REVIEW: Eternals (2021)

A Film by Disney, Directed by Chloé Zhao

I’m going to be honest, prior to this film I had never heard of any of these characters. I mean, yeah, I knew the obvious ones like Thena (Angelina Jolie), who was known as Athena from Greek Hellenic Paganism, or Gilgamesh (Don Lee) from Mesopotamian literature/mythology. Aside from those obvious ones, never once did my eyes look at a comic page with said characters. This is both a good and bad thing, with such obscure characters Disney could basically do whatever they wanted, but would anyone care? This worked out in their favor with the smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy, but was not as successful here. Some are saying it’s “Marvel’s first big flop”, but just because critics didn’t like a film that grossed nearly A HALF BILLION DOLLARS DURING A PANDEMIC doesn’t mean it’s a flop, that honor would go to 2008’s Incredible Hulk, but nobody wants to get real with that.

Sorry to yell, but I get annoyed when people forget that most are avoiding theaters right now.

“Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS follows a group of ancient heroes from beyond the stars who had protected Earth since the dawn of man. When monstrous creatures called Deviants, long thought lost to history, mysteriously return, the Eternals are forced to reunite in order to defend humanity once again.”

This film is interesting because it 100% avoids “The Marvel Formula”, and is almost an arthouse film about what it means to be powerful immortals in the world of humans. You see, The Celestials have tasked The Eternals (Ajak, Sersi, Ikaris, Kingo, Sprite, Phastos, Makkari, Druig, Gilgamesh, and Thena) with protecting Earth from a race of monsters called “Deviants”. The creatures were at their strongest thousands of years ago, resulting in flashbacks where we see The Eternals as an “ancient Avengers” of sorts. They battle the creatures, and inspire all manners of legends about wondrous heroes and gods, only to go into hiding once the threat was largely subdued.

While these flashbacks are pulse-poundingly awesome, and feature the characters in huge battles, we really don’t know who they are when this is going on. The film jumps back and forth from these flashbacks to modern times where everything gets fleshed out. It seems that the heroes largely succumbed to in-fighting and went their separate ways due to not really knowing what their place in society was. They aren’t supposed to meddle in human affairs, so some become recluses, others try to live normal lives.

It’s hard to introduce ten characters at the same time, but the film tries it best, and overall is successful. We get to see most of their personalities when Sersi (played by Gemma Chan) is trying round everyone back up, and I feel like this is where the movie starts really taking off. It’s interesting to not the sheer diversity on display in this film, including the first deaf Marvel superhero in the MCU (I don’t think they’ve said MCU Hawkeye is deaf until his show) ad first openly gay superhero as well. This should help children hopefully find relatable characters to latch onto, especially if these characters pop up in further films.

This film actually has some of best direction and acting in any MCU film so far, considering it’s mostly a drama I would hope everyone would be great. The movie goes for the whole post-modern “what it means to be a superhero” thing that was done in comics such as The Watchmen or The Boys, but avoids the pessimistic tone those stories have. In many ways, this is the most “adult” MCU film, and by that I don’t mean it had a hard R rating. I can see why some people didn’t like this as it doesn’t follow the aforementioned rules, and upends the superhero genre for a sweeping epic.

I waited so long to see this for a couple of reasons – first and foremost I have not been to a movie theater since 2019 for obvious reasons. I might break my sabbatical to see Spider-Man this weekend, but notice how late in the game I am going! Most importantly, I noticed how much Angelina Jolie was featured in the trailer and just assumed this was a movie about Angelina Jolie and her nine sidekicks. I won’t go on any rant here, but I’m honestly not the biggest fan of her in most films she is in, and wasn’t sure I could deal with it.

Crazily enough, it turns out she’s one of the better characters with a very tragic flaw. She has been around so long, and we later find out that memories keep getting wiped, that her memories are failing and she easily succumbs into crazy delusions. Most aren’t even sure they can trust her despite her prowess as perhaps the strongest character. She doesn’t eat up the screen time, and it’s definitely Sersi who is the main character. I was thankful for this, and I take back my earlier assumptions.

I liked this film, but it takes a while to really get going. It feels pretty slow, and honestly should have been a television series rather than a movie. I think that with the longer format, the heaps of background stories could have been fleshed out more and expanded on. I will go against the critics and say that this was fine, and am excited to see where they go with a possible sequel. I hope they don’t “cave” and listen to folks that only want their superhero films to follow a single formula and keep trying out new stuff. Yeah, some aren’t going to be HUGE, but we’d miss out on stuff like this. Eternals is not my favorite, by any means, but it’s worth watching.

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