James Jay Edwards

Eternals Is a Better Marvel Movie Than It Is a Chloé Zhao Movie

(Eternals, courtesy of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Motion Pictures)

James Jay Edwards reviews Eternals, a new superhero film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe directed by Chloé Zhao. (Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Motion Pictures)


The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been scooping up renowned directors left and right for their Phase 4 projects. Their newest scoop? They’ve tapped last year’s Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao for Eternals.

Eternals is about a group of immortal aliens, of course called Eternals, who were sent to Earth 7,000 years ago to protect it and its people from a race of monsters called Deviants. Eventually, the Eternals rid the world of the Deviants, and live amongst the mortal people scattered across the globe. When the Deviants come back, the Eternals reunite to fight them again. And this is when they learn their true mission on Earth.


(Eternals, theatrical release poster, courtesy of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Motion Pictures)

Like most Marvel movies, Eternals has a whole kitchen full of cooks in the writers’ room. In addition to Zhao, the screenplay was written by Patrick Burleigh (Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway) along with Ryan and Kaz Firpo (a writing duo of cousins whose Ruin screenplay topped the Hollywood Black List). And, of course, Marvel big-shot Jack Kirby has a credit for creating the characters. Eternals is a simpler story than previous Marvel flicks, but that doesn’t mean it’s not full of surprises. Point A to Point B goes through some jaw-dropping places.

In many ways, Eternals is a typical Marvel movie. It’s got all of the action of the earlier films, and all of the eye-popping special effects and ear-shattering sound design that go along with it. There are heroes and villains, even if they aren’t the ones that viewers are used to seeing from the studio (although, there are references to The Avengers and Thanos, so it definitely takes place in the same universe). There are also patches of long-winded exposition to explain the timeline-jumping plot.


(Eternals, courtesy of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Motion Pictures)

But, like Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals is a breath of fresh air that continues the changing of the guard that is coming with the MCU’s Phase 4. The Eternals are more like X-Men than Avengers, but it’s clear that, with Captain America and Iron Man out of the picture, any one of these immortals could step up and join (or even lead) The Avengers. That’s how powerful this new breed of old souls is.

To be fair, Eternals was conceived before her Oscar win for Nomadland (although Nomadland was produced first), but whatever fingerprint Chloé Zhao has as a filmmaker is pretty much stripped out of this movie. Zhao is known for lush visuals with naturalistic performances that come from primarily non-actors. While Eternals does have some of the lush visuals, it’s a much slicker movie than audiences are used to seeing from Zhao. Which is not to say that it’s a bad movie, just that Zhao is an odd choice to direct it. Unlike Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (which absolutely feels like a Destin Daniel Cretton film), Eternals seems like it could have been directed by anyone in the Marvel stable.


(Eternals, courtesy of Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Motion Pictures)

Part of what makes Eternals feel like not-a-Chloé Zhao movie is the cast. It’s packed with a combination of big-name A-list stars like Angelina Jolie (Maleficent), Salma Hayek (Frida), and Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) along with talented below-the-radar performers such as Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Gemma Chan (Humans), Bryan Tyree Henry (Atlanta), and Barry Keoghan (The Killing of a Sacred Deer), among many others, so the improvisational amateur-hour vibe of Zhao’s Nomadland and The Rider is completely gone. The ensemble is terrific, though, really bringing out the dysfunctional aspects of a team that, frankly, doesn’t even trust each other as they grow increasingly frustrated and infuriated with the direction mankind is taking after they’d worked so hard to protect and defend it.

It’s worth noting that the ensemble in Eternals is probably the most diverse group of heroes that fans have seen from Marvel. Represented within the tribe of Eternals are Asians, Hispanics, Indians, African Americans, and (of course) Caucasians, but the team also includes a hearing-impaired character and a homosexual character (and not just a background character like in Avengers: Endgame, we’re talking a front-and-center gay character). So, Marvel’s Phase Four is looking up in that regard.


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Eternals is getting a lot of hate, and most of it is undeserved. It’s a solid Marvel movie. It’s just not representative of what Chloé Zhao can do. Hopefully, Zhao will get her chance to put her own stamp on it if (and when) there’s a sequel. Because one thing that is very Zhao about it is that it breaks the Marvel mold nicely.

Eternals is now playing only in theaters.



Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.


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