‘Eternals’- Film Review: Chloé Zhao’s Flawed, but Beautiful Marvel Entry

What’s the Story: For thousands of years, an immortal alien race called the Eternals- Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Phastoas (Brian Tyree Henry), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), and Ajak (Salma Hayek)- who’ve been sent by the Celestrial Arishem to secretly lived on Earth to protect those from creatures known as Deviants. After realizing the Deviants returned, they must assemble the team once more to save Earth in a matter of days.

Continuing their stream of entertainment this year, Eternals marks the third film from the MCU and another addition in Phase 4. This introduction to Jack Kirby’s creation was one of my most anticipated films since last year, and that’s in large part to writer/director Chloé Zhao. Because let’s face it, who would’ve guessed the woman whose last film, the amazing Nomadland (my favorite movie of 2020), won three Oscars (Best Picture, Director, Actress) will be helming a big-budget superhero movie as her follow-up? When this was announced a couple of years back, this was a property I knew nothing entirely about whatsoever. Much like how we’ve experienced before with Guardians of the Galaxy and most recently with Shang-Chi, I’m always up for the excitement of stepping into the time of exploring these new characters, seeing how they could potentially fit into this vast universe.

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But when the early reviews started releasing, it was shocking to believe Eternals was heading the path of being the most divisive MCU movie yet, holding the first of its 26 entries to have a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The thing that bugged me is people were already trashing it without even seeing it, making them look pathetic, honestly, along with calling the jokes in the trailer constantly. All I wanted to get out of this is a fantastic Chloé Zhao Marvel movie that’ll be different from anything that has come before. As I walked out of the theater, a part of me really wished to love this latest outing from the studio, but it’s on the line of being right down the middle of the discussion. 

Unless you read the comics that first made their debut in 1976, everything about what’s being told to you will be very unfamiliar. Considering how Zhao’s films make a strong focus on characters from all walks of life, or in this case, having the audience spend the next two hours learning about these beings can bring the chance of believability. Everything surrounding this implements what these people have gone through with their journies and why they’ve been around since the beginning of time. Watching this made me realize this wouldn’t have worked if this came out ten years ago. This was pulled off as safely as one could imagine, albeit one that’ll have trouble overcoming certain flaws. You can sense she wanted to have a story like this where this excellent concept about these immortal beings living throughout life and wondering what it’s like to be human. The scale she throws out here is admirable when it has to take you back to the caveman days to the present.

We have these ten different characters with this agenda to never interfere with the world’s problems since there’s to be conflict amongst the universe. They make a point where they were never around for all the other events Earth has faced over a decade. From what I’ve seen so far, the darker tone this goes for was what I had in mind that can feel separated from the other movies without the occasional references to remind you this is the same universe. The members included here take their time to get behind them and where we see them when they’ve been separated and done after defeating the Deviants for ages.

With so many people involved in the film, this is a stacked and diverse ensemble, without a doubt, though it seemed like a few of them weren’t given enough development as they should’ve, which can make you lose track of feeling a strong connection to them. Gemma Chan as Sersi can be looked at as the main focus, and she does give her best when she has to start becoming the leader. Then you also have other memorable performances out of Richard Madden as Ikaris, Brian Tyree Henry as Phatos, Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, and Angelina Jolie being the true standout out of everybody as Thena. Why I think that is because even though she’s one of the more prominent names in this roster of stars, Jolie never steals the spotlight from anybody when she’s doing her job. But hearing Nanjiani was playing a superhero made me sold on this project immediately, and his performance as Kingo was fun to watch; he also provides the funniest moments where I laughed at when the rest of the humor wasn’t as funny as I thought. There’s probably enough to get from the rest, from Barry Keoghan’s mind manipulating Druig, Lauren Ridloff as the super-speed Makkari, Lia McHugh’s Sprite, Don Lee’s Gilgamesh. It was sad Kit Harrington wasn’t in as much as Sersi’s boyfriend, but it was cool witnessing a mini Game of Thrones reunion between him and Madden. 

Eternals (2021) - IMDb

In terms of how this was approached, it could’ve been stronger from a storytelling standpoint. Lore like this is huge to fully comprehend, which is why it can sometimes be hard to know what’s happening or wonder if there are real-world stakes behind this mission of theirs. Eternals has a lot going for it where it won’t be easy to understand, and that comes with moments of exposition I couldn’t grasp whenever a character gets into the core of what’s going on. Just the flow of the narrative was uneven when it has these flashbacks to different periods where the Eternals are altogether right when we see Sersi, Ikaris, and Sprite recruit the rest of them.

That momentum balances back and forth throughout as it’s unsure whether the Deviants were important enough to make them threatening. The pacing didn’t entirely feel like 157 minutes, but I could sense some wanted it to more, especially for children. I was totally surprised by a couple of surprises that would make or break how everything else would turn out. But, overall, the script needed to be much better.

The action will have those thinking it was bland, but they were fun to watch with these characters using their respective powers. That was showcased in the first sequences before the logo, and it seeing them play out in IMAX/ 1.43:1 aspect ratio was a decision that was worth the price of admission. Also, with Zhao, you know you’re going to get some beautiful cinematography, which is why I thought this was one of the better-looking MCU movies since it was shot by Ben Davis, bringing his visual style. However, the visual effects were a mixed bag at times, as it looked seamless in parts and looked a bit unfinished, especially the Deviants and the third act climax that wasn’t as exciting as I hoped.

Eternals shows Chloe Zhao bringing her ambitious style inside the MCU that was just alright from my perspective. But while there wasn’t a solid connection to certain characters and the storytelling came across as clunky, there’s still enough from the action, performances, and stunning visuals to make it watchable. As I watched, I saw how this would be the most divisive entry in the franchise, but I can’t blame those who found this thoroughly entertaining. Seeing how Zhao took control of this and made this her own, everything about this does seem ambitious, for better or worse, when working with the Marvel formula. Personally, I didn’t walk out thinking this was the worst thing the company has put out, nor do I want to say it’s the absolute best. This lands somewhere in the middle, not good or bad, though my thoughts could change if I feel a re-watch later on. For people to call this the “worst” MCU seems a bit of a stretch. Also, the two post-credit scenes had me pretty excited generally for what’s to come next, though I believe a headline was spoiled for me weeks back.

Grade: B-

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