Some directors take years figuring out how to follow up an Oscar-winning movie. For Chloe Zhao, who just won Best Director and Best Picture at the 93rd Academy Awards for Nomadland, there’s no such suspense. Her next movie would have already been released late last year if not for the coronavirus pandemic. It’s Eternals, the third film in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Eternals is a major step up in terms of budget and scope for Zhao, whose previous works were all intimate, independent affairs. According to a new profile about Zhao in Variety, though, the film will still bear some of the same visual flavor of her earlier films, even though they were quiet character studies set in the American West and Eternals is a massive Marvel blockbuster about a race of immortal alien beings who’ve lived on Earth in secret for centuries. The article claims that while most Marvel films are full of visual effects and green screen shots, Zhao fought to use as many “practical locations” as possible.

Marvel President Kevin Feige even told Variety that some of the early test footage was so impressive, he had to explain to his bosses at Disney how few visual effects were up on screen:

I had to keep saying, ‘This is right out of a camera; there’s no VFX work to this at all!’ Feige says. ‘Because it was a beautiful sunset, with perfect waves and mist coming up from the shore on this giant cliffside — really impressive stuff.’ Later, watching Nomadland, he saw similar shots. ‘Oh! That is not just what she wanted to bring to Marvel,’ he remembers thinking. ‘This is a signature style.’

That should come as welcome news to Marvel critics who claim that every MCU movie bears the same house style and that their productions are basically interchangeable. It should also be welcome news to Chloe Zhao fans who thought Eternals might have been some cash grab after several critically acclaimed indies. It sounds instead like she brought her own particular aesthetic to the project. Eternals is scheduled to open in theaters on November 5.

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