This November, we are treated to the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), “Eternals.” Directed by Academy Award winner Chloe Zhao, the film features an ensemble cast that’s as diverse as they are perfect for their respective roles. And with Zhao at the helm, expectations for “Eternals” have reached stratospheric levels even before the it came out.
But has the film lived up to the hype?
How “Eternals” Fits in the MCU
Without spoiling plot details, “Eternals” skirts both past and present events in MCU’s timeline. Basically, the film serves as both a backstory and sequel to the events of “Avengers: Endgame.” This is evident during the dialogue between Sersi (Gemma Chan) and her boyfriend Dane Whitman (Kit Harington) in the film’s first act. Having revealed herself to him as a powerful being during an attack in London, Sersi explains their purpose on Earth.
Throughout the film (and its back-and-forth narrative), this exposition is just one of the many.
Sersi details that she and her friend Sprite are actually Eternals; a powerful immortal alien race sent on Earth to protect the planet from the Eternals’ counterparts, the Deviants, who attack humans. And when Dean presses on why the Eternals didn’t interfere with Thanos’ plans, Sersi simply replies they were instructed not to interfere with human affairs.
That being, a Celestial named Arishem, was the one who commissioned ten of the Eternals to Earth 5,000 years ago. And throughout the millennia, these Eternals have protected humanity. Led by Ajak (Salma Hayek), the Eternals successfully vanquished the last of the Deviants in the 1500s. However, the attacker in London was a Deviant, and it specifically targeted Sersi and Sprite, and not the human Dean. Having rescued just in time by another Eternal, Ikaris (Richard Madden), the team set out to find the other Eternals to team up together once more and fight more dangerous foes.
“Eternals”: The Talking Points
Honestly, there’s a lot to unpack in “Eternals.” Right off the bat, though, this is a mixed bag of visual treats, strong human themes, and run-on-the-mill storytelling. Here are a few talking points:
- Perfect casting. From Salma Hayek down to Don Lee, the cast make the characters their own. Thus, we see the most dysfunctional family dynamic in the MCU since “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
- Moving performances. The performances are a treat, especially those of Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, and Barry Keoghan. It’s a testament to these actors’ caliber, and their scenes amplify said skills tenfold.
- Harish Patel. While it’s easy to pin down a filmmaking choice as comedy fodder, Harish Patel is a breath of fresh air in the movie.
- Lengthy runtime. At two-and-a-half hours, the viewing experience at times becomes a chore. And it becomes all the more frustrating when we consider the next point.
- Too much exposition. The film obsesses over backstories, which ultimately sacrifice character development. The resulting pacing of the whole movie meant that some characters weren’t properly given their due.
- Nonlinear narrative. Midway through “Eternals,” it becomes obvious how ordinary the screenplay is. Using a nonlinear approach masks this fact; but the generic story becomes more apparent when presented in a linear fashion.
- Uneven tone. One of the film’s glaring flaws, the tone jarringly vacillates where narrative cohesion is mostly needed. We get levity from Nanjiani’s wisecracks as the Eternal Kingo, then the filmmakers yank our attention away to focus on Ikaris’ brooding nature.
- Questionable filmmaking choices. Introducing too many characters and uninspired action scenes just don’t mesh well with Zhao’s independent filmmaking sensibilities. In the end, the movie feels like a Michael Bay film based on a story from Terrence Malick. That’s not supposed to work. At all.
There’s a lot of stuff going on; so much so that one might need to go through the rigmarole of watching the film just to find a good story buried underneath the mess. So, while it remains an interesting failure, overall, “Eternals” is a disappointing affair.