By Jason Delgado
If you thought that Marvel and Disney were done telling dysfunctional family stories, think again! The Eternals are a race of immortal beings (and a de facto family a la the Avengers) with superpowers, who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years, defending humans against gigantic creatures called Deviants. It’s like the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, Marvel-style.
The Eternals is a sprawling adventure that jumps back and forth throughout human history, with gorgeous cinematography (especially when viewed in 3D), and a large, diverse and mostly interesting cast of characters. Unfortunately, it is tied together with a jumbled mess of a plot that felt like it fizzled by the end. I could see elements of the same tried and true crowd-pleasing Marvel formula, but the ingredients were off, leaving me to ponder that a much better movie could have come from this, if only it had had the right script.
The standout of the film for me was the return of Angelina Jolie as a bonafide movie star, with a magnetic presence as a feral version of the Wonder Woman-like Thena (as in Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war). There is a mini-Justice League trio present with Richard Madden (Rocketman) as the all-powerful Ikaris, a flying, laser-beams-shooting-out-of-the-eyes Superman-like character (a child in the film even mistakenly calls him Superman), and Lauren Ridloff (The Walking Dead) as Makkari, a deaf version of a speedster (like the Flash).
Despite the Justice League style characters and multiple DC references in the movie, the team has more of an X-men feel. This odd mix of heroes wants to protect humanity from themselves, because they’ve grown fond of the human race over thousands of years. All of this sounds simple enough in theory.
The Eternals tries to shake it up by throwing in plot twists, which are mostly predictable, but the film doesn’t believably show us why the characters make the strange decisions that they do. Someone will do something out of “love,” but it’s for someone with whom they have no chemistry on-screen. Or another character will make a choice because of some sort of a “moral duty,” when it’s clear to everyone else that it’s not moral at all. Throw in pacing issues after the first act, along with some tedious dialogue, and the excitement that I had at the beginning of the film slowly faded away as the movie dragged on for what seemed like an eternity (pun intended).
All of these technical issues are quite confounding considering that The Eternals is by Oscar-winning filmmaker Chloé Zhao, who won Best Director and Best Picture in 2020 for the beautifully sublime drama Nomadland. I would be interested to see a behind-the-scenes story about what led to what we see on screen for The Eternals. Was Zhao not given the amount of time she needed to craft another masterpiece?
Whatever the case may be, the aforementioned actors and the rest of the cast (Gemma Chan as Sersi, Salma Hayek as Ajak, Don Lee as Gilgamesh, Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Barry Keoghan as Druig, Lia McHugh as Sprite, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, and the scene-stealing Harish Patel as the cameraman Karun) were all interesting enough to make a second Eternals movie more exciting, if done right. The fact that we the audience got to know all of these characters in one movie is a feat in and of itself.
Also on the positive side is that this film features the first gay kiss in MCU history. As in Star Trek, maybe one day all races, genders, and sexualities will be accepted by everyone.
I give The Eternals two and a half hot sauce packets out of five. It started off hot, but cooled down over time.