“Eternals,” the newest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, comes from the Oscars’ reigning best director Chloé Zhao, but has been met with tepid reception from critics. Ahead of its release in theaters on Friday, the film is currently sitting at 53% on Rotten Tomatoes, the lowest score for an MCU film, which is baffling considering it’s sitting under “Thor: The Dark World” (2013) and “Iron Man 2” (2010). It’s unlikely it will join “Black Panther” (2018), the only Marvel feature to be nominated for best picture at the Oscars, but what about the other categories?
The visual effects category seems to present the best opportunity for a nom. “Dune,” from Denis Villeneuve, is so far the only surefire contender in that category. I was surprised to learn recently that no film directed by a woman has ever won for best visual effects. “There’s no way,” I said to a friend, Karen Petersen, before she pointed out me to Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s “The Matrix” won in 1999, before they transitioned.
My friend’s disheartening observation had me combing through all the winners for visual effects. Digging further, I was reminded that only two women have ever won the category in the entire history of the Academy Awards. Sara Bennett, who was part of the team behind “Ex Machina” (2015), won in a shocking (albeit deserved) upset against three other best picture nominees and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The other is Suzanne M. Benson for “Aliens” (1986). Besides them, there have only been two other nominees: Pamela Easley for “Cliffhanger” (1993) and Genevieve Camilleri for “Love and Monsters” (2020)– all part of a larger team of men.
Besides the all-too-known fact that white men have been gatekeepers in Hollywood for decades, how is this not more widely known or addressed?
There are many reasons for that, from artisans not getting the coverage they deserve to the entrenched networks of job opportunities. In addition, the action genre is often thought of as a men’s domain, which I feel has to do with some of the critical takedowns. Women filmmakers are too often typecast into genres that are deemed acceptable. Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning direction on “The Hurt Locker” (2009) was a pendulum swing for war films. Westerns are also looked upon differently when helmed by a woman (hopefully, Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” signals another shift in that genre). All too often, we see other filmmakers given free passes for their efforts because of their notoriety or the studio that backs them. That’s more equality needed in this business.
So, is “Eternals” dead in every aspect of the awards race? I turn your eyes to the DC Extended Universe.
During its run, Warner Bros’ first stab at the villain team-up movie “Suicide Squad” (2016) was panned by film critics. Though it was a box office success, pundits and awards enthusiasts were surprised when the film made the Oscars list for makeup and hairstyling, then mustered a nomination over more worthy entrants such as “Deadpool” and “Jackie.” Fast-forward to Feb. 26, 2017, against “A Man Called Ove” and “Star Trek Beyond,” the lowest-rated DCEU film to date became the first superhero film to win an Academy Award before any Marvel feature was able to achieve it. So perhaps visual effects aren’t too crazy of a notion.
“Eternals” boasts an impressive cast that includes standouts Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani and Brian Tyree Henry. The chances of any of them cracking an acting lineup is close to nil. Still, the Screen Actors Guild Awards would be foolish not to include it in the stunt ensemble category (note to SAG awards: Please add the stunt categories to your live telecast, and for AMPAS, add the class to your roster — please and thank you).
Examining the trajectory of Marvel Studios in the critical realm, it shouldn’t be surprising that a film has has been relegated to the “rotten” side of the equation. What studio can boast a positive response with every outing? “Eternals” is a top-tier outing. Soft lens palettes, unpredictable storylines in many places, and harnessing new quips that the MCU has been so famous for. Does the film do a little more “rallying everyone together” (better known as “assembling”) than the average viewer would like? Absolutely. Is it beautifully inclusive without making a point to say it is? I’d say so.
2022 Academy Awards Predictions
- Best Picture
- Best Director
- Best Actor
- Best Actress
- Best Supporting Actor
- Best Supporting Actress
- Best Original Screenplay
- Best Adapted Screenplay
- Best Animated Feature
- Best Production Design
- Best Cinematography
- Best Costume Design
- Best Film Editing
- Best Makeup and Hairstyling
- Best Sound
- Best Visual Effects
- Best Original Score
- Best Original Song
- Best Documentary Feature
- Best International Feature