Chloe Zhao’s MCU movie is colossal, cosmic, and refreshing

This review of “Eternals” was first published on October 4th.

In a Marvel story, time is fluid and the story crumbles, except when you’re sitting through one of their most naive and chaotic perils, in which case the saved world can’t come soon enough. Hiring Chloe Zhao to direct “Eternals”, however, sparked an unusual curiosity for a billion dollar merchandise zealously protected: the contemplative, small-caliber humanity that Zhao brought to “The Rider” and his ” Would Nomadland, “Oscar winner, survive the full-scale Marvel Cinematic Universe playbook?

The answer is a qualified yes, in that there is no doubt that “Eternals” – adapted from creator Jack Kirby’s story about the space immortals called to protect humans from Earth throughout. his story – is both a Marvel superhero epic, as massively crafted as they come, and undoubtedly Zhao’s version, as mindful of beauty and intimacy as he is expected to care about the fate of all life.

At the level of granular observation alone, it looks temporally different. The shots in “Eternals” linger longer than your relentlessly cut MCU Whiz-banger. Even with 10 new heroes to know – centered around Sersi, powered by transmutation from Gemma Chan, high-flying Ikaris from Richard Madden, and Angelina Jolie’s warrior Thena – there’s a quality vibe to everyone’s emotional trajectory. , thanks to a philosophy of creating images with the in-depth cinematography of Ben Davis that offers many good, long looks at an eternal majestically bringing a beautiful place to the fore, or having a great, confrontational, even romantic moment with a coworker. (There’s even a PG-13 love moment.)

The effect is that “Eternals” puts a welcome bounty on how it may feel to have a close bond through centuries, and then that bond is threatened. So yes, these are Zhao horizons (photographic and metaphorical), only with superpowers, galactic costumes, and gnarled CGI alien beasts called Deviants sharing space.

The director’s drinking approach makes “Eternals” the second longest in the franchise’s canon. But with a history that spins around the world (London, South Dakota, Iraq, Australia), which spans across empires (Babylonian, Aztec, Gupta) and sports a handful of languages ​​- including signs, courtesy of the first The MCU’s deaf character, the quick Makkari (a winning Lauren Ridloff) – there are still plenty of story vectors to keep the pace going alongside the usual action sequences and dynamic team humor. (Kumail Nanjiani’s breath of energy, the vain Kingo endures most of this laughter.)

We first meet this diverse ensemble – led by Matriarch Ajak (a rigid but sincere Salma Hayek), a resource person for their heavenly patron – during their inaugural mission, plunging into Mesopotamia of the beginnings of civilization from their slab of spaceship to save a tribe of sick-equipped humans from marauding deviants. Jumping into today’s London, where Sersi is now a teacher and dating an unsuspecting normie (a Kit Harington game), we learn that the Eternals’ shadow tutelage over human progress was completed ago. a long time ago. They are now living ageless lives among mortals around the world. For the gentle protector Gilgamesh (Don Lee), living in the outback, that means more time for hobbies and dealing with a battle-scarred Thena. For Kingo, it’s indulging in Bollywood stardom with a valet (the wonderful Harish Patel) recording his every move. For whom immortal retirement isn’t so easy, it’s Sprite (Lia McHugh), an elder in the body of a 12-year-old, still considered a child.

What prompts an urgent meeting is the sudden reappearance of the Deviants, who were believed to have been defeated for good at Tenochtitlan in 1521. This date was also the date the Spanish colonizers moved on, but the Ajak’s insistence – shown in a flashback – that the Eternals avoid interfering in conflicts between humans does not suit the group, especially Druig (Barry Keoghan), who would do just as well to stop wars with his mind-controlling powers, and Brian Tyree’s fantastic sentient super-inventor Henry Phastos, eager to give humans everything the technology he can design to improve themselves.

These are, of course, ideals with drawbacks; the fact that the screenplay (by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo) seeks to combat the cataclysms of power, inaction and progress through history – albeit in a simplified way that is reminiscent of the power of myths to amplify big questions – is always important to an MCU epic. After so many Marvel movies lip service to the thornier ramifications of its hero tales, there is a seriousness in the opera stakes in “Eternals” that somehow helps merge what is physically spectacular. and philosophical about it. That this is also played out by a cast that looks like our world only polishes what Zhao tries to pull out of the interior of a franchise laden with tropes.

Does that make “Eternals” fun, you ask? Look, hasn’t there already been enough boring digital adrenaline rush from these things? No answer ? So, yes, there is fun; lots of stunts, jokes, fights, visuals, twists and, for romantics, more of a love story, and not all straight, thank goodness. Performances also do their job, especially when, outside of the regulatory superhero mimicry. Zhao’s compassionate gaze asks for something more, for love, fate, the planet, everything. After all, there could be an erupting volcano in the background, or a planet-sized being in the frame.

But what makes “Eternals” special is that, for once, the director really cares as much about the character of this show as he does about the show itself.

“Eternals” opens in US theaters on November 5.

About Debra D. Johnson

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