It’s been a year to remember for filmmaker Chloé Zhao.

In April, Zhao made history by winning best director for “Nomadland” (which also won best picture). Now Zhao is following up that award-winning film by helming the latest film in one of the most popular film franchises today – the latest chapter in the Marvel Comics Universe “Eternals.”

And while the woman behind “Nomadland” and “The Rider” might seem an odd choice to helm a Marvel movie, “Eternals” actually proves to be the perfect fit for Zhao’s storytelling style. The result is a Marvel Film that feels more like a Chloé Zhao film than the other way around.

“Eternals” is a sprawling epic that spans thousands of years, following a group of ancient aliens sent to Earth to protect the planet from beings known as Deviants. This group includes the leader Ajak (Salma Hayek), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani).

We learn through flashbacks that after centuries of battling the Deviants the group has gone their separate ways waiting for final instructions.

And this is where Zhao’s intimate storytelling kicks in. “Eternals” takes time to allow the audience to get to know these aliens and how they have blended into the modern-day world. Sersi is an archaeologist in a relationship with an English teacher named Dane (Kit Harington). Because the Eternals never age, Sprite lives with the pain of always being stuck as a teenage girl.

Kingo has become a huge Bollywood star – part of a multi-generational family that is actually just him assuming a new identity each generation.

Zhao, who co-wrote the screenplay, takes her time to allow the audience to get to know these characters in a fashion we have rarely seen in Marvel movies. This is a dysfunctional family that we see in their most mundane moments (at least mundane by comic book standards).

“Eternals” builds off the previous Marvel film “Shang-Chi” which was a bit of a departure for the franchise by not being afraid to be quiet and reflective. That intimacy is on full display here – and provides the film with its strength.

But this is a Marvel movie so there has to be some sort of conflict beyond everyday things. The film’s central conflict emerges as Deviants return, just as it appears that a series of cataclysmic events threaten the Earth’s existence. The Eternals must reunite and stop this event in time to spare the lives of everyone on the planet.

This central conflict leads to a final act that will likely satisfy action fans (There is also a mid-credit scene that really pushes the Marvel world forward), but ultimately this is a chapter in the franchise where we get to know the characters in ways that have never been explored before.

It makes for a more personal experience, a Marvel film that slows everything down and allows the audience to breathe a bit before this phase of the MCU really ramps up. “Eternals” may not be your typical comic book film, but it’s a refreshing new vision thanks to Zhao’s confident filmmaking.

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