Chloe Zhao has done some remarkable things, beginning with her spectacular film Nomadland (2020) winner of three Academy Awards (for Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director). It was a remarkable film from a young, powerhouse director.
Her latest remarkable accomplishment is going from one of the most respected and artistic movies anyone has ever seen, to one of most dismally boring movies ever made-- The Eternals (2021).
I must admit that I was a little shocked and puzzled when it was announced that Chloe Zhao’s next project was going to be a Marvel Studios superhero movie.
It just didn’t seem to be in her proverbial wheelhouse, in that it looked to be somewhat of a tall leap, in a single bound, to put it into the vernacular of Superman.
I wasn’t questioning her skills as a director or writer. It just seemed like an odd choice, following a stripped-down, bare-bones, low-budget project like Nomadland that oozed sensitivity, nuance and attention to minute detail. These are not the attributes of a big, splashy superhero epic.
Still, in fairness, as far as I was concerned, the jury was out, and I was anxious to see how she would do in the chaotic, ever-expanding Marvel Universe of special effects entertainment.
That universe includes the Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four franchises and a long list of superheroes including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Wolverine, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Deadpool and Captain Marvel, just to name a few.
It seemed strange that Marvel felt it necessary to invent a whole new team of superheroes rather than develop sequels and spin-offs of their already successful, tried-and-true characters.
But that’s exactly what is happening in The Eternals.
It’s the same basic plot of any and all superhero movies—humanity is threatened by some colossal threat creating a predicament that can only be resolved by special people possessing special, super-human powers.
In the movie, The Eternals ancestry traces back to Greek mythology. Or perhaps it doesn’t. There are many surprises and twists here that can cause consternation to even ancient gods who have been around, living amongst us, for 7,000 years.
Their nemeses are known as The Deviants, aptly named because they resemble grotesque mini-dragons that have a penchant for ripping people apart and causing general mayhem.
To their credit, they’re pretty good at it. So good, in fact that The Eternals can barely hold their ground against them.
Despite superpowers of various kinds, they struggle and strain to destroy The Deviants in battle after battle. Superpowers just aren’t what they used to be apparently.
In fairness, all superheroes have their vulnerabilities. Just ask Superman about Kryptonite.
But despite their flaws and weaknesses, superheroes are ostensibly indestructible and immortal. But even that is called into question in recent superhero movies with several major characters meeting their maker. Even Superman bit the dust.
Here, also, we discover that The Eternals are not quite so eternal. In that regard, the title is a little misleading.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I have admitted that I am not a big fan of superhero movies, in general. For me, they are all pretty much the same movie with the same plot elements repeated again and again. With pretty much the same special effects.
The only exceptions have been movies like Deadpool (2016) with its vulgarity-spewing anti-hero, or Ant-Man (2015) that turned the whole premise upside down by making the hero the size of a bug. They were amusing departures from the formula, mainstream superhero quagmire.
I was hoping for some similar interesting perspective or approach in The Eternals. Sadly, it reverted to a stock, by-the numbers, superhero movie. And not even a good one.
It is an overly long (2 hour and 37 minute) murky mess of a movie, dragged down by tons of boring dialog, endless exposition, and a meandering, mindless plotline that becomes excruciating.
To make matters worse, the visual style oddly borrows from the dark, somber cinematography of Nomadland. That movie was appropriately cold and stark. The somber, subtle visual style worked perfectly in telling the tale of a lonely woman trying to survive as a modern-day nomad.
Here, the movie is filled with underlit scenes that make it inappropriately dark, moody and muddy throughout. It just adds additional weight to an already over-bloated project.
The group of new heroes is ethnically mixed and fairly represented, unless you’re a Native American. It attempts to be a movie for the times.
The group includes a few ringers, in the way of fan favorites like Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Kit Harrington. Sadly, they are saddled with a script that appears to have been hastily banged out in the days and weeks immediately following the last Academy Awards show.
Great movies have great screenplays. This one doesn’t.
As with all similar movies, there are the obligatory extra scenes spliced into the closing credits alluding to unresolved story elements that will be addressed in a sequel or two.
It’s all wishful thinking.
The Eternals is a dud. A misfire from someone we all hoped would not succumb to the temptations of the glitzy Hollywood movie factory.
Hopefully, Chloe Zhao can retrieve her soul from this Devil’s bargain and return to making the kind of films that she is so uniquely qualified to make. The simple ones. About real human beings.
The Eternals opens in theaters November 5.
Photos: copyright Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.