Marvel has been happy to surprise in recent years with their choices for new films and new filmmakers they attract. One of the biggest surprises they announced in 2018 was that 1) Chloé Zhao would direct the film version of 2) the Eternals. At the time, Zhao was still an Indian director and not an Oscar winner, so she had no blockbuster experience yet. And the Eternals are alien god-like creatures created by Jack Kirby. The result is actually what you would expect: an epic story with still indie qualities.
For the universe and beyond
Phase 4 is now well underway. It kind of feels like we’ve worked up to Eternals with the 2 movies since the pandemic . Black Widow was one of the most down-to-earth stories in the MCU in a long time. Shang-Chi also had that in hand-to-hand combat but then introduced the mystical side as well . That’s why Eternals shootoff the starting blocks and the story immediately plunges us into the new mythology. Even before the Infinity Stones, there were the Celestials who created the universe and life. The Deviants also came, creatures that attacked intelligent life to become more powerful. In response, the Eternals were created to protect humanity. Arishem, a sort of supreme Celestial, has a plan for the universe and sends the Eternals to Earth to help humanity evolve.
We find out all this in the first minutes of the film thanks to a Star Wars-esque crawl. It is already a lot of information to immediately get to you. Especially if you haven’t read the comics yet. Fortunately, a few more times how everything is put together again. And so we don’t have to lose too much time and we can avoid too many weird exposition dialogues. We get to see how the Eternals help humanity through the ages. In addition, the central Eternals are presented, and there are quite a few. We also get a taste of their powers.
In the present, the 10 Eternals have each gone their separate ways. At the center is Sersi (Gemma Chan) who teaches history and lives as normal as possible in London. Until the Deviants they normally wiped out reappear. Through Ajak, they discover that not everything has gone as they thought and that the Earth is on the brink of destruction. To prevent that, the Eternals will have to reunite after thousands of years.
Eternals is a visual picture
As you can hear there is quite a lot of plot to this film. The runtime is therefore about 2.5 hours, although it flew by for me. That’s mainly because the format of a reunion is very entertaining and useful for seeing where they are now and what their relationships are. But they are also interspersed with periods of the past, where we can see what they did for humanity and what they were like back then. Because the Eternals are so old, those parts take place in all periods of history. But even in the present they are scattered everywhere. This makes the story feel really epic and diverse.
Perhaps what sticks with you most is how amazing everything looks. The different locations and sets are beautifully chosen. For example, there is a beautiful Bollywood scene that lingers or the way historical scenes have been recreated such as Babylon. Because so many real locations are used (or if there are special effects it is difficult to notice) the story was also down to earth for me. In addition, most of the film takes place in daylight. What I always look at with open mouth is the cinematography of Chloé Zhao’s films. The combinations of the golden hour shots Zhao likes to use together with the beautiful, often abandoned locations and the cinematography of Ben Davis ( Captain Marvel) give a soft glow to the film. This approach is quite rare when so much VFX is needed for the characters.
Because yes, the “disadvantage” of these characters is perhaps that their powers and battles automatically involve a lot of CGI. Added to this are the Deviants who are magical creatures, and the fact that Arishem and the Celestials really are space creatures might be too much for some people. It didn’t bother me because I was expecting a more cosmic story and, as I said, it’s kept down-to-earth in other ways. For example, the effects for the powers of the Eternals look very elegant.
What a cast but still getting used to
And a star cast always helps too. There are many characters but each Eternal feels very different because of them and the script by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh and Ryan & Kaz Firpo. They are all very well cast as well. Marvel has done well in recognizing that they’ve neglected Gemma Chan a bit in Captain Marvel because Sersi really is the heart of the movie and it’s definitely because of her.
Richard Madden brings a certain (cliche word) gravitas to the yet very Superman-esque Ikaris. It seems a while ago that I saw Angelina Jolie in a movie, but here it also becomes clear why she is an icon. Everyone wants a leader like Salma Hayek, who seems calm here. Barry Keoghan is still one of today’s most interesting actors and thankfully not wasted here either. And hopefully, after Train To Busan , Don Lee will become even better known to the general public.
There are also two gains in diversity (besides the already very diverse cast): Brian Tyree Henry plays the first gay character in the films and Lauren Ridloff is the first deaf character. By the way, I’m slightly obsessed with her because she has such a presence. Especially the storyline of Phastos is not just mentioned, as has often happened, but completely determines the motivations of his character. I might have found the character of Kumail Nanjani ( The Big Sick ) slightly less successful. Kingo is very similar to many of the characters he’s played, only he’s super toned here. He’s a comedian, of course, but the humor didn’t always fit the setting for me and his subplot got a bit much at times.
Apparently Eternals now has the lowest rating on Rotten Tomatoes of all MCU movies, but I can’t get my head around that. Because it is a bit more cosmic than we are used to, I also had to get used to it. The film didn’t come across as the best for me either. But I think you like this one more the more you watch it. I don’t know the comics, so maybe the surprise effect of certain twists is gone for those in the know. The story is sometimes quite philosophical, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating, although we have often seen the common thread.
Still, he puts a kind of extra layer on the history of the MCU and also lays the groundwork for what’s to come. I raised my eyebrows at the very end. Also be sure to stick around until the end as there’s a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene (hopefully you were able to avoid spoilers!). The scale of Eternals is simply epic and the story is ambitious. But don’t let that put you off.