Continuing the MCU's exploration of deep space and otherworldly characters/worlds in phase four, Eternals follows an immortal alien race that was created by the Celestials and has been living secretly on Earth for thousands of years. They finally have to reunite to stop their evil counterparts known as the Deviants.
In a new interview with Empire, Zhao reflected on the film's reception, particularly the fans' response, and why the film resulted in one of the MCU's most conflicted projects to date. “I think the need for consensus is a hindrance for any authentic creative process,” the director said. "Just like it’s a hindrance for living an authentic life as a person. I have been on the receiving end of somewhat consensus, and divisiveness about my work. Neither of them has any real influence on me as an artist, because every time I’m lucky enough to create, I learn from the process."
"From what I’ve succeeded [at], and what I’ve failed [at]. But that learning process is a very intimate affair. Anything beyond that, for me, it’s just a part of the ecosystem that exists because of the nature of the industry we’re in. Like a flower or a rock, I acknowledge and appreciate their presence. But that’s as far as it goes," Zhao continued. Amidst its divisiveness - Eternals ranks as the lowest MCU film on Rotten Tomatoes with a current score of 47% - it's apparent that Zhao injected her unique, ambitious filmmaking style to create an MCU film that is both visually stunning and challenging, as it offers a deeper exploration of the familial and interpersonal relationships between its heroes. The film also earned over $400M at the global box office, a feat that is still very impressive, especially during a pandemic era.
Zhao would later mention in the interview that the plan was to release Eternals soon after Marvel Studios' Avengers: Endgame and not at a time when people are having an existential crisis. But aside from what was out of their control, Zhao and the rest of the cast and crew strived to deliver a piece of entertainment that was outside the box and not restricted to certain moviegoer expectations when it comes to blockbusters. “The truth is that nobody is one layer. 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," Zhao added, referring to the integrated indie style aspect in an MCU film.
While there's no telling when a sequel will release, from Gemma Chan confirming her character Sersi will return to the MCU to Don Lee gearing up to work on a Marvel project this summer, Eternals 2 will likely come to fruition. And despite the first film's criticisms, knowing of Zhao's acclaimed background with indie films like The Rider and Nomadland, there's no doubt that she is more than capable of delivering something next level on the sequel. But until then, fans will just have to see where the MCU leads, as exciting upcoming projects like Moon Knight and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will have lasting implications on the shared universe.
Eternals is now available to stream on Disney Plus.