The latest installation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe leaves a lot to be desired, but the underlying talent of director Chloé Zhao and the film’s ensemble cast are impossible to ignore.
Author: Lewis Bruce
Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals” clearly has so much it wants to say, and yet it says so little — but at this point, that feels expected from Marvel’s almost 15-year-old saga.
Over its staggering two-hour, 40-minute runtime, “Eternals” attempts to tell the convoluted story of these extraterrestrial protectors of Earth in its overwhelming entirety. The film details an alternate history of humanity that suggests we have been sheltered and gently pushed along our evolutionary path by these divine figures since the very beginning. In the present day, it becomes a story of getting the band back together. The Eternals have fractured and must reunite to investigate the return of the beasts they are sent to exterminate, the Deviants.
The film struggles to avoid tropes that have plagued the superhero genre for years. It plays with the all-too-overused motif of secret superheroes shaping our society, coupled with preaching against humans’ long-standing traditions of violence and greed from an omniscient soapbox. While there’s nothing wrong with using the blockbuster sci-fi/fantasy genre as a medium to present serious existential questions as films like “Arrival” and even “Avengers: Endgame” did so profoundly, “Eternals” does so in a way that lacks any real challenge or insight.
At times, it feels as though the movie is abruptly interrupted so that some character can monologue to the camera about how bad we humans are for initiating wars and acting so vainly. This pattern leaves the emotionally charged end of the first act feeling like it was included in the film solely for the purpose of morally positioning the Eternals above the humans they protect.
Thankfully, the fake deepness of it all does little to bog down the fun moviegoing experience Marvel Studios has all but guaranteed thanks to its signature sense of humor and dedication to high-budget CGI action. The fight scenes are all beautifully shot, choreographed and edited, and the ensemble cast’s sense of humor and strong collective chemistry leave very little to be desired. Specifically, a
A scene in which the Eternals must defend a woodland community from the Deviants includes all of these elements at their best, becoming an easy favorite of mine not just from this movie, but from any Marvel movie in recent years.
Kumail Nanjiani and Haris Patel are hilarious together as Eternal-turned-Bollywood movie star Kingo and his manager/sidekick Karun. Ma Dong-seok seems born to play his role as the mighty, lumbering Gilgamesh. Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek deliver some of the most emotionally potent performances I’ve seen in any Marvel movie as the tormented Thena and the stoic leader Ajak, respectively.
Other performers struggled to fill their roles. The film’s lead characters, Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden), who supposedly grapple with lingering feelings after a discontinued romance, feel like they hardly had any romantic chemistry. Barry Keoghan, who plays the mind-controlling empath Druig, struggles to bring much complexity to what should be a complex character.
The film is also a landmark for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It introduces the MCU’s first gay superhero
, as well as the first portrayal of same-sex affection between any two characters in the franchise’s 26 films. A scene follows the Eternals’ machinist, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), to his quiet suburban home with his husband and son. The scene shows immense promise for the future of queer representation in not just Marvel films, but in big-budget Hollywood films as a whole.
There isn’t a single shot over the film’s runtime that doesn’t look absolutely stunning. Zhao’s love for natural lighting — which shone so brilliantly in her acclaimed drama “Nomadland” — is not at all lost in “Eternals.” While many directors shy away from dawn or dusk due to their inherently unorthodox lighting conditions, Zhao thrives in the atmospheric afterglow, letting the faint sunlight create these beautifully moody settings that exacerbate every emotion in the scene.
“Eternals” fails to become an exceptional addition to Marvel’s body of work, even if it feels like it so badly wants to be one. While Chloé Zhao and her A-list cast do everything they can to make up for it, the film falls apart thanks to its convoluted plotline and worn-out messaging.