It pains me to say it, but it is true. Still, it makes no sense that that is the case. Given the action, effects, and talent on display in the film and given what the studio must have learned from its previous successes and near-misses, Eternals should have been nothing short of brilliant. But it wasn’t even close. And it wasn’t so bad that it has hopes of a cult following down the line. It was just so-so.
The plot is simple enough. The Eternals are race of immortal beings tasked with protecting the people of earth from beings called the Deviants, who also reside on earth. Though the Eternals protect the humans from deviants, they do not protect them from themselves and must allow humanity to develop on its own, a part of their task on Earth which doesn’t sit well with all the Eternals. But there is another force that is a danger to humanity which is triggered by the second Snap (Avengers: Endgame), the return of the half of all life that was obliterated by Thanos’ first snap (Avengers: Infinity War). The Eternals, who have scattered throughout the world to blend in with humanity, now must come together to deal with this new threat.
None of this seems too terribly unusual in the Marvel Universe, and of course there are the usual assortment of twists and turns. But the problem is that the writers have opted to tell the history of the Eternals and humans in a disjointed way, bouncing around in Earth’s history. That really gets old fast because it isn’t done in a particularly interesting way and only exacerbates one of the biggest problems about the film: we never really get to know the characters. Not as individuals, and not, more importantly, as a team.
There is a lot of dialogue between the characters about family. These characters, after all, are immortal. They are thousands of years old and have been together for most of that time. Their connection should be palpable, but it isn’t. At first, I thought that Marvel had skipped a step and that we should have seen a movie before this one where the Eternals become a team, a la the Avengers. We got to meet the Avengers one at a time and watch them become a team, then a family, over the course of many films. We watched the love and mutual respect evolve, and it felt organic, authentic. But of course, Guardians of the Galaxy did the same thing in one film and did it amazingly well.
Also, unfortunately, far too much time focuses on one of the stories of romantic love between two of the characters. “When you love something, you protect it,” is a line is used by Thena, one of the Eternals, in the trailers and in all the promo materials. It is meant be the beating heart of the film. Yet, it seems to have been made smaller by concentrating on the love story between two of the characters. Now, I love a good love story, and the MCU is peppered with them. But in Eternals, the amount of time spent on this one only serves to take away valuable minutes that could have been dedicated to giving us more than passing glances of the other Eternals’ lives. Weirdly, this reminded me of the movie version of “A Chorus Line” (stay with me for a moment) when they hijacked the iconic musical tribute to the love of an artist to their craft, “What I Did For Love”, and repurposed it into a sappy relationship ballad. But I digress.
Whether it was Chloe Zhao’s script or direction, Eternals keeps the audience at arm’s length, almost telling us what it should have been showing us. It also feels as if it was being stretched. Like the script itself was really for a film half the length of the one we saw so we spent a lot of time waiting for the scene we were watching to be over so we could get on with the story. It would have been a better film if it had been a bit shorter.
Still, there were some enjoyable things about the movie. Brian Tyree Henry did his usual great job. The man is really quite an extraordinary actor and I sincerely hope he got a Marvel-sized paycheck for his turn as Eternal Phastos, because his performance was the most genuine thing in the movie. Lauren Ridloff as Eternal Makkari had too little screen time because not only did I want to know more about her character, I wanted to see more of her performance, which was quite entertaining. Ma Dong-seok (as Don Lee) as Gilgamesh nearly won my heart with his lovely performance. Also, Kit Harrington, as a mere mortal and love interest of Gemma Chan’s Sersi, was adorable to behold. Finally, Harish Patel as Karun, the “Man Friday” of Kumail Nanjiani’s Eternal, Kingo, was also one of the film’s bright spots, turning what could have easily been a throwaway role into one of the film’s most memorable.
The design aspects of the film were good, as is expected coming from Marvel/Disney. But though everything had the expected attention to detail, every time I close my eyes to recall the film, I see beige. There was something odd in the production design that seemed to lack vibrance. Even the costumes designed for the Eternals looked oddly universal and the characters didn’t really seem “at home” in them.
The special effects were good-ish. There were a couple of moments during battle sequences that made me say, “Oops” out loud, but nobody’s perfect. The creature effects for the Deviants, though, were excellent, even if the design of the Deviants themselves seemed unnecessarily complex. I mean, how many moving parts do you really need to see every little detail of? Also, the hero affects for the Eternals powers were great, as good as any of the better MCU films.
There is no doubt that Marvel had high hopes for Eternals. The studio has three hits on Disney+ and the first two big screen films of Phase Two did respectable box office and were received well by critics and audiences. I’m not sure this will be the case with Eternals, though, which is unfortunate, because it is the best representation of Marvels stated commitment to making the MCU more diverse. There are those who will hate the film, sight unseen, for that reason alone. But I applaud that effort enthusiastically. If the film fell short of the mark in other areas, it isn’t the first MCU film to do so. I mean, I hated Thor: Ragnarok, so it’s all a matter of taste, right? So, see it and judge for yourself.
Marvel Studios’ Eternals opens everywhere Friday November 5, 2021
Official Website: Eternals (Movie, 2021) | Director, Cast, Release Date | Marvel
Marvel Studios’ “Eternals” follows a group of heroes from beyond the stars who had protected the Earth since the dawn of man. When monstrous creatures called the Deviants, long thought lost to history, mysteriously return, the Eternals are forced to reunite in order to defend humanity once again.
The outstanding ensemble cast includes Gemma Chan as humankind-loving Sersi, Richard Madden as the all-powerful Ikaris, Kumail Nanjiani as cosmic-powered Kingo, Lia McHugh as the eternally young, old-soul Sprite, Brian Tyree Henry as the intelligent inventor Phastos, Lauren Ridloff as the super-fast Makkari, Barry Keoghan as aloof loner Druig, Don Lee as the powerful Gilgamesh, with Kit Harington as Dane Whitman, with Salma Hayek as the wise and spiritual leader Ajak, and Angelina Jolie as the fierce warrior Thena.