Eternals (2021) Review

ETERNALS ASSEMBLE!


 

There is no question that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (better known as the MCU) has been a dominated juggernaut superhero superpower within the cinematic realm; projecting a continuative narrative of a shared cinematic universe of various heroes of men, gods, and monsters told within a fantastical blockbuster spectacle. The success of this lucrative franchise, of which that began back in 2008 with the release of Iron Man, has been a wide global success; focusing on some of the popular superheroes characters and properties within Marvel’s arsenal and expanding upon this franchise universe with each installment. The first three phases of the MCU, which is officially dubbed “The Infinity Saga” and spans over twenty-three theatrical feature films of origin tales, sequel adventures, and superhero team-ups events, with the MCU’s Phase IV saga opening up to new possibilities, new narratives, and new heroes to follow. Of course, the Phase IV began with the release of Black Widow, which gave the former Avenger character of Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (and actress Scarlett Johansson a proper send-off within her own standalone film, while Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the second film in this new saga, showcased a brand-new hero in the form of Shang-Chi; bringing forth a new character into this expansive superhero franchise and a new angle into the blockbuster spectacle. Now, Marvel Studios and director Chloe Zhao present the latest entry in the MCU’s Phase IV saga with the release of Eternals. Does this twenty-six installment in the popular superhero cinematic universe stand tall and proud amongst its predecessors or is it just a bloated (and failed) attempt to introduce a slew of new characters?

THE STORY


Thousands of years ago, the Eternals arrived on Earth, tasked by the god-like Celestial overlord Arishem to watch over humankind and observe their civilization develop, clearing away any threats from their on-going enemies called Deviants. Century passes by as the guardianship of Eternals, which is maintained by Ajak (Selma Hayek) and consisting of Thena (Angelia Jolie), Druig (Barry Keogahn), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Sersi (Gemma Chan), and Ikaris (Richard Madden). After the group wipe of the last remnants of the Deviants on Earth, most of the Eternals go their separates ways, sneaking into the ways of mankind and living out their lives amongst humans and the modern age. Living in London, Sersi finds peace, enjoying a warm relationship with Dane (Kit Harrington), only to find her tranquil peace is destroyed by sudden appearance of a Deviant. Reuniting with Ikaris, Sersi starts to realize that something major is happening, with the pair setting out to reunite the Eternals once again, who are forced work through their internal issues (of the peers and inner demons) as Earth faces its greatest challenge from an unknown enemy.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


If this paragraph and the one above sounds familiar…it’s because I borrowed it from my review of Captain Marvel and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s not that I’m lazy or anything like, but it basically sums up what I want to say. Anyways…. It goes without saying (as many of you readers already know) that I’m a huge (and do mean huge) fan of the MCU films. I think this particular cinematic franchise has indeed flourishes (the right way) into becoming a powerhouse juggernaut that it is today, spanning over more than a decade (currently) in presentation its shared universe of Marvel superheroes. As one can imagine, I’m more of a fan of Marvel comic book characters than the DC Comics ones, so the actual cinematic representation that each of the twenty films released (thus far) since 2008 have definitely enchanted and “geeked out” my inner fanboy. Of course, the success of the MCU has been expanded upon the already established characters (i.e., Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Hulk) as well bringing new characters into the mix (i.e., Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and the Guardians of the Galaxy); showcasing the different styles and narratives that accompany these super tales of good and evil. Yes, I do agree that these movies have found a “winning formula” and have repeated as such (accordingly) throughout its different entries in their “phase sagas”, but it’s something that definitely worked and there have been a few surprises along the way that keeps these movies both “interesting” and “entertaining” at the same time. All in all, I think that the MCU (as a whole) has definitely left its mark on the film industry. The question remains…. how long can this shared cinematic universe of Marvel superheroes be relevant before it becomes stale and uninteresting to the general public opinions?  I guess only time will tell on that endeavor in the coming years. That being said, the Phase IV saga seems to be heading in the right direction and I, for one, am looking forward to what Marvel Studios has on the horizon for us.

