Eternals, the 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brings together a group of 10 immortal, super-powered beings who reunite after thousands of years when an ancient enemy resurfaces. The film, starring Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee and Lia McHugh, releases in theatres on November 5. Its director and co-writer Chloe Zhao talks about balancing the MCU checklist with her own artistic instincts and how Eternals changed her:
Anupama Chopra (AC): As I was watching Eternals, I was thinking: This film has to do so much. You're introducing us to a new mythology and 10 new superheroes, you're batting for inclusivity and representation, you're also navigating the checklist of an MCU film and your own artistic instincts. As a storyteller, how did you balance all of this?
Chloe Zhao (CZ): You write as much as you can, you shoot as much as you can and you narrow it down in the edit. And you have a great team around you to keep you in check.
AC: I love that there's a song and dance number in an MCU film. What was the thinking behind this? Are you a Bollywood fan? Why make Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) a Bollywood hero?
CZ: Marvel had worked on a treatment for the film with (screenwriter) Kaz Firpo. He and his cousin, Ryan, had a connection to India, they'd worked here quite a lot and so we thought about not doing a traditional Hollywood actor character. Kingo represents a certain part of humanity – our love for pop-culture, for showmanship, for attention, for cinema and storytelling. We really wanted one of the Eternals to fall in love with that. When I first read the treatment that Marvel had worked on, we thought of setting it in Hollywood, but it was so much more fun to be able set it in Bollywood and then to be able to do a dance number. It was just so exciting, to let the whole world see and celebrate the beauty of that.
AC: When you made your first three films, your American west trilogy, you said that they changed you because you understood that the land would always be there for you. Did making this film change you in any way?
CZ: It was the most intense film school experience a person could ever have. I don't think I could do a film unless it gave me a chance to learn more about the world I live in. The pandemic happened during our post-production period and so we had to go through that process with only a small group of people and get introspective about it. We were looking at our planet, not just today, but what it has given us for thousands of years, before we even existed. We thought about the people who've been here before, their role in the cosmos, our own importance and our human rights. We're chopping down every tree and killing every predator so we can flourish? For what? To conquer space? Are we going to give meaning to the cosmos? These are all existential questions that I didn't think about much in my teens and 20s but now I'm about to turn 40 and so I do. To be able to tell a story that young people can watch, with these questions snuck in, that's been very rewarding. I learned a lot from that process.