The Eternals marks a lot of firsts for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The ensemble hero group is comprised of characters who are gay, deaf, black, Latino, Asian, South Asian, and even vastly different ages. It’s refreshing to see that the MCU is still open to more varied characters from all walks of life.
The big problem is that such a picture is towering with too much to tackle. There are too many characters, too many rousing thematic elements, and too many arcs with romances that end up more inexplicable than explored. All of these flaws hinder what could’ve been a real game-changer of an MCU movie.
Since The Dawn of Time
The ensemble has an interesting premise. Tasked by an alien god, the group of diverse soldiers is tasked with protecting Earth from monsters known as the Deviants. The Eternals are gifted with immortality and magical powers to ensure that humanity can thrive against vicious monsters.
The mission objectives of the group are mostly bound by Star Trek rules. They must protect humanity from the threat of Deviants but nothing else. They can’t interfere with wars or push humans forward with technology in their early days.
But how can the Eternals help themselves? They grow frustrated with humanity and desire to stick their noses in their affairs. The aggravation leads to many of them splitting up as they try to carry out their missions alone.
A Conflict of Powers
Each Eternal has their own special ability that also serves as a weakness. Ikaris (Richard Madden) can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes but grows too content with his incredible power. Sersi (Gemma Chan) can change the molecular structure of anything she touches, turning metal into dust and lava into ice.
Over the course of a few thousand years, diced up as a montage, Ikaris and Sersi form a romance. More time passes, however, and they grow apart. There’s a bittersweet nature to these characters when realizing that they will live forever and find a certain emptiness in the passing of time.
Are They Heroes?
The grand goal of The Eternals is kept relatively aloof to act as more of a mystery. We get the general idea that they are present to stop Deviants from attacking Earth and that someday their mission will be complete. When it will be completed they do not know.
It’s only once there’s a sudden rise in more Deviant monsters when the group starts questioning their long-term goal. Why are the Deviants not only more present but also gaining superpowers? How much in the dark are The Eternals about their mission and what’s so important a secret that has been kept hidden from them for thousands of years?
A Different Kind of Marvel Movie
The best feature of The Eternals is by far its overall tone and collective of characters. It differs greatly from other Marvel movies not because it inhabits a different genre. It still has all the silly costumes, CGI creatures, and superpowered fight scenes.
Instead of being breezy and fun, this film tries to be low-key dramatic and somber. Even better, there’s far more romance present than any other MCU entry. This can be seen in a number of relationships.
Sersi and Ikaris have a romance that becomes passionately sexual in one scene. Genius inventor Eternal Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is married to another man and has a child. Mind-controller Druig (Barry Keoghan) and the deaf speedster Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) also have a cute romance.
Too Big To Flourish
While all of these additions are great, that’s not even half the arcs covered. Remember, these are characters who have been around for thousands of years. We’re meant to keep up with them in a non-linear tale that covers an awful lot of ground.
There’s a crush that the eternally youthful Sprite (Lia McHugh) has on Ikaris but this isn’t given time to develop. Comic relief character and energy-slinger Kinga (Kumail Nanjiani) acts as though this is obvious. Wait, did I mention Kinga?
I haven’t even gotten to Angelina Jolie as the trauma-stricken Thena. Or Salma Hayek as the motherly healer Ajak. Or Don Lee as the powerful Gilgamesh with a charming nature amid a concerning stoicism.
The Eternals has so much potential and only about half of it feels up there on the screen. It’s almost a mercy that there’s no heavy relation to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This picture is already bursting at the seams with themes and arcs.
At least it’s a good-looking picture that doesn’t look bland. The action and VFX sequences are mostly during the day and they look stunning. Director Chloé Zhao still has a masterful hand and crafting compelling shots that make great use of the sky.
The actors are also given a surprising amount of dignity in their portrayals and performances. I had some concerns about this considering the ridiculous outfits and standard superpowers. Even with muscles, Kumail Nanjiani’s charm hasn’t diminished.
Conclusion: The Eternals
The Eternals has a lot of potential that will hopefully carry into a better sequel. For this film, it feels like three great films boiled down into a lukewarm smash-cut. The result is a depressingly not-all-there comic book movie.
There’s a lot of great firsts in this film and I hope that will carry on with future MCU pictures. But as it stands now, The Eternals is one of the weaker Marvel pictures. That failure, however, is for shooting for something far bigger that has never been seen in a Marvel movie.
What do you think of The Eternals? Will you be seeing it in theaters or waiting for it at home? How does it compare to Marvel’s other film of Shang-Chi? Let us know in the comments below.
A grand epic that simply can't house all its characters and weighty themes.
- Strong and diverse casting.
- Great themes of mortality, time, and ethics.
- Stunning cinematography.
- Too many characters that can't be balanced.
- Romance that feels rushed.
- Bigger themes that are sadly not as well explored.