This, of course, circles back around to talking about Eternals, a 2021 superhero film and the latest (twenty-sixth) installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When the Phase IV saga was officially announced a few years back, I was definitely excited to see several sequels planned (i.e., Doctor Strange in the Multi-verse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. III), but was also excited to see a few new ones, including Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals. After seeing Shang-Chi and how the movie was quite unique as well as a welcomed sight for the MCU, my attention now turned towards the next project…. Eternals. Just from the cast alone, I was immediately hooked, with many of the acting talents (i.e., Madden, Harrington, Chan, Hayek, Jolie, etc.), but I was also very interested in this upcoming movie because it was going to involve a group of new characters to showcase and experience within the MCU. Sure, I liked seeing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and all the rest of the established characters, but seeing new heroes…. that’s far more interesting to me….and a welcomed sight to see in this long-running franchise. Additionally, the film’s movie trailer also got me hooked on the film, with the marketing campaign definitely playing the various cast members as well as providing something a bit different than just the standard Marvel superhero movie endeavor. Thus, I was very intrigued to see Eternals, with the latest MCU movie getting ready to debut in November of 2021….and the consist marketing campaign from Disney / Marvel stating that the movie was going to be released exclusively in theaters. I know that the COVID-19 pandemic has made uncertain times in movies being released, but I really think that Disney / Marvel drilled the whole “Only in theaters” for this film a bit too much. Just an observation. Anyway, I was super excited to see Eternals and decided to check out the movie during its opening night and letting me think about my thoughts and opinions settle and recollect over a few days before I write my review. So…. what did I think of the movie? Well, I really liked it. Eternals is a very ambitious project within the MCU, which is something that should be praised and scrutinized, but the overall outcome of the project is something unique, different, and engaging in the cinematic story of the feature as well in its various main lead characters. It’s nowhere as nearly as terrible as advance reviews are making it out to be and is actually presented in a better light than what I was expecting it to be.

Eternals is directed by Chloe Zhao, whose previous directorial works include such projects like Songs My Brothers Taught Me, The Rider, and Nomadland. Given her filmography background of directing as well as her recent celebratory win at the past award season for Nomadland, Zhao seems like quite a capable director and prime for a bright future in whatever she pursues…. directorial-wise. Thus, given that statement, Marvel seems to have quickly snatched her up to direct their latest MCU project; making Eternals Zhao’s first big-budgeted studio endeavor. In that regard, she definitely succeeds. Still, what you will about the movie, I think that Zhao does a great job in handling all of what Eternals calls for…..a large and expansive story (spanning thousands of years), new characters in the MCU (roughly ten characters to share / explain throughout the film), and an ambitious project to boot. Given all those notions, it would be quite a handful for any seasoned director to tackle; wrapping all that within a Marvel superhero feature film. That being said, Zhao approaches the Eternals project with a sense of wonder and amazement; shaping the feature with a lot of attention focused on the inner workings of various Eternal characters and how they interact with each other throughout the different time periods of Earth.

There is no doubt about it that the Eternals is to be considered a very ambitious and experimental project for the MCU, which definitely seems like a step in the right direction for the superhero franchise of this shared universe of Marvel characters. Heck, I think that the start of the MCU’s Phase IV saga is experimental if one examines what has been released so far (as of this review); finding Black Widow to be an examination of one of its leading female characters through her backstory trauma and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings exploring family ties within a whole new set of characters. Eternals follow that experimental formula by presenting a narrative that spans thousands of years and a whole slew of new characters to follow. This is even more experimental when you consider how connect the feature is to the rest of the MCU. What do I mean? Well, there is a few nods, winks, and references made throughout the film, but, for the most part, Eternals doesn’t overload its runtime with necessary callbacks to the already established MCU. Basically, the movie has enough story and characters built up and around it that it doesn’t need to be connected to the large, shared universe of Marvel, which is kind of good thing, for this doesn’t dilute the prospect and narrative of what’s being presented in the movie itself as well as beating you (the viewer) over the head with name dropping characters and / events as much…something that was a problem (to me at least) in Black Widow. Naturally, there are some callbacks to the established MCU, but those are sparse. In the end, much like what I said about Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals is a very ambitious and experimental movie from Marvel Studios, but is still quite capable and strong enough to stand on its own merits doesn’t rely solely on the MCU. All of this is a good thing and I think that

