Directed by Chloé Zhao
Stars Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Barry Keoghan, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Ma Dong-seok, and Salma Hayek
Where to watch: Currently in theatres
I think it’s important to start off by saying that I’m surprised at some of the outpouring from critics about this being the worst MCU movie. This is by far better than Thor: The Dark World, or Iron Man 2 & Iron Man 3. The fact that Marvel brought in Academy Award winning director Chloé Zhao to introduce a whole new line of personalities into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the fact that she does it in such an absolutely beautiful way keeps it far from being in the bottom tier of the MCU’s content. That’s not to say this one is perfect, or in the upper echelon, theres plenty that I’ll go into on why it isn‘t that either- but the reaction so far to Eternals has been massively overblown in both directions which doesn’t seem fair either way.
The Eternals are a team of ancients aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years. When an unexpected tragedy forces them out of the shadows, they are forced to reunite against mankind’s most ancient enemy, the Deviants.
The key flaws against Eternals is the sheer size and scope the story is aiming to tell. After all this is a group of ten brand new ancient god like heroes we are being introduced to for the first time, and we have to catch up on centuries of past history between them. What this catchup causation does is two critical mistakes which kept Eternals from truly hitting on all of its notes for me personally.
First off, the film starts off super messy. We’re jumping from time period to time period back to the modern time then back again in time. All of this has a purpose, we’re learning each of the Eternals logic and reasoning for their interactions with humans, but it doesn’t do much in terms of effectively telling the story. Rather this choppy editing completely hurts the first quarter of the film as we continue to hop back and forth between past and present in a seem less blur of cutscenes. With each scene, each past interaction with mankind being so vastly different- the pacing quickly becomes an issue as the film never really finds the proper to rhythm to beat from start to finish. By the time were all caught up on their complex backstories and jumping into the action of the modern time, the viewer is almost run down by just the sheer amount of flashbacks and backstory required to know the characters
That brings me to the second point on why playing catch-up hurt the film. We’re being introduced to ten godlike new heroes to the MCU, each one on paper bringing something new and fresh to the universe-we have these vastly different characters compared to those previously introduced in other films. Yet we never really get there with most of them, by there being an emotional connection to care. Juggling ten backstories that are interwoven through some rough editing- we end up only truly connecting to one or two of the members, while others in the stacked cast are reduced to small backstories or just completely wasted for the entire film. This made it tough to care for some of the dialogue going on between characters which clearly was meant to show their relationships through the centuries yet we never get to see it fully even with all the backstory we’re shown.
Not all is bad and I figured I would end off this review with the positives rather than the negatives. To start Zhao has a way of world building in the most beautiful of ways. It would be undeniable to say what she provided the MCU was not one of its most beautiful films- from the lighting, and visual effects- to most importantly the way the set pieces are shown. Everything feels larger than life in this film about larger than life beings and it’s done in a way that just stuns the viewer. The Deviants designs are all unique, and I would love to see each individual ones characteristics up close on a second viewing because they were just stunning monstrosities.
Most importantly, Eternals successfully expands the diversity bandwidths of the MCU and covers more people from various backgrounds to connect with a hero that looks or loves the same way as them. It’s so important to connect with a worldwide audience and allow diversity into these things especially the MCU with how large it is, and they didn’t shy away sharing so many unique backgrounds in its heroes. Each one perfectly cast for their roles, whether they were used to their full potential or not. We also have the emergence of one of the best new heroes in Sersi, played by the incredible Gemma Chan who brought so much heart to this film and really really carried the emotional notes of it. Chan is a Hollywood star in the making and getting her out into a large audience like the MCU will do wonders to continue to grow her much deserving star- I cannot wait to see what her character gets upto next and for the interactions between her and various different members of the MCU.
In the end Eternals, may not have been the perfect film that we had all hoped for but now that all the complex history is out there- maybe we can build forward in an even better way. We’re now familiar with these characters after this runtime, so with that out of the way we can grow to love the members as they reappear in future work.