Eternals Review

As I’ve said multiple times on this blog, I’m a massive fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This has been a consistently solid franchise and I like that more risks are being taken now. With stuff like Black Panther and WandaVision, the MCU has been being a bit more daring in what they are doing, and with Eternals, the MCU is taking its biggest swing yet. Going into a dense part of Marvel lore, filled with the excesses of Jack Kirby, with an excellent director taking the helm with Chloe Zhao, this was always going to be a more divisive element of the MCU. Personally, I think the film is pretty solid, but the execution doesn’t quite match its ambition.

Taking place over several thousand years, the film follows the Eternals, led by Ajax, who were sent to Earth by beings known as the Celestials to kill the Deviants, beings that act as predators to life on any planet they’re on. After the events of Avengers: Endgame, events occur which lead to the Emergence, the true purpose for the Eternal’s presence on Earth, with the Eternals, who had all scattered across the planet over the past few hundred years, having to unite together to deal with the Emergence. Now the overall structure of the film is very dense. It covers thousands of years of history, covering things like Mesopotamia and Babylon, showing the influence the Eternals had on human history. It doesn’t go fully into the ancient aliens conspiracies, but it shows how the Eternals have acted as a guiding influence on humanity and have inspired the mythology of the planet. The denseness of the film though, whilst allowing the audience to fully understand the world of the Eternals, is also a weakness in the film. So much time is spent on setting up the world, with there being a scene in the middle of the film where it just stops dead for an exposition dump, that we don’t really get to know the characters. This is a shame as it’s the personal stories of the characters which are the most compelling. Through these we see the feelings of guilt some of the Eternals have for their role in human history, mainly in terms of the violent acts humans have inflicted on each other and how it conflicts with their oaths not to intervene, the mental health issues that some of the Eternals have and the relationships that are built up between the Eternals over the millennia. There are also interesting ideas raised about the nature of faith and I also liked that this film felt a bit more grown up in terms of romantic relationships. There are a lot of interesting ideas at play, but the film is not able to fully go in depth with them.

The performances in the film are pretty solid for the most part. Gemma Chan is used a lot better here than she was in Captain Marvel, filling her role as Cersi with compassion and love, acting as a solid core for the themes of the film. Richard Madden is decent as Ikaris, showing the power of the character well, although to say more would spoil his role in the film. There’s some good comic relief from Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, along with adding some pathos for the character when it’s revealed why he became an actor over the centuries. Bryan Tyree Henry helps to sell a lot of the more emotional beats of the film effectively, showing a loving relationship with his husband and son, helping to connect the wider, more abstract world of the Eternals with the reality of life on Earth. Don Lee and Angelina Jolie have great chemistry together in their scenes, selling the deep, emotional connection that their characters have and creating some powerful moments, with their scenes acting as the strongest elements regarding mental health, but also allow for some lighter moments to come through, helping to build up their personalities. Barry Keoghan gives an interesting performance here, presenting himself as someone fairly sinister on the surface, but you can feel his heart in the right place, even if it is not always readily obvious, whilst Salma Hayek gives a strong, maternal performance as Ajax, making it clear to the audience why she is the leader of the Eternals, whilst also showing a hidden nature to the character that she wants to keep hidden. Of the main Eternals, I feel like the weak link is Lia McHugh. She is clearly trying her hardest but the demands of her character, mainly the resentment she feels over staying as a child forever, are pretty intense for a performer this young and, unfortunately, her performance doesn’t quite work for me. I also felt that, whilst Lauren Ridloff gave a strong, charismatic performance, her character was not in the film long enough and she felt a bit underutilised. This feeling of being underutilised is something I also felt with Kit Harrington. Of the voiceover performances, I felt that the skills of Bill Skarsgard were underutilised. He does fit the character he plays, but I think it would have been better if he was a physical, on-set presence rather than CG, to take advantage of Skarsgard’s talent in creating creepy characters and, as the main Celestial in the film, I liked that a professional voice over actor was used, with David Kaye giving a strong, commanding performance throughout the film.

The technical elements of the film though I found to be very impressive. The use of on location filming and naturalistic lighting that are staples of Chloe Zhao’s earlier films help to make this stand out in the MCU, giving it a unique feel and helping to ground the film when it gets more outlandish. The way the Eternals powers are presented on screen I really liked, the gold iconography having this aesthetically pleasing feel which, aided by the solid work done in the action scenes, allows the action to be clearly presented and helps make these scenes exciting. The wider aesthetic of the Eternals, from the costumes to their spaceship, is also well done, doing a good job at translating the artwork of Jack Kirby to the big screen. The music was pretty decent as well, the main theme for the Eternals having this good, epic feel fitting for the characters.

Overall, I found Eternals to be a bit of a mixed bag. Chloe Zhao does a good job with the action scenes in the film and when the focus is on the personal lives of the Eternals, I found it to be a very engaging film, but when I has to be more aligned with what we expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe it does stumble and it is not fully able to meet its ambition.

My Rating: 3.5/5

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