That’s not to say that the Zhao devoid the movie of making the Eternals a MCU movie, which is does as it has a lot of what makes a MCU interesting and fun-loving to watch. There’s a lot of familiar aspect while watching Eternals that are main staples of a Marvel superhero feature, including their signature big visual screen action and comedic timing moments. It’s a proven track record for the past MCU films and Zhao adheres to the sensibility by giving her superhero film that same type of blockbuster Marvel pedigree. That’s also not to say that Zhao makes the movie her own thing; finding the means to make this new superhero movie has its own distinct swagger on how both the characters and the story. While other MCU tales have more of a “street level” narrative or going into the “mystical” realm, Eternals, much like the Guardian of the Galaxy movies, takes the cosmic narrative; focusing on immortal beings from the far reaches of the cosmos that come to Earth to protect it and observe the people through the ages. There are other cosmic nuances that are at play (i.e., the celestials), but Zhao makes the movie have a fantastic feeling; hinting at something far larger at play than what has transpired on Earth in the past MCU movies out there….and…. if an Eternals 2 is ever greenlit…. I am definitely interested to see what lies in the rest of the cosmic universe. Even looking beyond that, Zhao makes Eternals has a focus on a character study of its various team members, with the common thread of the plot being a “getting the band back together”, with the feature following that formula as the Eternals are reassembled to fight a new emerging threat, while also forcing them to confront their past relationships and jaded looks upon the world. Again, the whole “getting the band back together” is a proven narrative format that has worked and, while that isn’t the most original path to tell a story, it is a bit of fresh air in the MCU, especially since most first, standalone installment heavily focus on classic “zero to her” superhero origin. In the end, despite a few quips that I have about the film’s criticisms, I think that Zhao did a great job in bringing Eternals, a very much ambitious superhero film, to the silver screen. As a sidenote, I do like how the movie has a little bit of nod to a plot device of the classic SNES video game Chrono Trigger. I won’t spoil it, but those who are familiar with the JRPG will find a similar reference to the particular machinations of the main conflict in this movie to Chrono Tigger’s bad guy…Lavos.

In the presentation category, Eternals definitely feels like a Marvel Studios production; utilizing a large blockbuster production budget towards the twenty-sixth installment. Given the large amount of narrative that the film has to cover, the film’s presentation definitely matches that; finding Zhao’s direction for the movie showcasing a wide span of setting, time eras, and locales throughout the entire feature. This is where the movie shines, with the background setting aesthetics cleverly projecting some visually stunning locations (both familiar and unfamiliar) throughout the feature, which generates a very pleasing and sleek Marvel Studios theatrical film that, much like the movie itself, showcases ambition. From the fabled city walls of ancient Babylon to the modern-day places to the cosmic montage sequences of outer space with the Celestials. Even the costumes are quite remarkable (Hayek’s Ajak outfit in Babylon…wow and Jolie’s Thena Eternals battle outfit…. incredible). Even the film’s CGI visuals are quite impressive throughout the feature. It doesn’t break “any new ground” in terms of visual representation, but it still delivers a hefty amount CGI visuals that helps bolster some of the more fantastical elements, including the Eternals abilities and other powers.

Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” movers and shakers, including Eve Stewart and Clint Wallace (production designs), Pancho Chamorro and Michael Standish (set decorations), Sammy Sheldon (costume designs), and the entire art department team, for their efforts in making the film look visually stunning and feeling like grand spectacle blockbuster. Aiding in that endeavor is the cinematography work by Ben Davis, whose talents make the feature’s cinematic moments “pop” in some fantastic ways, which (again) feels very much “in-line” with the rest of the superhero flair and Marvel’s signature grandiose spectacle of blockbuster finesse. Lastly, the film’s score, which was composed by Ramin Djawadi, is quite solid; feeling very bombastic within its rousing action moments and just as powerful and commanding as in its softer, quieter ones. Heck, the song “Across the Ocean of Time” alone is definitely worth it alone. Loved Djawadi’s work and his job in creating a musical composition for Eternals to be quite palpable and memorable.

While I did very much like Eternals, there were some elements that I felt were either a bit clunky and / or detrimental to the feature. I wouldn’t say that these criticisms derail the movie, but it certainly holds it back from reaching the stellar presentation of which it wants to fully achieve. Perhaps the biggest problematic area that the movie struggles to overcome is in its overall story…..or rather the narrative foundation of which the Eternals’s story / plot wants to tell and how it is navigated. How so? Well, giving the full timeline of the Eternals, which covers over 7,000 years, there is a lot to unpack, explore, and examine over the course of those thousands of years and by way and means of explore the various Eternal characters. That’s a lot, but also a lot of potential for storytelling and characterization to juggle. This is where I think that I think that Zhao’s direction waivers a tad and the film’s script, which was penned by Zhao as well as Patrick Burleigh, and Ryan and Kaz Firpo, showcases a few of its criticisms. Given how much the story has to encompass (narrative path, characters, flashbacks, exposition, etc.), the compression of Eternals is definitely felt, with the roughly two- and half-hour film cramming a lot into the feature’s framework. As said, there is a lot to unpack and sometimes the ambitions of both Zhao’s direction and the expansive story get a little ahead of itself and has to gloss over certain things; rendering some plot points and / or elements getting shortchanged and underutilized. With a lot of flashbacks scattered throughout the film, the movie does suffer from a few pacing issues, which does hamper the feature.

