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Eternals Review

November 5, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
Eternals Image Credit: Marvel Studios
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Eternals Review  

Directed By: Chloé Zhao
Written By: Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo; Based on the Marvel comics and characters created by Jack Kirby
Runtime: 157 minutes
MPA Rating: Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, some language and brief sexuality

Gemma Chan – Sersi
Richard Madden – Ikaris
Lia McHugh – Sprite
Salma Hayek – Ajak
Angelina Jolie – Thena
Kumail Nanjiani – Kingo
Barry Keoghan – Druig
Don Lee – Gilgamesh
Brian Tyree Henry – Phastos
Lauren Ridloff – Makkari
Haresh Patel – Karun
Kit Harington – Dane Whitman

The latest entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eternals, comes by way of Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao. While the film is certainly ambitious, it is lacking in many areas to truly become a memorable iconic classic. Eternals is uniquely different from some recent MCU installments, yet fails to come together to truly leave a mark.

The story follows a group of primordial beings known as the Eternals. They are ancient beings from across the cosmos who were sent to Earth to safeguard humankind from Deviants. Deviants are another primordial race of feral, interstellar predators who feed on intelligent and sentient life. Throughout multiple millennia, the Eternals protected humanity from the Deviants at the behest of their masters, the Celestials. They also appear to provide some guidance and inspiration for major leaps in human development; and with their familiar names, they likely served as the basis for many Earthly legends, myths and religious figures in human history.

Eventually, the Eternals went their separate ways. Some lived their own lives among the humans. But the Deviants have returned, and now they appear to be targeting the Eternals at various corners of the Earth. After Sersi (Chan) and her eternally young companion, Sprite (McHugh), are attacked by a dangerous Deviant, they reunite with their long-lost companion Ikaris (Madden). With the return of the Deviants, the Eternals must now band together to save their sometimes-dysfunctional family, but there are greater powers at work that could also threaten the safety of the entire Earth.

Marvel’s Eternals can be described in a single word — tepid. The main characters are just so bland, and they don’t seem motivated or passionate. As villains, the Deviants share next to nothing in common with their comic counterparts. Not to mention, as antagonists, the Deviants are a complete afterthought and add little to the film. As the narrative progresses, the Deviants can evolve but become even less significant.

The plot is clunky. There are too many awkward exposition dumps. In the first half of the film, one particular revelation happens too early. The reason why this revelation comes to light is full of logical fallacies. The characters are bland, and the action sequences, which are located generously throughout the film, are insipid with some questionable lighting choices. For example, there’s one action scene set in the Amazon Jungle at just around daybreak. It bathes the whole area in a murky, blue haze. Stretched across the IMAX scene, rather than fun, exhilarating and suspenseful, the action looked rather nauseating. What happened to clear and crisp lighting for major action set pieces?

A major problem is that Eternals focuses most of its copious runtime, which is even longer than the new Dune movie, on banal, lifeless characters. The main characters in Eternals lack charisma, a sense of charm, life and warmth. Zhao’s script presents Ikaris and Sersi as a pair of destined lovers who had a whirlwind romance across time. However, the passion between leads Gemma Chan and Richard Madden is non-existent. There’s no spark or chemistry between the two to believe their love is genuine. At least when Sersi is on screen with Kit Harington’s Dane Whitman, there is a sense of mutual attraction between the two; a loving relationship that’s new, but also sincere.

The rest of the Eternals never come into their own as characters and don’t receive fully fleshed-out arcs. In the case of Druig (Keoghan) and Gilgamesh (Lee), their characterizations are half-baked.

The very idea of Angelina Jolie making her MCU debut should be exciting and earth-shattering. Instead, her performance is the weakest in the Eternals group. Jolie’s Thena is a warrior who should be suffering from trauma and haunted by the memories of her past sins. Instead, she looks bored out of her mind. She barely speaks in the movie, and watching the film in IMAX, it was hard to make out if she was using a British accent or a Greek one, or some weird, indecipherable quasi mix of the two. Despite a character who should be one of the strongest and fiercest warriors among her clan, Jolie’s performance is one of the most disappointing of her career.

Kumail Nanjiani portrays Kingo, who is the most entertaining character in the entire film. Sadly, even he gets wasted by some poor storytelling decisions later in the film. When Kingo appears, the movie is suddenly imbued with a nice sense of energy and some much-needed pizzazz. Kingo has embraced life and his role as a Bollywood movie star, yet the movie makes a highly questionable choice with his character that only undercuts both Kingo and the narrative.

Eternals is not without its redeeming qualities. There are some refreshing and notable elements at work. For better or worse, the film is far removed from the rest of the MCU. It is somewhat of a stretch to state that Eternals is the most unique of all MCU films. There are plenty of quality films in the MCU saga that are visually and thematically unique. Eternals has an advantage in that it is not the typical Marvel superhero origin story, and it does not follow the usual, predictable origin story beats. The hero’s origin formula is not unique to Marvel films. It can be found in many other films going back for decades.

Another benefit Eternals offers is that it is a standalone entry, so moviegoers do not need to prep first by watching existing films. There are a few token references to other MCU characters and events, but they are incidental. Eternals is not resting on its laurels as a Marvel film and relying on other films to prop it up. Unfortunately, it fails to inspire elsewhere.

In terms of production design and visuals, there is some nice eye candy on display here. Eternals has some interesting sci-fi concepts and visuals that nicely pay homage to creator Jack Kirby’s source material, and not only the Eternals comics, but also his limited comic miniseries based on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Other influences include Ridley Scott’s Prometheus and Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past.

The idea of ancient alien visitors guiding a primitive Earth is certainly fascinating, but filmmakers run into obstacles when they exploit those ideas in a cinematic presentation. Much like Ridley Scott struggled with striking a good balance of ambitious science fiction with Prometheus and expanding the lore of the Alien franchise, Zhao struggles to find a balance in marrying the concepts of Erich von Däniken with Marvel heroics.

The premise of Eternals should be simple: a group of beings akin to Greek Gods have somehow discovered their own sense of compassion for humanity and will do anything to protect the human race. As a movie, Eternals fails to find its footing with that premise. This is the weakest MCU entry to date.

The final score: review Not So Good
The 411
Marvel Studios' Eternals is a rare misfire. However, it has a few redeeming qualities. Chloé Zhao had some clear ambition, but the film fails to come together with likable, meaningful characters or a truly engaging plot. The film contains some interesting sci-fi concepts and visuals. It stands apart from the rest of the MCU and doesn't heavily rely on other MCU entries, but that's both a blessing and a curse. Eternals is the weakest MCU entry to date.