When Eternals arrived in theaters last November as the 26th feature-length entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it faced a new level of scrutiny for one of the biggest franchises in the world. With a large ensemble cast of never-before-seen characters and a story that spanned centuries and the cosmos, Eternals took the biggest risks of the four MCU movies released in the back half of 2021, but they didn’t all land with many viewers. Director Chloé Zhao, previously acclaimed for nomadland and The Rider, was at the center of the conversation.
From gatekeepers’ confusion that an oscar winner known for her naturalistic style could also want to make a blockbuster action flick to comics readers’ apprehension over changes made from the source material, Eternals posed a challenge for those who walked into the theater with specific expectations.
Upon its release, the film received a 47 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with a 78 percent audience score; its successor, Spider-Man: No Way Homegarnered a 93 percent approval rating from critics and 98 percent from the general public just over a month later.
In a new interview with Empire magazineZhao speaks out about the preconceived notions that Eternals was up against.
“When people have that feeling, like they need to put order into things, they need to understand it by putting it into boxes,” she tells Empire. “It is not about us, it is about them. And I say that lovingly, because they have a level of comfort [with] how their entertainment and their world–their beloved Marvel, or their beloved indie filmmaker–functions. That’s the order of the logic of their world that’s being disturbed. So I appreciate their passion, to try to make sense of it.”
“The truth is that nobody is one layer,” Zhao continues, “In this case, we truly stepped out of the box that I think the world put us in, and met in the middle because of our shared interests. And by truly doing that, it made a lot of people uncomfortable on both sides. But there are also people who are more comfortable with the order of their world [being] disturbed. And then they look at our love-child and go, ‘Oh! This touches different sides of me!’ I like that. So I completely understand the divisiveness coming from critics and the fans. Because when you take this to extremes that are seen as opposition—the world I come from and the world of Marvel, that has been divided in a way that’s so unfair and unfortunate—and to merge the way we did, I actually see the reaction as a testament to how much we had merged with each other; how uncomfortable that might make people feel.”
Of course, Zhao was not the first Sundance darling to make the jump to the MCU, with Taika WaititiRyan Coogler, and Destin Daniel Cretton all helming previously released installations–and returning for more. Little Woods director Nia DaCosta recently wrapped the Captain Marvel sequel The Marvelsdue out in February 2023. Now, imagine if Wes Anderson directed an X-Men movie…