It was nothing less than a coup for Marvel to attract filmmaker Chloé Zhao. Coming off her critically acclaimed breakthrough The Rider, Zhao impressed the studio enough to be handed the reins to Eternals, the little-known comic heroes who are set to receive a spotlight all to themselves in the MCU. Marvel’s faith in the writer/director was further justified upon her Oscar wins for Best Director and Best Picture with Nomadland. But her interests range all the way to the geeky side of entertainment as well, as her predominantly Jack Kirby-inspired take on Eternals will soon prove.
Entertainment Weekly’s new cover story zeroes in on Marvel’s mysterious, ancient, and all-powerful new group of superheroes. The unparalleled comic book artist Jack Kirby first created these characters back in 1976, enriching the already-expansive history of the Marvel universe and forcing readers to reckon with the idea of (essentially) gods among us. Count Zhao among the knowledgeable fans of this niche property, as Eternals allowed her to combine her grounded worldview with a truly larger-than-life scale.
“I thought, I can go as big and as epic as our meaning in the cosmos, but I can also go intimate and explore all of the internal struggles we have as human beings. Because these characters have lived among us for so long, [they have] the same struggles like identity, purpose, faith, personal freedom versus greater good — all the duality and flaws that make us human.”
Having only recently gotten around to watching the excellent Nomadland, it’s abundantly clear that Chloé Zhao knows what she’s talking about regarding her interest in the human condition. Superhero movies in general seem to share a particular struggle with handling that ground-level perspective in a convincing and insightful way, but hopefully Eternals will set a whole new bar for character-centric storytelling in massive blockbusters.
An Oscar-Winning Nerd
Eternals might seem like a strange detour in the up-and-coming filmmaker’s career, but Zhao doesn’t run from the fact that she’s an unabashed nerd at heart. In fact, that’s precisely what won over Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige when she first met with the producer. According to Feige:
“The truth is, we would not have even attempted [Eternals] if it weren’t for Chloé. We thought, here’s a filmmaker who is equal parts cinematic visionary and genre nerd. She can outtalk any of us when it comes to manga and Star Wars and Marvel comics. It’s quite an astounding combination. And this movie, I think, represents all of the immense multitudes of Chloé.”
Some viewers have a certain hesitation in seeing such talented voices with potent stories to tell get sucked up by the crushing weight of blockbuster filmmaking. That said, winning an Oscar combined with becoming even more of a household name with a Marvel movie is nothing to sneeze at. Taika Waititi, another filmmaker who went from indie darling to blockbuster director, has managed to navigate this tricky career trajectory with aplomb and we’d expect nothing less from Zhao. All we can ask for is that skilled storytellers get a chance to display the interests and passions most dear to them, which is what Zhao seems to be doing with Eternals.
Eternals will release in theaters on November 5, 2021.
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