Throughout “Eternals,” the latest — although certainly not the last! — from Marvel Studios, you can see director Chloe Zhao fighting to cut this industrial-strength spectacle down to human size. Her efforts are mostly evident in the sincerity of the performances and in the heartfelt moments that punctuate the movie, creating pinpricks of warming light. But it’s a titanic struggle. And as Zhao keeps lubricating the machinery with feeling and tears, her efforts seem to mirror the battle that her likable superheroes are waging against a force seeking to thoroughly control their destinies.
Created by comic book seer Jack Kirby, the Eternals first swooped onto the page in 1976 (“When Gods Walk the Earth!”) and have been resurrected a few times since. With Marvel bringing the Avengers movie cycle to a close (for now), it was a given that it would dust off another group of potential superfranchisers. To that end, Marvel brought in Zhao (“Nomadland”) to start the engine with a cast culled from across the entertainment world. Angelina Jolie is here, with sad hair and glamour-puss makeup, and so are Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, Don Lee, Kumail Nanjiani, an indispensable Brian Tyree Henry and two dewy heartthrobs from HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”