Chloé Zhao Reckons With ‘Eternals’ Dividing Fans: Its Style ‘Made People Uncomfortable’

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / © Marvel Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

While Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals” managed to gross $402 million worldwide at the pandemic box office, the film strongly divided critics and Marvel fans. “Eternals” boasts a 47% score on Rotten Tomatoes, making it the lowest-rated Marvel movie on the aggregation website (yes, even lower than “Thor: The Dark World”). In a new interview with Empire magazine, Zhao opened up for the first time in detail about the polarizing reception to her Marvel movie.

“Eternals” was originally supposed to open in November 2020, but the pandemic delayed the project’s release by an entire year. In its original November 2020 slot, “Eternals” would’ve more closely followed the opening of “Avengers: Endgame.” Zhao said the release day combined with the pandemic set “Eternals” up for divisiveness.

“‘Eternals’ was planned to be released soon after ‘Endgame,’ and not at a time when everyone is having an existential crisis,” Zhao said. “The film itself is about existential crisis, both for humanity and God. So I think we definitely felt [the divisiveness] was coming.”

Zhao also said the fusion of Marvel’s in-house style and her own indie film sensibilities was another source of the movie’s polarization. Fans of Zhao’s “The Rider” and Oscar winner “Nomadland” were disappointed to see more traditional Marvel elements in the film, while not all Marvel fans were on board with Zhao shaking up some of the visual language of the MCU.

“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,” Zhao said. “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. And then they look at our love-child and go, ‘Oh! This touches different sides of me!’ I like that.”

Zhao added, “I completely understand the divisiveness coming from critics and the fans. Because when you take this to extremes that are seen as opposition — the world I come from and the world of Marvel, that has been divided in a way that’s so unfair and unfortunate — and to merge the way we did, I actually see the reaction as a testament to how much we had merged with each other; how uncomfortable that might make people feel.”

Even with negative reviews, Zhao said she remains unbothered by the “Eternals” reception. The Oscar winner said, “I think the need for consensus is a hindrance for any authentic creative process…[Divisiveness] has [no] 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.”

“Eternals” is now available to stream on Disney Plus.