Movie Review: Eternals

Eternals is about a group of superpowered individuals who are sent to Earth thousands of years before the Avengers ever assembled. They are sent by ancient, godlike beings called Celestials to act as a guide to develop and protect humanity. Though, as the centuries wear on, the Eternals realize their mission is not as benevolent as they assume it to be and must reunite after centuries apart to stop the Emergence from occurring. The film stars Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok (as Don Lee in the credits), Haaz Sleiman, and Bill Skarsgård. The film is directed by Chloé Zhao and is written by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo, the screen story being by Ryan and Kaz Firpo.


One of the problems with being 26 films into a franchise is that media coverage of the newest film focuses on what makes this film different than the 25 previous installments. This one has a sex scene, there is a fully recognized and acknowledged, on screen queer relationship, one of the characters communicates exclusively with sign language, and Eternals serves as an introduction to giant concepts and characters that played out over years, even decades, and hundreds of issues of comic book storylines. Great, wonderful, but when the main story beats play out in virtually the same way as a majority of the 25 films before it do, one wonders the point of putting out so many 2+ hour films when they could be distilled to more interesting, shorter films that are allowed to breathe.


Chloé Zhao is a filmmaker I greatly admire because of her character driven style of filmmaking. She is able to find the story through a careful watching of her actors and their craft. Yet, her style doesn't fit in the Marvel mold of intricate plot and "universe" details, which is what I was afraid of when I saw that, yet another, distinct voice was given the shot at a commercial vehicle.


Eternals is mired in the muck of mighty Marvel mishegoss. There is so much exposition, we barely have enough time to understand a character's motivation before being whisked off to the next locale or introduced to a character who's not important now, but will be in a future franchise installment, looking at you Dane Whitman a.k.a. Black Knight. I knew this was going to be a bit of a slog when the filmmakers felt the need to have an opening crawl and then regurgitate it through many characters in many different ways. It's like, do they not remember we have brains and can understand things for ourselves?


I wanted so much for these characters to breathe because some of them are really interesting as presented. There are relationships that are unexplored, character traits that make for a more interesting story, and of course a villain that's not really a villain because someone on the team is working toward an agenda that is antithetical to how the team functions now, but not how to function as the team was originally intended to function. I am so tired of this trope. There is real evil. While Killmonger and Thanos had valid concerns and compelling arguments, they were also cruel, calculating murderers who we know to be cruel, calculating murderers even after their plans came to fruition. To develop an antagonist and then have them swing in a new direction just to give them something to do, just doesn't work. I don't understand why they keep coming to this "twist." It's lazy and ineffectual.


Eternals has its high points. Though, being a 2 hour, 30 minute plus film, there has to be something worthwhile within that breadth. While it is way past due, it is gratifying to see a major character in this franchise acknowledge their lover as husband and to share a kiss that is at a length that makes sense for a kiss between two lovers to be. They also have a child and their relationship is acknowledged by the end of the film. A lot of the credibility of this relationship is due to the titanic talent of Brian Tyree Henry who often has to be the comic relief and emotional heft in the same scene. There are a lot of these really wonderful character moments scattered throughout, but they can become too far between to have the emotional impact the filmmakers intended.


I also loved veteran Marvel cinematographer Ben Davis' adaptation to Chloé Zhao's style. The two of them brought the close up to bear in unique ways. Davis also adapted well to using the physical, outdoor locations that really brings Eternals to Earth. There is a loveliness in the way the two of them planned the flow of battles between Eternals and Deviants.


A lot of Eternals feels like a place holder, like an interstitial installment meant to introduce large concepts, which is a shame because the characters created are, and could be, very compelling to watch on their own. Hopefully since there are fewer of them by the end of the film (spoiler?), there will be more time to let them breathe and come into their own in the 35th installment of the franchise. As a film, Eternals is mostly a snooze. There are some excellent elements and many, many more questionable ones. I would say Disney doesn't need any more of your money at this point, so if you want to wait for this one on Disney+ in a few months, that's probably O.K.

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