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There is something going on with Eternals, Oscar winner Chloé Zhao’s debut dip into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Perhaps it’s that this is one of the first MCU episodes to arrive almost fully formed, without endless teases and character introductions during previous instalments. Maybe it’s the way August’s final full trailer seemed to apologise for this in advance, explaining that Earth’s cosmic guardians had not bothered taking down mean ol’ Thanos during the Earth-shattering events of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame because they had been told not to by some pesky unknown entity. But more likely it’s that ... hang on, is that Angelina Jolie in a blond wig and silver spandex?
Yes, the almost infinitely famous Jolie is playing Thena, an elite Eternal warrior who can form any weapon out of pure cosmic energy. And why not? For if there is a human more suited to playing a gorgeous, godlike otherworldly creature who has lived for more than 7,000 years (but not aged), I have yet to meet them.
And yet Jolie is an outlier in the Marvel universe, a star so bright she does not need the might of any studio to power her through the Hollywood cosmos. Nor does Marvel need her, for it has turned unknowns, has-beens and fast-climbers alike into A-listers in its 20-film journey.
Jolie, however, is more like a AAA-lister, so famous that it is barely possible any longer to distinguish the character from the actor.
She is not Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man, an actor trying to rebuild his career after slipping off everyone’s radar for a few years. She is not Glenn Close in Guardians of the Galaxy, a veteran playing her fantasy role as knowing semi-cameo, aware that everyone knows who she is but is happy to suspend disbelief because it’s so nice to see her chewing scenery like a badass in natty blue spacewear. She’s Angelina Jolie, for frick’s sake! These days, for her to disappear into a role would require the special-effects whizzes to digitally disintegrate her at a subatomic level and rebuild her from pixels made of cherry blossom. And even then we would still see Jolie on screen.
Why is she in Eternals? Did we accidentally tune into a DC movie trailer by mistake? For Jolie would make total sense turning up as a magical mer-titan in an upcoming Aquaman sequel, or perhaps in a Batman film as the object of Bruce Wayne’s affections. After all, Nicole Kidman has done both, and she is almost as illustrious a screen presence as Jolie. But no, Eternals is most definitely a Marvel movie – they namechecked Thanos.
Could it be that despite her incredible celebrity, Jolie needs the Disney-owned studio after all? Her efforts in the high-profile Maleficent movies did not receive much love from the critics, and she hasn’t really prospered in lower-key dramatic fare recently.
If this were an episode of Entourage, the classic 00s TV show about an actor trying to make it in Hollywood, starring in a Marvel movie is exactly the kind of trick Jeremy Piven’s super-agent Ari Gold would try to pull off to get his client’s career back on track. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any less weird that Jolie is in this movie. She has the power to blow everyone else off screen yet currently never quite does so.
Yet if Marvel can adopt Jolie and supercharge her career to the point where, in a decade’s time, we think of her as one of the superhero mega-saga’s main players, this could be the most impressive stunt since Tony Stark invented time travel using sticky-back plastic and an algebra textbook.