2021, PG-13, 157 mins.
Gemma Chan as Sersi / Richard Madden as Ikaris / Angelina Jolie as Thena / Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo / Lia McHugh as Sprite / Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos / Lauren Ridloff as Makkari / Barry Keoghan as Druig / Ma Dong-Seok as Gilgamesh / Salma Hayek as Ajak / Kit Harington as Dane Whitman / Bill Skarsgård as Kro (voice) / Harish Patel as KarunDirected by Chloé Zhao / Written by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo
just so damn much to take in and admire in THE ETERNALS, the 26th entry in
the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
has one of the most ethnically diverse casts of any super hero film of
recent memory as well as containing ambitious ideas and endlessly
That, and it has Oscar winning director in Chloe Zhao (who just
this year became the only woman of color and just the second woman ever to
win a Best Director Oscar for her work on NOMADLAND)
leading the charge, and she seems courageously willing to transcend
the increasingly overused and somewhat tired MCU troupes and craft a comic
book blockbuster here of a decidedly different vibe.
said all of that, THE ETERNALS is a real expositional slog to sit through
in how it tries to cram in an awful lot of characters and dense mythology
into an already long two and a half hour film.
This is a MCU entry that wants me to embrace its pioneering spirit,
but paradoxically seems to push me away at a distance, making for one odd
will say this, though: THE ETERNALS feels far less slavishly faithful to
referencing other previous MCU entries, characters, and storylines and
tries as it can to be its own unique standalone entry.
That approach worked relatively well for SHANG-CHI
AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS, but not so much for the mostly mediocre
That's not to say that this post-AVENGERS:
ENDGAME Fourth Wave installment doesn't have ties to the events of
what has come before it, but rather that it's trying to stylistically segregate
itself from many of the recent MCU films that feel like corporate committee
THE ETERNALS has a look and feel that's wholly its own, which is no
surprise considering Zhao being at the helm, and she employs more of a
deconstructivist approach here in terms of giving us a MCU film that seems
more intimate and melancholic with its characters (mostly gone is the aggressively
light and quippy touches).
I appreciated this type of thoughtful approach, but it nevertheless
doesn't entirely equate to a good film overall.
THE ETERNALS might be moodier and more contemplative than other MCU
stories, but it's also considerably duller as a result.
- by the hammer of Thor! - is there ever a lot - and I mean a
lot - of mythology that this film has to wade through and introduce
to viewers and do so in as expeditious of a manner as possible (at times,
this film makes DUNE look simplistically
easy to digest by comparison).
There is a god-like being known as Arisham that has his race in the
Celestials working under him that, in turn, made the Eternals, who in
turn were assigned a mission thousands of years ago to travel to Earth
and watch over the historical and cultural development of humans, but with
one major rule: Don't do anything to interfere with their development
(think STAR TREK's Prime Directive, more on that in a bit).
The Eternals in question are comprised of a motherly leader in Ajak
(an underused Salma Hayek), and under her is the Superman-esque Ikaris
(Richard Madden), the matter controlling Sersi (Gemma Chan), the trained
fighter in Thena (Angelina Jolie), the mind altering Druig (Barry
energy projectile throwing Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), the brilliant engineer
Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), the illusion casting Sprite (Lia McHugh), the
lightning fast and deaf Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), and the brutishly strong
Gilgamesh (Don Lee).
Working in tandem as a tightly knit - and unkillable - band of
immortal warriors, these Eternals rid the Earth of their evil enemies in
the Deviants centuries ago, leading to them all disbanding and spending
the rest of their days trying to hide while in plain sight as regular,
everyday people amidst the rest of humanity.
- and as the story flashforwards 7000 thousand years into the present -
those pesky and monstrous Deviants are beginning to re-emerge on Earth,
which means that the long separated Eternals are forced out of an
extremely long retirement to team back up to combat this galactic menace
the threatens to destroy the planet and all humans.
Things get complicated for many of them, especially for Ikaris and
Sersi, seeing as they used to be a hot immortal item before breaking up
(this is the first MCU film to have a sex scene, albeit pretty tame), and
now in the present she has - gasp! - shacked up with a mortal dude
(GAME OF THRONES' Kit Harrignton).
Thena has become mentally unstable as the years have progressed to
the point of requiring therapy.
Phastos has his own demons in his closet (he was indirectly
responsible for leading humanity down the technological line of eventually
making atomic bombs...again...more on that in a bit), but has now retired
from Eternal-ing and has a child with his husband.
Kingo seems to be the most well adjusted and has managed to finagle
himself into a multi-generation Bollywood musical icon (because, of course
Despite the multiple problems that typify this group, they fully
realize the gravity of the newly minted Deviant threat and plot a course
of defending the planet, and they have their work cut out for them, to say
no question that THE ETERNALS is on resoundingly solid and pioneering
ground as far as inclusiveness goes for the MCU, which makes it a most
welcome companion piece to the Asian led ensemble that made up SHANG-CHI.
Gender and cultural awareness has not been one of the MCU's
stronger suits (by modest scrutiny, it took seemingly forever for Black
Widow to get her own solo film, not to mention that if you exclude her and
the African American Nick Fury from the lot, the first Avengers squad was
white and male).
