Friday, November 5

Eternals Review


Dir: Chloé Zhao

Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, Ma Dong-seok, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Lia McHugh, and Kit Harington

2h 37m

Director Chloé Zhao won an Academy Award, both for achievement in directing and best picture, for the film “Nomadland” earlier this year. Zhao’s moody and minimalistic film follows a woman in her sixties embarking on a journey through the American West after losing everything in the Great Recession. During a worldwide pandemic, “Nomadland” touched on issues of isolation and loneliness while also beautifully portraying the independence and peace found within a solitary existence connected to the world. Zhao’s catalog of films examines identity within the complicated structures of the ever-changing American ideal. And Chloé Zhao is the director Marvel Studios chose to helm their newest franchise addition, “Eternals,”; and it’s a fascinating and complicated decision.

The Eternals, created by comic-book legend Jack Kirby in 1976, are lesser-known heroes in the Marvel Universe. The god-like humanoids have existed for centuries, watching/helping worlds evolve in creative and self-destructive ways while safeguarding humanity from threatening creatures known as Deviants. 

Zhao’s film takes the origins of Kirby’s comic and adapts a story for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that feels like that one puzzle piece that could fit anywhere but also nowhere at the same time. With beautiful wide-framed locations and a sensibility leaning into authentic instead of artificial composition, Zhao’s filmmaking presence is felt from the opening scene and, at moments, within the performances from the impressive cast playing the immortal superheroes. However, despite all its attempts to separate itself from the MCU’s consistent, familiar structures, “Eternals” unique introductions get lost in the mix of mundane Marvel ingredients.

Ancient aliens known as Eternals have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years. Their job is to support humanity by helping them advance while also protecting them from otherworldly creatures known as Deviants. The Eternals have seen their efforts preserve and devastate society. This cycle grows more difficult for the nine superheroes to accept, knowing that they have the abilities to help in different ways. After centuries of working as a team, the Eternals separate over how they should use their powers. They begin living their own lives amongst humanity. The Deviants, which the Eternals thought they had defeated, return and start attacking the separated heroes individually. These attacks bring the Eternals back together, exposing the truth about their long-lived history and the plan for the future of humanity.

Chloé Zhao’s filmmaking sensibilities are present throughout the film, at times obvious and other times more subtle. Zhao brings a sense of connection between the world and those separated into this massive Marvel machine. Much like her past films, which focus on the disenfranchised moving through the American dream, Zhao asks questions and explores feelings with these immortal aliens. Questions about worth, sacrifice, honor, and servitude. Emotions like confusion, fear, love, and contempt. It’s all there and examined through varying degrees of magnification. A scene that explores the bond of family, specifically the fear of leaving and losing family, is beautifully captured in a quiet moment during a bedtime routine with a child. At the same time, a scene about the joy and passion of love, both physical and emotional, is inelegantly portrayed with a passionless sex scene and a sappy moment of new love set against magic-hour sunlight. It’s easy to see that “Eternals” is trying to be different, trying to frame a story about superhuman beings, magic powers, and ancient universes with captivating actors and a dynamic director to bring a new and different quality to familiar material. While the execution is elegant, the story and characters rarely engage in anything new but instead exist to introduce prospective properties.

An impressive cast of characters, who range in ability, race, and sexuality, played by an equally impressive list of actors, helps “Eternals” remain engaging. Zhao is fantastic with actors; the ensemble is excellent when all together, but there isn’t enough material or time for the individual cast to develop beyond superficial qualities. Angelina Jolie’s character Thena is an impressive warrior, but the character often feels like an afterthought. Salma Hayek plays the leader Ajak but her screen time is limited to a couple of group scenes and a few short monologues where the character offers sage words of wisdom. Gemma Chan, playing the lead Sersi, is provided the most depth, but against the grand scheme of the story, the character’s change from reluctant team member to influential leader rarely has the effect it should. As the flying Ikaris, Richard Madden has a good screen presence and works his superhero arrogance with glee. Bryan Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani, and Barry Keoghan have secondary roles, but they provide a few insightful moments and some laughs in their limited time. Lauren Ridloff, playing Marvel’s first deaf character Makkari, and Lia McHugh, portraying Sprite, shine bright in their limited roles.

 “Eternals,” throughout the film, is planting the seeds of future stories for the MCU to cultivate. While this isn’t particularly new for the Marvel efforts, there are moments in “Eternals” that make you think about the future characters and story plots instead of remaining in the present with the story being told on the screen. While “Eternals” tries its best to stand on its own, as a separate pillar in the Marvel universe, it ultimately feels like another stepping stone.

Monte’s Rating

2.75 out of 5.00

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