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Eternals (2021) – Review: A Fun Superhero Film That’s Both Ambitious and Familiar

October 26, 2021

Quick thoughts: Grade – B – Eternals is worth a watch because of the excellent cast, and a few solid action scenes, but it never really feels cohesive, as several characters are far from developed, and Chloé Zhao wasn’t allowed to flex her directorial stylings that could’ve made this film more unique (I understand why Zhao wasn’t allowed to make a $200 million arthouse MCU film, but it would’ve been interesting to watch). 

The most interesting thing about Eternals is how it can’t decide whether it’s an MCU movie, or a Chloé Zhao film that’s loaded with wide open vistas, quiet moments, and an occasionally solemn tone. Big questions aren’t allowed to be fully explored, so when they’re asked, and only answered superficially, they lose all weight and feel overly simplistic (you’ll see). The dueling tones aren’t a total hindrance, as the movie features some solid quips, and several standout action sequences that are easy to follow, and full of memorable visuals that include Don Lee punching monsters named Deviants in their faces (somebody watched Train to Busan, and cast him in the punch heavy role). 

Zhao didn’t have the luxury of her characters being introduced in a prior film (think Spider-Man and Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War), which means the 153-minute movie is never able to fully focus on any one thing. Which is tough when it’s a movie about a group of immortals, who were sent to earth by Celestials, to protect the populace from Deviants (AKA large CGI monsters – don’t mistake them for Variants), who are eating the denizens of earth. Zhao has to cover thousands of years, create 10+ major roles, and explain why the immortal powerhouses have never involved themselves in any major conflicts around the world. It’s a big ask, and Zhao and co-writers Patrick Burleigh and Ryan Firpo have done a decent job creating a cohesive narrative that explains centuries worth of backstory, and forging a new path for sequels. 

The movie mostly focuses on the relationship between Sersei (Gemma Chan – in another MCU role), and Ikarus (Richard Madden), two of the Eternals who have a centuries long romance that has cooled off in the 20th century. The two find themselves reunited in London, when a self-healing Deviant attacks Sersei, her boyfriend Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington – actually allowed to enjoy himself for once) and Sprite (Lia McHugh) a perennial teenager Eternal who can work wonders with illusions. After a very close call, Ikarus chases the Variant away, and this leads to the three Eternals traveling the globe to put the team back together so they can fight whatever CGI “evil” is threatening the world. The team includes Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Thena (Anjelina Jolie), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), and leader Ajak (Salma Hayek), who encouraged the team to split up, and find their own way, after they decimated the Deviant population and have to wait around until they are called back to their home planet by the all-powerful Celestials.

Since it’s a Marvel Cinematic Universe film that is loaded with plot twists, and surprise cameos, it wouldn’t be fair to spoil them here. Just know that the rest of the film features monsters being punched, dueling ideologies, and several video cameras being destroyed. It will be interesting to see how the characters are integrated into the larger universe, and if done right, they offer the universe a lot as Nanjiani, Jolie, and the others bring something new and fun. Also, it will be nice to see them move beyond a single character trait (quippy, serious etc..) and become three-dimensional characters with more screen time. 

The cinematography by Ben Davis (Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange) is excellent, as his style works well with Zhao, who always stresses wide open vistas. Also, the CGI smack-em-ups are filmed in a way that makes them easy to follow and track. The production and costume design by Eve Stewart (A Cure for Wellness, The King’s Speech) and Sammy Sheldon (Ex Machina, Annihilation) are solid as well, as there are some large set builds, and each character remains distinctive in a crowd. Since it’s a Marvel movie with a $200 million budget, the excellence is to be expected, but there are some truly memorable costumes and sets that stand out and prove to be memorable. Some examples are when Nanjiani takes part in an intricately choreographed dance number inside a cavernous soundstage, and Angelina Jolie’s costume, which makes her look even more badass than normal. 

Overall, Eternals is another fun MCU movie that understandably plays it too safe (despite having the first sex scene in an MCU movie), and acts as a solid introduction for a group of characters who will hopefully have bigger roles in the future.

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