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Has Chloe Zhao burned her wings at Marvel?

Like Icarus, did the director of Nomadland come too close to the Marvel supernova? Critical.

Marvel is reviewing its formula after having closed an important part of its history. After Avengers : Endgame, epic conclusion of the adventure that began in 2008 with Iron Man, the house of ideas is precisely trying to prove that it has something to do with… and well in the ideas. The fourth phase therefore acts as a turning point in the history of the franchise, which debauchery of renowned directors to bring their aesthetics and their vision to this cinematographic universe not always very inspired.

The firm with the scarlet logo can also boast of having acquired a few behemoths for its cause. This is the case of Sam Raimi, who after his praised Spider-Man trilogy, will be interested in Doctor Strange in the second installment of the adventures of the sorcerer camped by Benedict Cumberbatch. Oscar winner in 2021 for Nomadland, Chloe Zhao is also a great asset in the sleeve of Marvel, which has visibly offered her unprecedented freedom.

Far from the shackles of productions of the genre, the filmmaker has the opportunity to hatch a new plot and its challenges. An explosive mix of genres that could disappoint fans of the first hour and attract a new audience curious to discover what the camera of this naturalist will immortalize between two scenes of bombastic fights.

With Eternal, Marvel explores a new universe, inspired by paper characters little known to the general public. We follow the adventures of the Eternals, extraordinary beings sent to Earth to fight the Deviants. For millennia, they will roam the planet in search of these bloodthirsty creatures until they all eradicated. This mission was entrusted to them by The Celestials, cosmic entities with immeasurable powers who roam the galaxy in search of peoples to study.

Their purpose is a secret to the Eternals, who must rigorously apply each of the precepts imposed on them. They end up separating following a conflict and will not meet again until hundreds of years later, when the Deviants who have yet disappeared from the face of the Earth come back to life.

eternels at Marvel
Credit: Marvel

Eternal history …

The universe to be explored and the temporality are vast. With the plot spanning several millennia, writing the screenplay was no easy task. Very ambitious, the story has the heavy task of introducing a new mythology and its challenges, in just under 3 hours. A colossal job for Chloé Zhao and her teams, who obviously did not want to rush things.

Because yes, the story is slow. Faced with the other epileptic adventures of the franchise, Eternals chooses to adopt a less frantic storytelling to focus on building its dramatic intensity. We oscillate between the jungle of South America and Mesopotamia with a rather disconcerting ease. The purpose of these sequences is to present us in more detail the whole clique, before the confrontation which is preparing, and manage to transport us in a recreational and poetic temporal adventure.

But now, things get tough as the noose tightens around our heroes. If the ambition is there, the execution is often awkward. The story, which tries to tell a lot about humanity and also a little about beliefs, remains too surface.

The will to elevate the story is there, it is undeniable, but everything is still a little too low ceiling to completely convince us. All this lacks originality and that is a shame. Chloe Zhao, aided by three other writers who have never collaborated with Marvel, fails to elevate the footage to the rank of masterpieces. Unfortunately, we find all the clichés of the genre, the eternal questioning of good and evil that we have used many super-heroic productions.

There are also some rhythm problems, including a dizzying acceleration in the last moments. The story ends in a rush, a conclusion heralding a sequel that surprises no one, at a time when Marvel capitalizes on his characters to collect greenbacks. Finally, the film is almost the reunion of two opuses whereas the first part could have been sufficient on its own.

eternal ikaris and cersi
Credit: Marvel

A powerful team

Introducing many characters is not easy, especially when they are unknown to the audience. Other films have tried this and the result was not always up to the ambition (hello Justice League). Nevertheless, Chloe Zhao manages to do some miracles on this side. This reunion of exceptional beings has the air of a choral film, even if we focus mainly on the main duo embodied by Gemma Chan and Richard Madden.

Some protagonists are sorely lacking in density and find themselves unfairly relegated to the background. Without revealing too much about the plot, we will simply say that Druig and Makkari undoubtedly deserved better. We can nevertheless hope that the second opus will do them more justice. It is all the more frustrating that some of the Eternals take up a lot of space, while they do not arouse the same interest in the spectators. Yes, we are talking about Kingo played by Kumail Nanjiani who plays the caricatures of self-centered and exuberant superheroes.

eternal character
Captain Ringos? Credit: Marvel

A casting in the firmament

Fortunately, most of the actors are doing much better. This is particularly the case of Angelina Jolie and Gemma Chan, mesmerizing in the roles of Thena and Cersi. Because yes, the strength of this film rests mainly on the shoulders of the female cast. Salma Hayek, Lauren Ridloff, each of the actresses manages to give density and character to her character. On the male side, it is also rather convincing. If Richard Madden sometimes poses as a caricature of Superman, he manages to offer us some beautiful scenes of confrontation. It should be noted that despite his flash appearance, Kit Harington also stands out, in the role of the boyfriend not so surprised as that to go out with a “Magician” capable of turning a bus into a shower of rose petals.

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Zhao is inspired by the great science fiction epics. Credit: Marvel

A masterpiece

If the plot side of Chloé Zhao’s film has some flaws, the aesthetic stands out for its singularity in a universe of garish colors and often not very inventive. Zhao’s camera, more intimate than those of other MCU directors, immortalizes the emotional ties between the characters as well as the sumptuous landscapes of our beautiful blue planet.

To the impersonal cities of concrete and glass from other Marvel films, Eternals prefers rocky and green areas. Far from the dripping tables of CGI, the footage puts realism at the heart of its recipe. A feeling reinforced by the majestic photograph of Ben Davis, which illuminates the landscapes with a soft golden light. Zhao has visibly drawn inspiration from science fiction classics, such as Interstellar to name just him.

It should also be noted that the director is doing admirably on the side of the action scenes which, without completely reinventing the genre, do not suffer from a raging editing or awkward cutting of the sequences.

eternals photography
A refined aesthetic. Credit: Marvel

Ramin Djawadi always excellent

Finally, we could not help but mention the musical performance of Ramin Djawadi, who in just a few years has become a reference in Hollywood. The composer of the credits of Game of Thrones and Westworld here puts all his expertise at the service of a nuanced narrative and does justice to the muscular sequences as well as to the more removed moments. The composer is not at his first score at Marvel, since it is already to him that we owe the unforgettable original music ofIron Man first of the name.

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