Marvel’s Eternals is a massive disappointment.
This review of MCU’s Eternals contains no spoilers.
After watching Chloé Zhao’s sophomore film, The Rider, I wrote I could not wait to see what Ms. Zhao would come up with next. I ended my review of her third film, Nomadland, noting the movie’s profoundly immersive experience and personal journey. Both have breathtaking visuals, haunting musical scores, and pitch-perfect final scenes. Yet, her Marvel debut is the opposite of anything she’s ever done — she has created something stale, repetitious, and heavy-handed. I’m sorry to say, Eternals is a massive disappointment.
Eternals takes place right after Avengers: Endgame, where half the population returns. This causes the band to get back together. Though, none of them are really happy about it because no one seems to love human existence. The group mentioned above is the Eternals, an alien race which the Celestials have created. They have lived on Earth for over 7000 years. They were sent to protect us from the Deviants, a type of humanoid that absorbs powers and is in desperate need of a Snickers.
The group’s spiritual leader, Ajak (Selma Hayek), can heal anyone injured while acting as the defacto go-between them and the Celestials. Ikarus (Richard Madden) flies around, shooting beams of cosmic energy from his eyes. He has a history with Sersi (Gemma Chan) who manipulates inanimate matter and is your social worker of the group — she has empathy for humans that the others do not. She looks after Sprite (Lia McHugh), a youthful-looking fairy with an old soul who can project lifelike images. Sersi is dating Dane (Kit Harrington) who holds a secret (you can quickly look up or know if you are versed in the MCU).
Are there more? You bet your a*s. And the film will keep shoving it down your throat for the first 48-minutes. You have Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), who shoots cosmic energy from his hand as Ikarus does from his eyes. The ice-cold, mind-controlling Druig (Barry Keoghan) and Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) question protecting a race who do nothing but kill each other. Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok) has the hitting power of Mike Tyson in Punch-Out. He watches over Thena (Angelina Jolie), a fierce warrior who creates any weapon with, again, that cosmic energy. She begins to come apart like Mabel in A Woman Under the Influence and is under the care of Gilgamesh.
I’ll get right to the point — the script is eternally redundant. The problem is too many hands and rewrites. Starting with Ryan and Kaz Firpo (Child’s Play) and ending with Zhao and Patrick Burleigh (Antman and the Wasp), they spend the first 45 minutes establishing characters. Yes, some exposition is needed, but this MCU entry is filled with lousy exposition from beginning to end. None of it is subtle or folded into the story naturally, like, for example, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune. It, frankly, comes across as patronizing. There is also the consistency problem of their existence that makes it obvious they do not live in secret.
Besides the never-ending history of Eternals and the repetitive nature of constantly showing each Eternal’s power (yes, Makkari runs fast, Druig controls minds, and Kingo shoots energy from his hands— we get it), it’s incredibly heavy-handed and preachy by repeating atrocities of humankind. It practically destroys the purpose of the movie. Considering the writers are so set on humans being the problem, destroying each other and ruining humankind, blah blah blah, did they ever consider then this makes the deviants the good guys?
Zhao is a director who utilizes real-life people to play themselves or close versions of themselves—like the coward Robert Ford playing himself, shooting Jesse James over a century ago, then going on the road in a Wild West show. However, she has a deep, wonderful cast here. The actors here though are saddled with cookie-cutter characterizations and bland dialogue. The trademark depth is oddly absent. Sure, the backstory of Madden and Chen’s characters makes for a damn fine-looking couple and a human connection, but hasn’t that been done before a million times over?
Yes, we have the intelligent Eternal with glasses. Let’s not forget the good-looking Eternal who shoots lasers that match his brooding stare. Yes, the Eternal who is too caring for her good. Even Jolie’s Thena is an outdated metaphor of the trope that a woman can’t handle intense pressure. No worries though, Gilgamesh is there to man-splain things to her. While they have and bring fun to their roles, the talent is so abundant it exposes just how the script is one of the worst Marvel has ever done.
I will give Zhao credit. Her beautiful CGI visuals (the creation of turning a bus into an immense amount of what I can only assume are rose petals is breathtaking) are rich and uncommon for the genre. It’s a level of sophistication that the MCU has never had. Which, I’m sure was the reason why she was chosen. I had a film critic mention that she was just the wrong choice for the material. I would point out though her previous films questioned human existence. Harish Patel’s Karun has one of the film’s best scenes that epitomizes that established theme too late.
Will Eternals satisfy most action and comic-book genre fans with its talented cast? Yes. It may lay the groundwork for future stories, however, the film is ultimately undone by the story’s lackluster plot. Sending the Eternals to kill the deviants is the equivalent of sending a mongoose to kill a snake, which will cause a chain reaction of needing to grab a wolf to kill the mongoose and so on — it’s the definition of insanity on repeat.