So, there's something to instantly appreciate and admire about the
diversity on display in THE ETERNALS, and diversity on multiple levels.
Beyond the cast's multicultural backgrounds, there's an attempt
here to tackle other elements, such as Thena's mental health issues,
portraying Makkari's as a deaf team member, and, perhaps most noteworthy,
Phasto's same sex union with his partner (building towards the first
same-sex kiss in the MCU, granted, last year's THE
NEW MUTANTS was the first Marvel branded comic book film to tackle
homosexual relationships, and did so with more screen time being granted
to portraying their gay characters).
THE ETERNALS deserves kudos for pushing through and championing for
a much needed representation tide change in super hero genre films,
especially for the usually Disney-safe and soft-pedaled MCU canon.
ETERNALS also looks reliably grand, which should come as no suprise for
the legion of MCU devotees, but it's a bit surprising considering Zhao is
behind it all, who's more known for making vastly smaller scaled and
Teaming up with cinematographer Ben Davis (GUARDIANS
OF THE GALAXY and DOCTOR STRANGE),
Zhao makes a concentrated effort here to evoke a naturalistic look to her
super hero team-up film, filled with frequent and gorgeous sunset drenched
vistas that help visually ground the film in a relatable reality despite
its otherworldly elements.
THE ETERNALS is just as wall-to-wall with visual effects and
costume clad heroes battling it out with CG monsters that have become a
staple (some would say overused) of the MCU, but Zhao tries to impart her
own painterly and observant eye to the proceedings here, which makes for a
fairly breathtaking picture to look at and engage with through and
Perhaps most crucially, THE ETERNALS is not just preoccupied with
building up to the next large scale obligatory action setpiece; it
respects its heroes and aims to highlight their unique personalities and
character dynamics first over spectacle and mayhem.
That's pretty refreshing, overall.
minded creative imperatives aside, however, all of that is for naught if
the underlining film simply doesn't work all that well, and it's simply
too hard to shake the fact that THE ETERNALS moves as slow as molasses at
alluded to before, there's so much that this film has to introduce and
explain that it does hurt forward momentum in the early stages, and the
resulting story never feels like it has a genuine pulse until it gets to
its livelier final act, and by that time it's too little and too late.
At 157 minutes, THE ETERNALS almost always feels its length, and it
takes a long, long time for the narrative to gain sizable traction
after dissecting what Eternals, Deviants, Celestials, and Arisham are and
how they tie into the larger MCU.
That, and this story has to introduce many new personalities to the
MCU that have not seen the light of day before in any previous franchise
entry (it's almost akin to having an AVENGERS film that never had any solo
member films beforehand).
I love the core concept of the Eternals trying to acclimate to
normal human lives over a gargantuan time period, but I rarely felt
emotionally invested in any of them, which is not assisted by the fact
that most of the performances range from stilted to serviceable and lack
Only the rascally Nanjiani (as shockingly ripped as Wolverine here)
seems to be the only cast member that exudes an iota of charisma and spunk
as his squad member, and the only one that seems to be having any fun.
And considering the relative industry stature of vets like Hayek
and Jolie, it's pretty astounding how relatively invisible they come
across in the larger scheme of things.
There were times when I forgot that they were even in this
film...and how is that even possible with these actresses?
maybe I shouldn't be doing this while watching a super hero flick, but THE
ETERNALS forced me to ask many logic straining questions about its core
mythos and how that ties to the MCU.
The largest hole, in my estimation, is why beings that are
essentially the equivalent of super heroes as gods have stayed on
the sidelines and did nothing during the entirety of Thanos' mad
tyranny that destroyed half of all life in the universe?
Considering the might of the Celestials, they could have assisted
the Avengers and stopped Thanos like (snaps fingers) that!
Now, this is all explained with a couple of lines of dialogue
that's woefully convenient.
The Eternals are simply not allowed to interfere with anyone or
anything, but rather must just observe.
Yet, this makes no sense, seeing as the Eternals do - for example -
help with the tool development of early humans that acted as a springboard
for their later technological maturity.
Wait a minute...isn't that interference?
I don't like it when any type of movies plays fast and lose with
its own established rules.
By the time THE ETERNALS builds to a fairly involving and exciting climax I still found myself straining to thoroughly immerse myself in its world and characters. I liked Zhao's delicate and mannered approach to this type of material (let's face it, many of the latter MCU films have a repetitious assembly line sameness) and as a visual odyssey it's not aggressively miming the MCU aesthetic blueprint. That's great. What's not great is the convoluted scripting, the inconsistent performances, the sluggish pacing, and the nagging sense that the post-AVENGERS Fourth Wave MCU world is straining to find ways to propel itself forward in meaningful and impactful ways. THE ETERNALS doesn't feel like a dramatically weightless and empty minded corporate cash grab picture like BLACK WIDOW; Zhao's film tries to look forward, not backward, in terms of MCU progression. Plus, the willingness here to be more, shall we say, risk taking than typical MCU fare is to be lauded to a degree. I just wished that I cared more about the super powered and costumed adorned heroes here and what was happening to them. THE ETERNALS is a comic book extravaganza that's commendable for its fearless ambition, but it's pretty uneventful and substandard as far as memorably enjoyable MCU fare goes.