The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest entry is, at the time of writing, the lowest rated MCU movie in the 13 year history of the multi-film franchise. Straight away, that seems like a bizarre phenomenon. This is not Thor The Dark World, but I do understand where the low ratings are coming from. It’s taken a few days to figure out what to write about this film, because I don’t want to just spend the whole review defending it.
On paper this has everything you want from a big budget movie. It’s directed by last years Best Director Oscar Winner Chloe Zhao, it has a cast packed with more talent than you can shake a stick at and its being produced by a studio that we have become very trustworthy of. Gemma Chan, Kit Harrington, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Richard Madden are just some of the names in the film, and they’re all as talented as each other. That level of talent being directed by Chloe Zhao should lead to a phenomenal film.
The Eternals are beings that have been around for thousands of years, helping humanity at times but mostly staying out of things and just protecting them from the Deviants, another race of beings that’s have been around for thousands of years. That’s the concept, its simple enough and if that was the core thread we pulled on, we could really get to know the characters.
As it is the film lays the groundwork and lore for the Eternals’ history in the world, spanning thousands of years. We jump from the present day to a smattering of different times and locations, with the Eternals being presented as legends and deity’s throughout time. These scenes do build lore for the world, but they also felt a bit messy. I enjoyed the scenes, and its fun seeing these characters interact but only a few of them feel like they’re given enough.
The lead character, if there is one, is Gemma Chan’s Sersi. Her chemistry with Kit Harrington was palpable, unfortunately that is the only person I felt the chemistry flowing with. I didn’t buy the other romance in the film, and I found her performance a bit stiff. She delivered the lines fine, but when she’s opposite a whole cast of actors who are delivering great performances it was noticeable to me that she wasn’t emoting quite as much as I thought she might. She isn’t bad, just it reminded me of pre-MCU marvel films, where actors wasn’t quite so into the characters.
The rest of the elements we get in Eternals are exactly as good as you expect. The special effects and the action are great, and the unique style of this film really makes it feel different. There are some spectacular visual’s throughout and the Eternals costumes and powers help to make them distinct from each other whilst also feeling like a team.
The Deviants are quite generic enemies in this film, and again that simplicity could have allowed the Eternals to really shine. Weirdly the film starts to develop the lead deviants into being interesting an interesting three dimensional character, and then it just sweeps that aside at the climax. The other kind of antagonist in this film is the Celestial Arishem, and that is where I think people might start to fall off the ride.
I love all this stuff, I’m a comic book nerd and I followed along happily knowing where things were kind of going. These cosmic entities in the Marvel universe are grand concepts that aren’t easily approachable and are even more bombastic than anything we have seen in MCU films so far. It took a 23 film series to get us to endgame, and now they’ve cut the safety net and are diving headfirst into some of the more crazy side of the Marvel universe.
This film is introducing Celestials, Disney Plus shows Wandavision and Loki are heralding in the Multiverse which will explode when spiderman comes out in December, and this is all happening whilst Falcon and the Winter soldier and Hawkeye are doing the smaller scale things in their own shows and we are supposed to be keeping track of everything. For people like me who live for this stuff, it’s a smorgasbord (FINALLY USED THAT WORD) of delightful references and moments to enjoy and marvel at. For the more casual audience members, which is the majority of people, I think its starting to all get too complex. They built to the infinity saga slowly, teasing things and slowly opening that door and helping people along the way. The Eternals basically throws you a Lord of the Rings book worth of lore and history and expects you to keep up and follow along whilst getting to know these characters and still enjoying the action and hero moments.
There are enough of those moments to put the action sequences in Eternals up with the best the MCU has delivered. Speedster Makkari steals every scene she is in and I loved Phastos’ role in both an action sense and the characters arc in the film being something you do not expect to see in a big Disney film.
For me, Eternals was a fine film. It isn’t the MCU’s peak, but nor is it the nadir. I can easily see why audiences and critics are starting to wonder if the MCU is getting out of hand. All the hard work done to build the audience and educate them on the world was masterful. It can all be undone very quickly if Marvel try to sprint just as their audience has gotten it’s head round the concept of walking.
A clumsy metaphor, perhaps the perfect way to end this review of Eternals.
Good: Stunning visuals, some great character moments and some very solid performances. The action is great fun.
Bad: Huge concepts that don’t feel set up enough pushed into a script that doesn’t quite know how to manage all of its moving parts.
TL;DR – Eternals is a fine film but one that doesn’t quite make the most of all of its moving parts. Could this be the start of the MCU losing some casual fans?