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Film Review: “Eternals”

Joseph Cyrulik

Marvel’s latest addition into their cinematic universe is sprawling across both scenery and centuries. “Eternals” follows a group of 10 god-like creatures known as Eternals who are immortal, have their own unique powers, and have been stationed on earth by a higher power called a Celestial. This is done in order to protect humans from an alien predator species called Deviants. In a franchise that is usually known for being good at balancing characters and ambitious storylines, “Eternals” ultimately struggles in this area, but is redeemed by a solid performance from its eclectic cast and some visually stunning sequences.

“Eternals” is directed by Chloe Zhao, who is hot off of her Academy Award win for 2020’s “Nomadland”, a film I didn’t particularly care for. Her directorial talent is obvious, some of her sweeping landscape shots, similar to “Nomadland” work well in this film. She did her serviceable best with a script that was probably far too ambitious from the get-go. The film has a two and a half hour runtime and it does well to take time and develop its many characters and is mostly successful in this respect. This is the only part of the script that really worked for me, despite the fact that these characters are essentially gods, they have very human flaws and interpersonal relationships within their complex little family. But, after two acts of historical flashbacks and character development the third act swings in with a very cosmic feel that seems disjointed from the first part of the movie and the story begins to fall apart at the seams. 

I also found that this movie had a significant exposition problem, what with all the new characters and interstellar storylines bouncing around. The first twenty minutes or so drag a bit as we are introduced to characters and the celestial element is a little off putting. Marvel builds off of it’s audiences previous knowledge of the celestials, interwoven into previous MCU films, however the celestials presence in this film is largely about exposition and plot. This also led to a somewhat predictable twist. It’s obvious that Marvel has much bigger plans for the celestials, and this movie largely serves to fully introduce them and the scope of their power.

The talented cast is largely what keeps “Eternals” afloat. We spend most of our time with Gemma Chen’s, Sersi, and Richard Madden’s, Icarus, but the whole of the cast including Angeline Jolie, Salma Hayek, Barry Keoghan, and Kumail Nanjiani, all get their time to shine, Nanjiani specifically gets some comedic elements that work quite well. This is the film’s biggest strength, out of a group of ten viewers, they could probably all pick a different favorite character. 

My one other thought concerns the presence of Kit Harrington of previous “Game of Thrones” fame. He plays Sersi’s boyfriend at the start of the film and then disappears and reappears at the end with some foreboding dialogue about his family history. Without spoiling anything it’s obvious that his inclusion in this film is purely to set up a future project. I found it incredibly lazy and uncharacteristic for Marvel. But, that has kind of been the aura of this whole post “Endgame” phase of the MCU, setting things up for future projects.  

“Eternals” is the first MCU film to fall to Rotten on Rotten Tomatoes at just 53%, but that seems a little harsh to me. “Eternals” isn’t the home run that Marvel can sometimes deliver, but it certainly isn’t a strike out either. If I’m sticking with the baseball reference, and Marvel’s average movie is a double, then I’d call this; a runner rounding first base, but the ball takes a lucky bounce off the right field wall and the runner gets thrown out at second, if that makes sense. “Eternals” is well shot and well directed and it boasts a fine cast that gives the movie most of its life, but an overly ambitious script could do with a little less exposition and time distortion which makes the whole of the plot feel somewhat disconnected.

Final score for “Eternals”: 2.5 out of 5 stars