AAnyone who hoped that the hiring of Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao (Nomadic country) at the Marvel team could announce a radical change of management may be disappointed by Eternals. At its most effective, Zhao’s filmmaking is delicate and intimate, capturing fragile human bonds with warmth and naturalism. Exactly the sort of thing that gets forgotten by the steamroller attack on a comic book movie. Admittedly, in terms of the look of the film, other than a few melancholy shots of a magical hour, there is nothing to indicate that Zhao’s guiding vision was able to swim against the grain of prevailing genre conventions.
But elsewhere, there are hints of Zhao’s sensitivity, notably in the diverse writing and casting of the Eternals: a group of immortal humanoids stationed on Earth and tasked with protecting humanity from the deviant’s destructive appetites ( depicted in the film as part lizard, part rage, part high resistance cable). The leader of the Eternals is Salma Hayek as Ajak; the most powerful is Ikaris (Richard Madden); the most accomplished warrior is Thena (Angelina Jolie), but it is the empathetic Sersi (Gemma Chan) who is at the center of the story. Kumail Nanjiani is a lot of fun as Kingo, who has hid on Earth as a multigenerational Bollywood actor dynasty and insists on saving the planet with his valet. The cast also includes deaf actor Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, and Brian Tyree Henry plays Marvel’s first openly gay superhero. But despite every effort to ensure representation in the cast, the storytelling, with its forced flashbacks and synthetic feeling, just lets it go.