Here’s a name you’re going to start hearing: Chloe Zhao. She’s a director and she just booked a Marvel gig, The Eternals. Things to know about Chloe Zhao: She’s Chinese, she’s 36 (joining Ryan Coogler as people who make you feel bad about your accomplishments at your age), she was in the running for the Black Widow movie, and she had a film come out this year, The Rider, that is one of those slide-under-the-radar indie releases everyone raves about at the end of the year. You can rent it on Amazon, iTunes, et cetera, and you really should. It’s one of the best movies of the year (so far). She’s the kind of filmmaker that you’re glad to see get a big break like this, but at the same time, you kind of just want her to get all the money in the world to do her own thing forever, although riding the Marvel train to creative freedom certainly worked out for Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler, so hopefully it works out for Zhao, too.
Now, about the Eternals. This is a team a la the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, so even though the project will certainly have a central female character—probably this one—this technically makes Zhao the first female director to make a superhero movie not centered explicitly on female heroes, because yes, women can tell other types of stories, too. There are already a couple Eternals running around the MCU: The Collector and the Grandmaster. Does this mean Benicio Del Toro and Jeff Goldblum will be in this movie? Probably not. Rumor has it The Eternals will be set in the far past of the current events in the MCU. That’s a clever way of giving them room to breathe outside the larger connectivity of the MCU, and Eternals are basically immortal, so if a character proves popular, they can always pop up in the “modern” movies.
And as this is a “cosmic” story—created by Jack Kirby, whose work heavily influenced Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok—this could, potentially, be a replacement franchise for James Gunn’s troubled Guardians 3. Earlier this year, before all that sh*t with Gunn blew up, Kevin Feige confirmed the existence of an Eternals project. They have a script already, so obviously those conversations were a little more developed than Feige made it sound, but still, going from “yeah we’re talking about this” to “we have a director” in less than six months is a little fast, at least on the public confirmations end. They measure their decisions and plan things years in advance, so The Eternals was already in the pipeline, but just the speed at which a director hire comes makes me wonder if this got pushed to the front when Guardians 3 collapsed. I still have a suspicion that Marvel has tabled Guardians 3 with the loss of Gunn, and lo, here is a cosmic-set, Kirby-influenced alien team to take their place. And the optics certainly don’t hurt, that on the heels of dismissing a controversy-plagued dude they hire an up-and-coming woman hot off Sundance to direct a very similar project.