Eternals Movie Review
The greatest turn for Marvel in a while is Eternals. It is an attempt to make a prestige picture of a size and scope that none of Marvel's prior films has attempted, directed by Chloé Zhao, who just won the Oscar. Nevertheless, despite its lofty goals, the movie becomes bogged down in its ponderous concepts and is trapped in the constricting mould of what an MCU movie must be.
The scope of Eternals is virtually entirely biblical. The movie's opening crawl (yes, there is an opening crawl) describes who Arishem, the Prime Celestial, was and how he delivered light to the cosmos in a manner reminiscent of an early page from the Book of Genesis. The movie spans tens of thousands of years of human history, including four antagonists, a love triangle, and even features Marvel's first on-screen sex scene.
The fundamental premise of Eternals is as follows: for countless years, a group of immortal superheroes known as the eponymous Eternals has been hiding among humans on Earth. They were sent by the godlike Celestials to aid and support humankind and defend them against the evil Deviants. The Eternals have lived ages undetected among humans, their heroic deeds misconstrued as those of mythical gods. (However, as the movie reveals, the Eternals were only permitted to defend against Deviants, which accounts for their absence in the countless crises that the earlier MCU films featured that threatened the planet and the cosmos.)
Ten key heroes, each with unique special abilities, make up the core Eternals team: Ikaris (Richard Madden), who is essentially a Marvel Superman with flight and laser eyes, Sersi (Gemma Chanthe) ability to transform items into many elements, Lia McHugh's Sprite and Kumail Nanjiani's Kingo, who can shoot energy blasts from their palms and create illusions, Ajak (Salma Hayek), a superhuman inventor named Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), who possesses The "Prime Eternal," and the group's leader are in charge. She serves as a kind of priestess or mother to the other Eternals because she has healing powers and can connect with Arishem. That is because it is a lot if it seems that way. There is an enormous amount of background to put in, despite the two-and-a-half-hour-plus film's best efforts to explain the characters, their relationships, skills, and aspirations.
It surpasses Avengers: Endgame's three-hour running time to become the second-longest MCU film to date. By default, certain Eternals are portrayed as having more "main" roles than others. For example, Cersei and Ikaris spend a lot of time working out their relationship, whilst Phastos and Makkari are essentially supporting cast members. While Nanjiani's Kingo makes an effort to steal the show by spending his decades on Earth creating a Bollywood dynasty, he is frequently overshadowed by the more prominent characters.
It's not that these many characters can't be handled in a Marvel movie. A testimony to the studio's ability to effectively squeeze hundreds of heroes into a single feature is the action-packed Avengers flicks or even the Guardians of the Galaxy films. Despite Marvel having produced more than 20 films and television episodes, Eternals faces a tough challenge because we're meeting all these characters for the first time.
All of this would be acceptable if the Eternals were engaged in worthwhile activities. However, most of the first half of the movie is devoted to telling us how the Eternals split apart 6,500 years into their quest to hunt Deviants and a "getting the band back together" scene in which the squad is gradually put back together to fight the emerging Deviant menace.
Even with a mid-movie mythology dump to jumpstart an actual narrative, it still mostly consists of various permutations of Eternals squabbling about a cosmic-scale tram problem. Eternals oscillates continually between having too little going on and unexpectedly having too much to worry about. The main opponent of Eternals does not first emerge for over two hours. Another character keeps popping up in the movie, but she is never even given a name. A significant character just chooses not to participate in the combat scene in the third act, going unnoticed by the other characters until she reappears out of nowhere for the film's climax. In the post-credit scenes for Eternal (there are two, and all of them feel more like opportunities to elicit gasps from comic book connoisseurs than any actual concrete clue), Marvel also cannot help but ham-fistedly tease potential sequels and spinoffs.
Eternals is a wonderfully filmed movie despite its pace and storyline issues. Chloé Zhao, the film's director, insisted on using real settings rather than the MCU's typical green screen sets for most of the film's filming, and the contrast is obvious. Dusty deserts, foggy beaches, and lush jungles in Eternals feel authentic in a way that CGI landscapes frequently don't, and sweeping panoramas and sunsets give the most fanciful events a tangible quality.
The obligatory battle sequences are also fantastic; the Eternals put together their toolbox of complimentary abilities to amusing effect, and the golden curlicues that are employed as the visual shorthand for everyone's capabilities are a welcome break from Marvel's customary color-coded energy blobs.
While the threshold is low enough to be easily surpassed, Eternals is also by far Marvel's most diverse picture. Despite being late in the studio's almost ten-year history, this feat is nonetheless worthy of notice. Even while the much-anticipated debut of Brian Tyree Henry's homosexual hero literally feels shot in a manner to make it as simple as possible to excise for international box office standards, it is genuinely wonderful to see a larger mix of performers on screen.
Eternals eventually strive to be too much, and as a result, it suffers. The film's ambitious plan to serve as a genesis story for the Marvel world has potential, but it would be impossible to fit everything into a contemporary superhero movie. If we don't have enough time to care about who these heroes are, it serves little use to learn where they come from.