There are more than a few things in Chloé Zhao’s Eternals we’ve never really seen before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most of the conflict in Eternals comes from within the Eternals themselves. One of the main arguments in the film comes from the Eternals’ primary mission, which is to protect Earth, but only up until a point. After this point, Earth will be destroyed, which will bring millions of new planets and life to existence. Ikaris (Richard Madden) believes the group should finish its mission. Most of the other Eternals, led by Sersi (Gemma Chan), have grown to like Earth and do not like this plan and vow to stop it from happening. (Some possibly minor spoilers ahead.)
But then something truly interesting happens when Kumail Nanjiani‘s character, Kingo, a fan favorite throughout the movie (at least he was at my screening), decides not to fight. He believes they should complete the intended mission, which would sacrifice Earth. But he also will not use violence to defend his position. So, he simply leaves. A scene in the movie that seems like something very personal to Zhao herself. Which, as she confirms, it very much is personal and she doesn’t know what side she’d be on if put in this situation.
Another scene we discussed (which, in reviews, has caused some controversy) is that of Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), an emotional wreck while lamenting about the part he played with the mass destruction at Hiroshima. It is a very pointed decision for Zhao to use this particular moment in human history and, ahead, she explains why.
And then there’s Star Wars. Before this interview, I was told by a friend of Zhao’s that she’s a huge fan of Star Wars. With emphasis on the word “huge,” while extending the “U” sound. “Huuuuuuuuge.” I, innocently, bring this up to Zhao who, once I did, well, she had that look on her face like, “something might be up and I’m sure as heck not going to tell you about it right now.” Could the Oscar-winning director be interested in helming a Star Wars movie?
A scene I’m curious about, there’s a battle about to start and Kumail Nanjiani’s character, Kingo, says he doesn’t agree with what they are fighting for, but won’t try to stop the rest of the Eternals. This felt like something personal to you. Is there anything to that?
Oh, man. Thank you. First of all, three days of press, thank you, you’re the only person ask me about that.
Really? I thought you’d be like, “This question again?”
I really, really thank you for that, because that is one of my, personally, most important moment in the film. Because we would like to, through this film, the idea to challenge some of the foundations of this genre. We really do feel like we’re entering the revisionist stage of superhero genre – I think at the edge of it. And the idea of black and white morality, the ideas of humans are automatically worth saving, things like that. What does strength look like? And also, the idea that you have to always punch your way through everything. You have to be violent physically to be heroic, as long as you’re on the right side. So we’re trying to have a movie where there isn’t… I mean, obviously, we want Earth to survive, but it’s going to be a tough decision and Kingo is an extremely complex character.
He loves Earth. He’s having a good time.
He loves Earth, but he has strong beliefs, just like Ikaris. He’s no different than Ikaris in terms of his faith for the Celestials and believing in the greater good: The fact that human beings and Earth doesn’t have the right to break out of the natural order. He believes that. However, the big difference between him and Ikaris is that he might believe something personally, but he does not believe that he should hurt other people for his beliefs.
That seems like you saying that, too.
I think if we give humanity the choice, how many of them would choose? I’m curious, because it would be a tough one for me. It would be a tough decision for me, personally. And I think a lot of us might sit this one out. We might be like, “You know what, I’m not going to play God. Maybe we should sometimes humble ourselves and let nature take its course.”
See, that’s the thing I can’t figure out, if you’re on Sersi or Ikaris’s side? I honestly don’t know.
It’s a tough one. And I have friends around me who have different opinions about it and they change. Sometimes they would go, “Actually, today because of what happened in the world, I’m more with this person now.” So, it was a decision, not easy to make. A lot of discussion went into it. We also talked to Kumail about it. It is a brave decision for superhero film character to take.
And you said there were discussions. How serious did those discussions get? Because I could see some difference of opinion there.
Very serious, because we are putting a character at risk, for the audience, a beloved character at risk. Because we have 10 characters, we have to try to do something different, give each of them a different perspective. And I would say this is personal. I think it’s one of the bravest things someone did in this movie is decide not to fight, not to hurt people for their beliefs.
Right. I’ve never seen anything like that before. I’m glad there was something to that.
Thank you. There’s a first sex scene, first this and that, but there is also this first. I’m glad, I’m so happy you recognized it.
When I talk to directors of Marvel movies and ask if they want to do another one, I kind of already know what the answer is going to be, I’m just curious how they’re going to word it. with you, I have no idea. You just won an Oscar. Maybe you’re like, “I’d like to do one and then do something else.”
I’ve been a fan of the MCU, and this process. I loved working with the team at Marvel. So I’ll be back working with them in a heartbeat with the right project. And with Eternals, we really were encouraged to leave everything on the table. Don’t think about the future. Don’t plan everything out. Make the best film we can make. Don’t leave anything. Everything out of my sleeves. It’s all here. So, now in this very moment, this film is more yours than mine.
No, it’s not. It’s yours.
I saw the credits, you’re in them. I’m not in them.
I know, but this is yours, because the film is going to grow with you, with the audiences, and it’s going to find its own identity. It’s out of my hands now. So we will see how things go. And then there’s no need to plan the future until we see this child’s new growth period and how things turned out.
I’m also curious how you picked the eras and places for the flashbacks. Like Hiroshima, a very interesting choice that I feel was a very pointed choice.
Wow. You are really on point. You’re the first person asking me that.
That’s very surprising.
No, it’s very surprising to me as well. I think, again, the weight of it, I think people might even feel uncomfortable asking, because there’s so much. And then that is also a discussion we’ve had many times, and including in post-production, in the edit. Personally, I do think it’s a crime against humanity. It’s not about which side you pick. It’s also a turning point in the psyche of us as a species. And after that moment, we’re never the same again. So for Phastos – who had this big belief and faith and positivity about who we are, of humanity – he believes as long as they advance, advance, advance, advance, they would be perfect. They would be fine. And that was a big wake-up call for him.
And then, from that disappointment, he has to focus on the smallest thing about humanity: not the biggest accomplishment, but the love of a family, the love of a lover, of his husband. And that’s when he can regain our humanity. It’s similar to us today. We turn on the news, we look at the big, clear picture, it could get pretty bleak. But if you go home, you look into the eyes and your parents or your child, your lover, you might regain some faith in humanity. And that’s sort of Phastos’ arc, and why Hiroshima was in the film.
On a lighter note, someone who knows you said you are a huge, and put a bunch of u’s in the word “huge,” Star Wars fan. I did not know that.
[Laughs] It’s true.
You should do one of those. I’d be in for one of those movies too from you.
[Laughs] Would you? I love how you buttered me up with those questions for the first 10 minutes? No, just kidding. No, look, I’ll be lucky if I get to play in the Star Wars universe. But, as you know, again, just like the MCU, the universe is so grand with so many incredible characters. And I think if I ever get the chance, it’s got to be the right story, the right character.
Well, obviously I would have liked to see a take from you in Star Wars anyway. But now knowing that you’re super into it, even more so now.
We did Comic-Con for Eternals, the first time they announced the project. And I went on the stage with this T-shirt and Kevin, first thing he said once I got on stage was, “Tell them what’s this on your T-shirt.” And it was, “I had friends on that Death Star.” It was a very sad Stormtrooper sitting in a chair, crying.
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