Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Eternals - Review


13 years into the huge endeavor that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a long time to go before reaching your first truly divisive film. And it’s odd, the film that had the most going for it of the early Phase Four slate, is the one to earn that crown. Eternals has the ensemble cast to rival any ensemble cast, an academy award winning director, and a lore steeped source material tailor-made for an epic superhero flick, and yet, it’s the lofty expectations that ultimately effect it’s reception. 

The Eternals, a race of immortal beings with superhuman powers who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years, reunite to battle the evil Deviants.

If anyone is familiar with the comic entities on which Eternals is based, you’d know that things get weird. Of all the obscure Marvel characters that have reach big screen success, the Eternals might be the property with the least amount of issues publish (sitting somewhere around 50 total since 1976). But the Jack Kirby lore and strangeness is prevalent, and in the right hands, could be something spectacular. 

Those trusty hands belong to Chloé Zhao, the director fresh off winning an Oscar for her directorial work. Zhao’s fingerprints are all over the quiet moments of the film, intimate and serene in ways that many Marvel films could only dream of. Packed from start to finish with big ideas and discussions, it’s clear that Zhao had the inclination to do something different from the formula, and unfortunately, causes the film to get a little lost in its overall messaging. 

Are these people even heroes? Are they just tools for violence? The film never decides, which is commendable in some ways, but it’s unclear if that was an actual choice or the result of being overstuffed. The actors certainly play into the uncertainty, with a few questioning their actions and choices at all turns. The de-facto lead of the film is Gemma Chan, getting a second go at the MCU as Sersi, whose reluctance to lead or make the wrong choice makes her compelling enough. But the truly fascinating characters, like Barry Keoghan’s Druig or Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos just don’t get enough to play with, the symptom of introducing all ten of your heroes in one film. 

As far as Marvel films go, Eternals is lighter on the action. But when it’s big, bombastic third act kicks into gear, it more than makes it up to the people that are yearning for the explosions and punches. The visual identity of the Eternals and the distinctive power sets make the action dynamic and the fight scenes interesting. It’s not just who can punch the hardest or take the most hits, but how these individuals use their abilities together. It’s another world-ending scenario, like so many superhero films prior, but for this group there is so much more at play than just stopping the end of the world. 

It’s clear to see why some may see cracks in Eternals. It’s a story of expectations vs reality. With Chloé Zhao attached, it’s easy to expect something vastly different from the Marvel canon, and in some ways, Eternals tries a lot that’s new. But in the end, this was still going to be a comic book film and end with a CGI battle of some sort. There are legitimate issues, the pacing is thrown off by its jumping back and forth in time and the characters don’t always get enough attention, but neither amounts to anything close to the ‘worst Marvel movie’. And, at least in one critics opinion, it’s a pretty solid adventure in the Marvel universe. 

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