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New Podcast! Podcast 616 – “Eternals”

Podcast 616 is a podcast looking at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I was thrilled to be invited to join Dan Owen for a discussion of Chloé Zhao’s Eternals, which is a movie I enjoyed considerably more than most.

It’s a fun and broad discussion, which delves into questions around auteurship within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the paradox of superheroes, the question of power, and the challenges in adapting concepts like the Deviants for the big screen. It was really fun to roll up my sleeves and delve into this discussion with Dan, which allowed me to chat about everything from my blind spots with certain characters to the way in which the plot and themes of Eternals feels true to the spirit – if not necessarily the art – of Jack Kirby.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

Non-Review Review: Eternals

Chloé Zhao’s Eternals is a small, but necessary, step forward for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There has been a lot of pre-publicity around Eternals, most of it centring on Zhao as an auteur. Zhao has given interviews insisting that she directed all of the film’s action. Kevin Feige has talked about how her work convinced Disney executives to shoot in real locations rather than simply rendering a lot of the movie in post-production. As such, Eternals has become a weird battleground for the idea of authorship within the confines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

When Marvel saw the breadth of its domain…

It is easy to understand why this is. There have been Marvel Studios movies directed by Oscar-winners before; Joe Johnson won an Academy Award for visual effects on Raiders of the Lost Ark and Taika Waititi recently won a Best Adapted Screenplay award for JoJo Rabbit. However, there is something tangibly different about seeing a big budget blockbuster coming from an artist who won both Best Picture and Best Director at that year’s Academy Awards.

It also makes sense in the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There have undoubtedly been Marvel Studios films with strong senses of authorship: Shane Black’s Iron Man 3, Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, and Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. However, those movies all feel quite a long time ago. Although one can perhaps pick up traces of Cate Shortland’s personality in Black Widow or Daniel Destin Cretton’s interests in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, those films feel very familiar and very rote.

Red eyes in the morning…

There is tangible sense of opportunism at play in way that Marvel Studios has positioned Eternals as an auteur-driven project. After all, the studio has a long and complicated history with directors who have distinct visions; Patty Jenkins, Edgar Wright and Ava DuVernay have all suggested that the company’s culture is not particularly welcoming to creatives. In particular, Zhao’s assertion that she oversaw the movie’s action sequences exists in the context of Argentine director Lucrecia Martel, who recalls being told that if she chose to direct Black Widow, she would not be allowed to direct the action scenes.

Again, context is important here. Eternals is really the company’s first director-driven project since Black Panther, which is a big deal given the studio’s history of beginning pre-visualization of scenes and special effects “before the cinematographer or director has signed on to the project.” While movies like Avengers: Infinity War, Captain Marvel, Ant Man and the Wasp, Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home are all varying degrees of entertaining, none of them feel like the work of a filmmaker who has something particularly pressing to say about the modern world.

Superfriends.

All this tension plays through Eternals, the fine balancing act between a director with a very distinctive artistic sensibility working with a studio that appears eager to launder its reputation by association, while also being anxious that this auteur doesn’t get to go too far. In some ways, Eternals feels like a limit case for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an example of just how far the studio will allow a creative talent to stretch a rubber band before aggressively snapping it back into the default position.

This is the challenge facing Eternals. It goes further than any Marvel Studios film in recent memory, but that’s still not far enough.

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New Escapist Column! On Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals” and Marvel Studios Auteurship…

I published a new column at The Escapist today. With the upcoming release of Chloé Zhao’s Eternals, and the ongoing debate around it, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the narrative around the film.

Publicity around Eternals has made a big deal of the extent to which Zhao is the author of the film. Zhao has made it clear that she directed all the film’s action, and Kevin Feige has talked about how hard she fought to use real locations rather than simply green-screen effects. This is interesting, because these two very basic accomplishments are being treated as a big deal, as a revolutionary amount of freedom being afforded to a creative talent. It’s an interesting snapshot of modern blockbuster filmmaking, where these freedoms are considered exceptional and newsworthy.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Video! “Eternals is Flawed and Messy, But Also Beautiful – Review”

I’m thrilled to be launching movie reviews on The Escapist. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute film review of Eternals, which will release in theatres next weekend.

Jonathan Hickman’s Run on Ultimate Comics: Ultimates (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Thor: The Dark World towards the end of next month, we’ll be looking at some Thor and Avenger-related comics throughout September. Check back weekly for the latest reviews and retrospectives.

There’s something to be said for keeping Marvel’s Ultimate Universe as a “do anything you want” sandbox for up-and-coming creators, a chance for writers and artists to demonstrate their ability to tell comic book stories without worrying too much about the status quo or putting everything back in something resembling the way they found it. After all, the Ultimate Universe provided a fertile starting point for creators like Mark Millar, Brian Michael Bendis and Brian K. Vaughn to demonstrate they could tell big bombastic superhero stories, with Millar and Bendis going on to radically shape  the mainstream Marvel continuity.

As such, Jonathan Hickman’s run on the awkwardly-titled Ultimate Comics: Ultimates feels like an audition. It’s very clearly a weird alternate-universe take on many of the ideas that he would carry over to his run on Avengers and New Avengers when he succeeded creator Brian Michael Bendis. Hickman’s Ultimates is bristling with big ideas, and an exciting willingness to tear down and build up without any hesitation. The only real problem is that it feels like a story sorely missing an ending.

Thor smash!

Thor smash!

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Doctor Who: Enlightenment – Special Edition (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

Enlightenment originally aired in 1983. It was the third and final instalment in the Black Guardian Trilogy.

Enlightenment is easily among the very best adventures to feature Peter Davison in the role of the Doctor. It helps that it has a story that seems to perfectly suit his version of the character, one that’s arguably more cerebral and fanciful than it is dark and horrific or adventurous and action-packed. Enlightenment features one of the most quintessentially British storylines in Doctor Who, capturing the quirky appeal of the series almost perfectly, with a boat race in space… with pirates! It’s fun, it’s clever and the special effects aren’t ground-breaking, but they’re stylish enough to pull it off.

No matter how you cut it, Enlightenment is a win.

Sailing into the sunset...

Sailing into the sunset…

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