I personally believe that the movie should’ve been developed as a two-part film project. I know, I know…. every hates the two-part film deal, especially since several major / popular films have failed to fully capitalize on such narrative measures to justify two theatrical features. That being said, I think that the Eternals would’ve benefited from doing a two-part movie endeavor, especially due to the fact that there is a lot of ground to cover….in both story and characters. It would’ve been so cool to set the first film in the past; showcasing the Eternals interacting with each other and how they play a part in the society of past civilizations and time eras (i.e., Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Age of Vikings, The Dark Ages, The Renaissance, etc.), which would allow for character growth and how they perceived humanity’s growth through the millenniums. The suppose first film would end with a big shocking reveal twist (presumably in modern day), with the second movie taking place in solely in present day, with maybe a few flashbacks here and there. By doing this, it would’ve fully encompass the Eternals immortal age, the bonds they share with each other, their views points on humanity through the ages, and allot time for interwoven plotlines to be fully realized. There is no doubt that the Eternals is quite an ambitious movie (as stated above) and I definitely felt that the is story should’ve been created under the utilization of a two-part movie deal. Alas, it wasn’t and the material that was presented in a single feature film, while still good and engaging, feels quite crammed and glosses over a few important elements. Marvel has a plenty of money, so doing a two-part film deal won’t break the bank…. just my thoughts.

Looking beyond those key points of shaping the story of the Eternals, I felt that the characters of the Deviants are a bit generic at times. I definitely get Zhao and her team were trying to go for with these maleficent creatures that wreak havoc throughout the world, but they just seem a like formulaic as mindless beasts. The movie does try to “rise above that” with one particular deviant character named Kros, who seems to have his own agenda against the Celestials and the Eternals, but it comes off as a bit underdeveloped. Don’t me wrong…. I liked the idea, but it seems like the writers for the movie didn’t know what to do with the concept, which sort of languishes a bit between the second and third act, before resurfacing in the climatic portion of the movie….and it seems clunky. If it was refined and handle better…. I think it could’ve worked.

The cast in the Eternals is solid across the board, with the various actors and actresses selected for this project being top-notch in their respective character roles and being promoted as one of the most diverse casting assemblage in the MCU, which is always a welcomed one. While some might argue that Disney, who has become one of the more diverse casting choices of late on their projects, is just trying to appease the masses by trying to have inclusion of a variety of race ethnicity and sexual orientation in a mega blockbuster project, the final result doesn’t really feel like that and (to me personally) actually enhanced the characters and makes them interesting. Personally, it’s who actually plays the characters and what to do they bring to their respective roles that makes them memorable. Given that notion, Eternals’s cast is fantastic, and I love it. Of course, the big challenge is having a massive amount of time devoted to presenting ten main characters, so (naturally) some of them get more prominent screen time and act as the vital lead characters of the group. In this category, the movie definitely shines a more heavier focus on the Eternal characters, especially the kind-hearted physical matter manipulator Sersi, the stoic flying / cosmic energy eye beam superhuman Ikaris, the youthful shapeshifter Sprite, and the wisecracking energy projectile shooter Kingo. Collectively, this grouping of main characters is considered the main leads of Eternals, with Zhao and her team focusing the camera lens on…. more so than others. Still, what’s presented definitely works and the talents of actress Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians and Transformers: The Last Knight), actor Richard Madden (Game of Thrones and Cinderella), actress Lia McHugh (American Woman and The Lodge), and actor Kumail Nanjiani (Stuber and The Big Sick) all make these characters work; finding each one interesting (Sersi is the more compassionate one, Ikaris is the ever vigilant being…something akin to Superman, Sprite is the cheeky “old soul” individual, and Kingo is the humorous funny man) and giving off an engaging character performances in each one.

The next step down is more of the secondary Eternal characters, who are somewhat in the middle of the pack of the ten main heroes. This includes the spirted weapon master warrior Thena, the moody mind control Druig, and the kind-hearted and mechanical engineer genius Phastos, who are played by actress Angelina Jolie (Maleficent and Those Who Wish Me Dead), actor Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk and The Green Knight), and actor Brian Tyree Henry (If Beale Street Could Talk and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) respectfully. While the first four Eternal team members lead the feature (progressing the plot and the handling the bulk of the narrative moments), these three secondary team members sort of get their own mini-sub plots to perform, with Thena trying to confront her own bloodlust craze in the heat of battle, Druig’s jaded personality and views amongst his fellow team members, and Phastos’s reluctant ways of rejoining the team due to past experience and his current family. Interestingly, it must be mentioned that Phastos is the first gay character in the MCU, and I do honestly welcome the idea. Of course, it is handled with the utmost respect and with kiddie gloves, so nothing explicit or anything like that (for those who are wondering). It didn’t bother me, so I don’t think it would anyone else. Plus, I think that Henry’s portrayal of Phastos was great, especially in those scenes. Also, I must also mention that I think that Jolie’s Thena was probably my favorite Eternal character in the film. She was definitely a badass and I did like her character arc story.

