It seems that everything there was to be said about Eternals – the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s 26th feature venture – had already been stated before the movie had even been released. Boasts from Marvel Studios’ head honcho, Kevin Feige detailed the hiring of Nomadland Oscar winner Cholé Zhao and how the insanely ambitious movie would not only detail 7000 years of MCU history, go cosmic like never before and look absolutely breath taking, but it would be quite unlike anything seen within the franchise up to this point. However, these comments were seemingly countered with incredibly mixed reviews and (cue dramatic fanfare) the first non-fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes in history of the MCU.
So what’s going on? Has a proven Oscar winner truly given us a film worse than Thor: The Dark World, is the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally imploding before our very eyes or is this just a case of some truly epic bandwagon jumping on the part of some reviewers?
Well, let’s not wait an eternity, let’s find out.
7000 years ago, trash-can headed cosmic gods known as The Celestials sent a team of super powered beings called the Eternals to earth in order to guide the human race through its awkward infancy and slay an alien race of people eating predators known as the Deviants. After thousands of years, the Eternals have a massive falling out due to the Celestial’s law of not interfering in the numerous wars mankind gets involved in and go their separate ways until the present day.
However, when a Deviant surfaces in London, the Eternals realise they’ll have to put their thousand year old disputes aside in order to face this new threat.
Re-teaming with varying degrees of social awkwardness are London bound Sersi (able alter the composition of various elements) and the eternally young Sprite who can cast illusions who are soon joined by Sersi’s ex, the absurdly heroic, Superman-esque Ikaris. Together they head off to unite the rest of their peers, their healer leader Ajak, powerhouse Gilgamesh, warrior woman Thena, speedster Makkari, mind manipulator Druig, energy manipulator Kingo and inventor Phastos in order to combat Kro, a Deviant that has managed to obtain the ability to evolve beyond to his initial animal form.
However, things aren’t exactly as they seem and their Celestial hander, a massive, crimson deity named Arishem, who’s grip on the truth is tighter than Ikaris’ shirts, has been omitting sizable details not only about the nature of the Eternal’s origins, but also about the very origins of the universe itself.
A cursory scan of the synopsis reveals a concept that sounds way more Zack Snyder than Kevin Keige and Eternals is a massively ambitious superhero flick that covers 7000 years of human history and features a superpowered team that numbers ten and while the usual Marvel magic is still evident, the usual, natural charm of the franchise is slightly muted by the ernest attempts to the filmmakers to genuinely bring something new to a 26 movie franchise. Chloé Zhao injects her stunning visual style and grounded storytelling into the relentless Marvel machine and succeeds in presenting us with something genuinely unlike anything seen in the series before. However, due to a spot of lax plotting and surprisingly bland first third, there’s a distinct feeling that Eternals is maybe a little too different from the rest of the gang.
It’s a shame because there is so much to love about Eternals despite a lot of it being buried under sizable flashbacks and a hefty running time. As I mentioned before the film looks amazing and when it desides to bust out some of that broad glibness it’s often very funny with Kumail Nanjiani’s superhuman Bollywood star stealing scenes with his character’s valet whom he drags along for the ride, while the relationship between gentle bruiser Gilgamesh (Train To Busan standout Don Lee) and Angelina Jolie’s alzheimers suffering warrior queen is legitimately touching. Also impressing with limited screen time is Kit Harrington’s Dane Whitman (a future Avenger) who finally seems to have ditched that single facial expression he carried throughout seven seasons of Game Of Thrones that made it look like he’d just been yelled at to be a warm presence in this world of rainbow coloured beasts and planet sized space gods.
Oddly, whenever Eternals plays by it’s own rules it’s also when it’s at it’s most dull, with the established status quo actually being quite dreary, but the second the story starts punching large holes in it’s own mythology and unraveling everything the Eternals thought they knew about their mission and each other, the overall experience gets progressively more interesting thanks to some epic rug pulls that involves such things as the nature of the earth and one character going full Homelander. But, while this energises the story, it also renders other, previously important, parts of the plot immediately obsolete (aka. the Deviants) before their arc is even over. Also some of the title characters are way more likable than the rest and Richard Madden’s overly serious Ikaris and Barry Keoghan’s supremely punchable Druig may make the team more like a squabbling family than just your basic superteam, but it’s still annoying when they have to take centre stage.
Still, credit has to be given for the epic amounts of leaps the movie makes in providing much needed diversity for blockbuster movies and the inclusion of a proper LGBTQ relationship and a deaf superhero in Lauren (The Walking Dead) Ridloff’s lightning fast Makani are necessary steps in the right direction although it does make you wonder why Arishem would create a super being without hearing, a child who can’t age, or a man who enimates a deep Scottish accent along with his nifty, golden eye beams.
And yet, despite the occasional snafu, this still is undeniably Marvel with causal Avengers references abound and a couple of post credits sequence that free dives into some fairly deep cuts from obscure comics lore. Even more intriguing is that, once the dust settles, the movie offers us some noticable alterations to earth’s landscape that’s bound to take so interesting turns (Do I sense Avengers Mountain on the horizon?) – but then scale isn’t Eternals problem and while accusations of the Dark World variety ultimately prove to be false, this is still a long way from Marvel’s more accomplished hits.