Eternals, steeped in stillness, is a film that desperately wants to have a soul and be more than a hollow blockbuster. But ambition doesn’t shine through watered-down, spoon-fed storytelling.
The French language
In Eternals’ opening moments, the familiar Marvel logo sequence plays out onscreen, showing flashes of beloved characters and iconic moments. It is a showcase of what came before. But oddly enough, the music that accompanies the logo isn’t the same melody we’ve heard over and over again. Like the film it introduces, it’s a calmer, more patient, more specific theme that suggests we’re about to experience somethingâ¦ different.
And on paper, there are a lot of different things about Eternals. In addition to further expanding the horizons of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and introducing us to a new generation of all-powerful super-friends, Eternals is co-written and directed by Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao (Nomadland). Arguably one of the most intriguing Marvel directors to date, Zhao is an author who has an affinity for capturing the beauty of natural settings and telling intimate, deeply personal stories.
Here, she discusses the story of the Eternals, a race of immortal beings who have secretly lived on earth for 7,000 years. They were sent here by their deity and leader Arishem (almighty galactic gods we once met with Peter Quill’s evil father, Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy 2). The mission of the Eternals is to protect humanity from the Deviants, a race of CGI monsters who are there to be mean, to destroy, and generally to wreak havoc. But beyond that, the Eternals know little about their purpose on Earth and should blindly follow the orders of Arishem, the benevolent Higher Power they know nothing about (much like the Authority of Time Variation in the Loki series) . They are also strictly told not to interfere with the issues of humanity, which is why they didn’t jump into action with Thanos or one of the countless other world-ending supervillain crises over the years. years. When a new threat emerges and the long-defeated Deviants return, the Eternals are forced to reconstitute the group after centuries and reunite.
As the usual opening action sequence tells us, they are a group of 10, each with specific abilities. There’s the gang’s mother, Ajak (Salma Hayek), Cerse (a movie thief Gemma Chan), Ikarus (an impressive Richard Madden), badass warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Kingo (a new Kumail Nanjiani). . There’s also mind controller Druig (Barry Keoghan), charming speedster – and the MCU’s first deaf superhero – Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), group mastermind Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and super-swag machine Gilgamesh. (well -cast South Korean movie star Don Lee). Oddly enough, they are all immortal but certainly not invincible. Nor are they particularly all-powerful. In fact, many of them could certainly be faced and defeated by the Avengers.
Basically, Eternals is a film that tries to fight against the idea of ââhumanity. We know this because he tells us it repeatedly and continuously.
What does it mean to be human? For some among the group of immortals, it is falling in love with humanity while discovering theirs. For others, he is grappling with the firm instruction not to be allowed to interfere with the plight of the people. For others, it is renouncing humanity because of their affinity for destruction and hatred, while wondering if there is hope for us as a species and if we are worth it. worth fighting for.
In terms of the promise of something that stands out among its Marvel hit brethren, Chloe Zhao’s film keeps its promises. He possesses qualities that most MCU movies desperately needed in the past – patience and stillness. The time and space to breathe, and to concentrate on his characters. It is for this reason alone that it is a film that I see myself defending for years.
And yet, despite its sense of calm and ambitious ideas, this is a film that doesn’t quite hold together, failing to do justice to the basics. It’s almost impressive how, despite its exhaustive 2.5-hour run, wonderfully diverse and sparkling cast, and all the leeway a saga like this could ask for, I walked away feeling very little. There are massive action scenes, timeless love stories and love triangles within the group, strained friendships, ego conflicts, backstabbing, double crossing, loss, grief, death, etc. But even though I really wanted to, I never really cared about them. So much so that I wouldn’t mind never seeing these characters again.
A key contributor to this is the flat, lifeless dialogue that doesn’t do justice to those towering figures or heavy-handed ideas that the film tries to wrestle with. Rather, all it does is make sure the Eternals share largely lukewarm chemistry with each other. Exposure is dense, fast-paced, and frequent, and the writings of Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo ensure that the characters explain themselves rather than show us who they are.
Eternals Also has a humor problem with chance, forced jokes that try too hard to infuse the movie with a fun, light energy that it doesn’t have. And in a movie that doesn’t do jokes justice, the comic book character was never going to do well. Nanjiani’s flamboyant Bollywood actor Kingo is rarely as personable as the story demands. If anything, it’s his valet, Karn (Indian actor Harish Patel) who steals the best comedic moments in a role you suspect is way bigger than it was on paper.
The weight and load of time are also central to this story. They are 7,000 year old beings, and yet you rarely feel the passage and distance of time in their arcs. Something perfectly captured in a scene that doesn’t have the weight he hopes for, where Thena and Gilgamesh sit by a tree remembering their life together. She thanks him for staying with her, as if they’ve known each other for days, not centuries. This idea of ââthe weight of immortality and the burden of memory and purpose was much better examined in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s deeply underrated Netflix action film The Old Guard.
Jolie’s Thena is also inconsistent in what the story wants from her. She’s the unstable and wounded warrior scarred by years of battle but, when it suits the tale, she fights fit and ready for battle. But it was at Druig that the film wasted the most potential. Despite setting up a very promising foundation of a cult leader-like mind controller who tries to impose his will on the human race to make them less destructive, they do nothing. Even deviants have little impact. While I appreciate the effort that goes into getting past CGI and attempting to turn them into the likable villains that you feel, they are little more than food for cool fights. Fortunately, the action certainly doesn’t disappoint, with the female characters, especially Thena and Makkari, getting the most badass streaks. There’s also Marvel’s very first sex scene, after years of its characters being rightly accused of being asexual and virginal.
Eternals is a movie that desperately wants to have a soul and be more than a hollow blockbuster, and I’m grateful for that. But that soul and heady ideas don’t shine through watered-down, spoon-fed storytelling. But I left appreciating that he dared to be different, rather than appreciating or being particularly moved by one of them. What’s the value in making a sensitive, touching superhero movie if you don’t feel it?
Eternals is set to hit theaters on November 5.
Note: ** 1/2
Suchin Mehrotra is a film journalist and movie junkie who sincerely believes that movies can change the world. You can find him on Twitter at @ suchin545.