Unfortunately, several of the Eternal characters get sort of “shortchanged” in the movie, with screen-time limited by the overambitious narrative it wants to tell. This most important in the characters of the Eternals’s spiritual leader Ajak as well as fellow team members…. the speedster (and the first deaf superhero character) Makkari and the strongman Gilgamesh, who are played by actresses Salam Hayek (Frida and Desperado) and Lauren Ridoff (The Walking Dead and Sound of Metal), and actor Ma Dong-Seek (Train to Busan and Squad 38) respectfully. Don’t get me wrong, I really did like this characters and the acting talents that played…. especially Hayek as Ajak. That being said, the film’s script (by design) limits these characters, which is slightly disappointing. I kind of figured with over ten main characters to cover, I figured that some of them will be a little less focused on. Overall, I think that these characters are still relatively good and have potential; finding Hayek’s Ajak to be the wise and confidant leader amongst the group, Ridoff’s Makkari to be sincere and insightful (again, love the whole idea of a deaf superhero character), and Seek’s Gilgamesh to be kindhearted, especially in his friendship with Jolie’s Thena.

With a lot of attention being focused on Eternal characters, any non-Eternal supporting characters in the film gets more of the short end of the stick, with limited screen time being allotted towards them. This includes actor Kit Harington (Game of Thrones and Pompeii) as Sersi’s fellow colleague / new lover Dane Whitman, actor Harish Patel (Today’s Special and Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Kingo’s manager Karun, actor Bill Skarsgard (IT and Castle Rock) as the highly evolved Deviant being known as Kros. Given the fact that there was ten Eternal main characters to heavily focus on in the movie, I kind of knew that this was going to be the case, so it didn’t bother me as much. For the most part, these characters give what they can in their respective roles and are mostly elevated by their screen presence. The only troublesome one is (as mentioned above) Skarsgard’s Kros.

Lastly, with Eternals being a MCU superhero endeavor, there is something to during the film’s end credits scene, with two Easter Eggs scenes that appear….one being a mid-credits and the other being appearing at the very end of the credits. I won’t spoil what is shown / depicted in those two scenes, but it is definitely exciting to see how these two Easter Egg scenes will play out in the future of the MCU. I’m all for it!

FINAL THOUGHTS


Across an ocean of time and through the ages of Earth’s civilizations, they watch and observe humanity, but now they must fight to save the people of Earth in the movie Eternals. Director Chloe Zhao’s latest film sees the twenty-sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe take on new heroes to join the superhero line-up; presenting a new angle to this shared universe; one that is experimental, which does pay off, as well as being a visually stunning blockbuster romp. While the movie does struggles slightly to fully encompass its grandiose storytelling within a single film (narrative elements, balance characters, and antagonist mechanics), the feature still manages to rise above those challenges with Zhao’s direction, a promising story, a solid presentation, interesting concepts, and a great cast across the board. Personally, I liked this movie. To me, it was nice to see a wide variety of new superhuman characters in the MCU and, like I said above, the film was definitely ambitious. I think some of the movie’s edges need to be trimmed and ironed out, but, for all the hype and criticism, that surrounded the project…. I think that the final product was definitely entertaining. As stated, the movie can stand on its own….and that’s a good thing. Plus, I don’t think it’s nowhere as near as some are making it out to be. Thus, my recommendation for the film would a quite favorable “highly recommended” as I’m sure MCU fans out there will be interested to see the project as well as moviegoers who are looking for something a tad different from this expansive blockbuster universe of superheroes. Given where the movie’s narrative ends and the two aftermentioned Easter Egg scenes, it’s safe to assume that this isn’t that last time that the Eternal characters will appear in the MCU…. whether in a sequel film, which I am anxiously hoping for, or in supporting players in another superhero film. Let’s hope for both and that something will one day materialize on the horizon. In the end, Eternals is quite an ambitious project from Marvel Studios, one that ultimately plays out in an entertaining (yet compressed) fashion, but succeeds in a character drama and bringing new characters into the MCU sandbox roster of heroes, gods, and monsters.

4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: November 5th, 2021
Reviewed On: November 12th, 2021

Eternals  is 157 minutes long and rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, some language and brief sexuality

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