Eternals: Film Review

Marvel

There seemed to be a curious lack of buzz surrounding Eternals just weeks before its release, which is odd behaviour for a Marvel film, but having now seen Chloe Zhao‘s venture into the superhero genre, I understand the lack of excitement.

This epic film tells the story of the Eternals, immortal beings who are sent to Earth to protect the human race from the evil Deviants. After the Deviants are wiped out, the Eternals carve out human-like lives for themselves, with Sersi (Gemma Chan) teaching in London, group leader Ajak (Salma Hayek) residing in rural South Dakota and elite warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie) hiding out in Australia. The action truly kicks off when the Deviants return to Earth and start hunting down Eternals rather than humans.

This film is one of the most ambitious and expansive Marvel films we’ve seen so far as the Eternals have been on Earth for thousands of years and are spread far and wide so there is a lot of time and location-hopping so we can brush up on their history – while some of these jumps are needed for backstory, it flashes back too often, making the narrative feel rather disjointed and preventing the story from achieving a decent pace and forward momentum. There are a lot of new characters and concepts to introduce too, so naturally, the first half of the film suffers from a lot of exposition. I know there is a lot of content to pack in, but I still found the film too long (it’s 2 hours 37 minutes), too slow and the narrative rather bloated and messy, while I would have liked a few more jokes or light-hearted moments, even though it has plenty of these already.

When it was announced that Zhao, who won the Best Director Oscar for Nomadland earlier this year, would direct a Marvel film, I wondered how that would work as her naturalistic observational style is so at odds with bombastic superhero movies and while she may not have totally succeeded story-wise, she puts her stamp on the film visually, with her bringing her eye for gorgeous cinematography to the project and preference for practical on-location shoots instead of green screen ones. It looks different to the usual Marvel fare and the locations are stunning when CGI isn’t involved.

Zhao has also assembled the most diverse cast yet and made breakthrough strides in terms of representation, not just with the actors she’s hired but in terms of the characters. Eternals has Marvel’s first sex scene as well as Marvel’s first onscreen gay kiss (to be clear, these are separate scenes). The latter didn’t feel like pandering at all, it seemed perfectly normal for two husbands to kiss before one goes to help save the world. There is also the inclusion of sign language thanks to Lauren Ridloff as Makkari.

The best element of the film is the casting. Hayek brought gravitas to the role of Ajak, Chan made Sersi the most sympathetic and human-like Eternal, Kumail Nanjiani was hilarious as Eternal-turned-Bollywood star Kingo (he and Harish Patel as his valet got the most laughs), Barry Keoghan was devilishly charming as Druig and Brian Tyree Henry brought great emotion to Phastos. I also enjoyed seeing Jolie wielding weapons and kicking ass once again and Ridloff – who I love in The Walking Dead – in a big MCU movie. The biggest letdown was Richard Madden as Ikaris, I just find his acting so wooden.

It’s a shame that Eternals isn’t an outright success because I don’t want Marvel to stop taking risks with interesting filmmakers and go back to the same old formula. As much as I wish I loved it, I just felt no excitement watching this movie at all.

Make sure you stay until the very, very end. I cannot stress this enough.

In cinemas Friday 5th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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