Filmmaker Chloé Zhao is carving out a fascinating career. She's the person responsible for the critically acclaimed new Frances McDormand drama Nomadland. And, for her next trick, Zhao is swerving into completely different territory: the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
She will be helming Marvel Phase Four title Eternals, starring Angeline Jolie, Salma Hayek and Kit Harington, among others. The movie is derived from the Marvel comic book source of the same name, focusing on all-powerful celestial beings who've disguised themselves in human form on Earth.
Other than that, we know very little to nothing about Zhao's approach to the movie. There's no trailer as yet, and no cast photos have been released (barring their 2019 Comic-Con debut). This is especially teasing as the movie finished shooting in February 2020, only for the release date to be complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We can't imagine it'll be anything like Nomadland or her earlier film The Rider, both of which interweave fictional narratives with documentary realism. Intriguing as that would be, Marvel clearly demands spectacle and popcorn-spilling action, and there's little in the director's back catalogue to suggest her experience in these areas.
Nevertheless, Marvel Studios big cheese Kevin Feige has confessed to being stunned by Zhao's initial pitch. He told Rolling Stone: "Not only does [Zhao] make remarkable, small, personal movies in a remarkable, small, personal way, but she thinks in grand, cosmic, gigantic terms, which fit perfectly with what we wanted to do. Eternals is a very big, sweeping, multimillennial-spanning story. And she just got it."
Well, that certainly primes us. Frankly, that first trailer can't come soon enough. Eternals is, at the time of writing, scheduled for a November 2021 release. It's part of a packed schedule of Phase Four movies encompassing Black Widow (May 2021 TBC), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the 10 Rings (July 2021 TBC), Spider-Man 3 (December 2021 TBC), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (March 2022 TBC) and Thor: Love and Thunder (May 2022 TBC).
In the meantime, Zhao presents the elegiac and haunting Nomadland, which showcases another career-topping performance from Frances McDormand. She plays Fern, a recently bereaved woman who has lost her job and been witness to the economic collapse of her small Nevada town. To that end, she puts her belongings in storage and hits the road in a van, carving out a nomadic existence amidst the heartland of the USA.
The movie has been met with unanimously positive reviews and is being considered a frontrunner at the 2021 Oscars (due to take place on 25th April). RogerEbert.com described it as "a gorgeous film that’s alternately dreamlike in the way it captures the beauty of this country and grounded in its story about the kind of person we don’t usually see in movies".
It certainly makes Zhao an intriguing proposition as far as Marvel is concerned. Can she elicit the same depth of feeling from the canvas of the Eternals? Tweet us your thoughts @Cineworld and be sure to check out the trailer for Nomadland.