsters called "Deviants," it's both remarkable and exhausting how much Zhao packs into easily the MCU's most original and emotional film spanning some seven-thousand years. If nothing else, Eternals takes chances and risks including a clear depiction of a homosexual relationship and an actual sex scene—albiet between two ancient space gods.

There are a whopping ten members of the (new) team including Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Barry Keoghan as Druig, Salma Hayek as Ajak, and Angelina Jolie as Thena with Kit Harington appearing briefly as Sersi's comically ordinary human boyfriend. It's hard to keep track of every character as the film zips throughout continents, exotic locations, and historical time periods with a feverishly manic pace to the action.

Densely scripted by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, and Ryan and Kaz Firpo, there's just so much going on where the origin film introduces multiple supernatural elements, mythic characters, lots of powers, and a whole new mythology that spans the entirety of human existence in addition to being a part of a larger interconnected universe. At 156 minutes, everything stuffed into Eternals is just so dizzying including retconning parts of actual human history.

Sadly, Eternals feels somehow both far too much and not nearly enough at the very same time. It seems unfortunate how Zhao left behind her more nuanced sense of humanist realism and intimate filmmaking about everyday people for such a maximalist experience full of messy excess. Her talented eye for grounded visual storytelling still shines through occasionally, but its vision remixed through the Marvel machine largely misses the mark in its often jarring construction.

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