“The saga of the Eternals, a race of immortal beings who lived on Earth and shaped its history and civilizations.”
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writers: Chloé Zhao, Ryan Firpo, Patrick Burleigh, Jack Kirby
Staring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harrington, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan
Release Date: November 5, 2021
The world is still trying to cope with the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), but there a select few that know the dangers surrounding earth are not done yet. These beings are The Eternals, immortal aliens who were sent to earth at the dawn of humanity to help the planet’s intelligent inhabitants evolve properly.
The Eternals are told to only interfere with humankind when The Deviants are threatening humans, and that is why they did not help out with the Thanos situation. However, revelations about the Eternals themselves and their creator shifts the mindsets of the heroes and forces a massive planet-wide battle for humanity
The biggest pothole in Eternals is that it banks on you caring about the characters, and that is incredibly hard to do with a over-stuffed and confused screenplay. Eternals has no idea what it wants to be a certain points. The tone of movie fluctuates between a classic superhero movie, a rebuffed romantic drama, and a disaster movie. There are backstabbings and betrayals similar to that of a classic mid-day soap opera, but those same genre archetypes create angles of romantic interest that are shallower than a kiddy pool.
I give credit to my friend Mike Phillips on this. He was absolutely right to tell me that Eternals would be better as a television series. With so many different characters and a story that literally spans thousands of years, a 12 episode well-produced Disney+ show would have given each character more time to make us more invested. We would be able to get more of some of the most underutilized talents in the movie, like Barry Keoghan as Druig or Brian Tyree Hengry as Phastos.
Eternals has a run time that is already exceedingly long, but if you really wanted to make this story a successful epic movie adventure, then it should have been expanded into two parts. Why not have the first half of this hypothetical two-part epic end when Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok) gets killed by a deviant. It raises the the stakes and also sets a definitive tone for the second movie; one that can be centered around avenging a lost friend and halting a dangerous foe that is powerful enough to kill thought-to-be immortal heroes.
In all honesty, the story that Jack Kirby is telling in the comics is as complex as Frank Herbert’s Dune. There are just as many characters and a comparable amount of angled webs and relationships. Dune (2021), the Denis Villeneuve creation understood that. It would appear that Chloé Zhao did not, or was told the memo. Everything is thrown into this melting pot, and not even someone with the talents of Zhao can make a positive meal out of it.
When Zhao was given the job of directing Eternals, she not yet won the Oscar for Nomadland (2020). Perhaps this was a one for me and one for them type of deal that Zhao chose to be a part of, but this super-hero expositional epic does not match the vibe of her most acclaimed work. Zhao excelled in the quiet moments where a picture or silence itself spoke 1,000 words, but in the Eternals, there always needs to be something happening. The majestic shots on the beach or in the midwestern dunes are pushed to the background as characters are battling or arguing in the foreground.
Now with all that negativity being said, Eternals does have impressive special effects. The deviants are cool looking (I know, hard hitting analysis there) and the fighting of certain characters is different from other styles of Marvel comic book battle sequences. While the character Thena (Angelina Jolie) is boring and unexciting as a whole, her swordplay is like an angelic samurai. The ability of the film’s main hero Sersi (Gemma Chain) is cool to look at, even if I do not totally understand how it grows and why she randomly knows how to harness all of her power at the right moment when she openly says she doesn’t know how she does it.
The silliest super power belongs to the character Kingo, who is played by Kumail Nanjiani. I am not sure if this entire cast did full table reads together, because Nanjiani is going for a different type of vibe than the rest of the movie. Kingo is throwing comedy at the the walls and hoping it sticks. He is playing into the flamboyant Bollywood over-the-top characters, and often it works. Where it most fails is when he shares the screen with Druig and Ikaris (Richard Madden).
Ikaris…what a swing a miss at a character. He has all the powers of Superman but the charisma of a rock. His downtrodden demeanor is mainly due to the fact that he is reconnected with his former lover Sersi and he has to interact with her while knowing a secret he can not share. Ikaris is involved with the biggest plot twist of the movie, and it falls flatter then Kyrie’s belief in conspiracy theories. It is meant to be a surprise, but without the conviction to care about the character itself, it doesn’t land an emotional punch. Would it have been different if this twist from Ikaris was revealed to the audience in the beginning and loomed over the story like a cloud of suspense? I think so. Let’s build suspense rather than trying to just drop the bomb.
Then there is the ending. The Eternals has a massive story that is culminating with celestial erupting from the earth’s core, killing all of humanity and sending the Eternals back to their “home” where their memories will be wiped until their next mission. This story is trying to play on the fact that despite the eternals being immortal, they also have human qualities and care for humanity. You are meant to feel immortal like the eternals in that despite our superpowers or immortality, we all share the same values.
Here is the thing. I don’t give a crap about the Eternals. I don’t care for their relationships or them as individuals because we get such segmented screen time with everyone. We get glimpses into everyone’s personal lives, but we are supposed to care about Sersi and Dana Whitman’s (Kit Harrington) relationship? I am supposed to care for Sprite (Lia McHugh) being in love with Ikaris? I am meant to care about Druig’s outlook on humanity and how it differs from the others?
The Eternals is a pretty look film, but in terms of substance and re-watchability , it is at a near zero. Very few of the characters are memorable, and even fewer of the relationships that are fostered leave an impact. Chloé Zhao does her best to try and corral a massive screenplay, but there are too many cracks in the egg. All the important aspect for a good movie are leaking out and you are left with something hollow and unfullfilling.
STANKO RATING: C- (2.0/5 Stars)
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