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Eternals: Hope Springs Eternal for Emerging Auteurs

Posted by May 30th, 2022 No Comments »

Eternals (2021)
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie & Salma Hayek

Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland (2020) won two Oscars: one for Best Motion Picture of the Year and one for Best Achievement in Directing. Why then would Ms. Zhao’s next film be a big budget Marvel film? Maybe this auteur, who wrote, produced, directed and edited something as celebrated as Nomadland, wanted to bring her vision of cinema to the masses? Maybe she wanted to disprove Martin Scrorcese’s “Marvel movies aren’t cinema” statement? Or maybe she just wanted the money?

The meditative style of Zhao’s past work is felt in Eternals. When telling the story of woman who lives out of her van, that sort of approach works. This story, however, is very different. At 2 hours and 36 minutes with a pace that meanders but never bores, Zhao tells the ancient story of The Eternals: a group of god-like titans that decide to get back together after years of separation. Together, they form the most unlikely super hero team since James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. The catalyst for their reunion, (as with most super team films), is a planetary level threat targeting Earth. The characters’ solemn nature works will with Zhao’s style, but we also get humor from Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, sinister glee with Barry Keoghan as Druig, and even teen angst with Lia McHugh as Sprite. These actors, (and the dour ones as well), approach the film as seriously as they should. Most play up the inner turmoil that comes with being thousands of years old with no place to call “home.”

What this film needed, however, was to develop a compelling villain in the first two acts. Without this, the lore of the characters and beautiful world building can only do so much to draw us in. By the time the plot thickens, and we know who to revile, the story isn’t strong enough to expand this film from “beautiful and poetic” to “exciting high drama.” The lesser drama suffers too because the stakes aren’t high enough. With beings such as this, it will literally take the end of the world to get them alarmed. They do, however, go for it in the last sequence, which will forever change planet Earth in the MCU. It is epic in scope and fun to look at but ultimately falls short, serving as just another reminder of each Eternals character’s power set.

Did Zhao bring her version of cinema to the masses? With over 400 million dollars made worldwide, most definitely. Did Zhao prove Martin Scorsese wrong with her latest effort? Possibly, but to know for sure let’s all wait patiently for what is to be a star spanning sequel.

If Nomadland and Guardians of the Galaxy were both A’s, then this strange film that ultimately started in the mind of the great Jack Kirby to be interpreted by one of the most exciting new directors working today is a B.

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