Eternals (2021) Review

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Eternals

Time: 157 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Cast:
Gemma Chan as Sersi
Richard Madden as Ikaris
Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo
Lia McHugh as Sprite
Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos
Lauren Ridloff as Makkari
Barry Keoghan as Druig
Don Lee as Gilgamesh
Harish Patel as Karun
Kit Harington as Dane Whitman
Salma Hayek as Ajak
Angelina Jolie as Thena
Director: Chloé Zhao

The Eternals, a race of immortal beings with superhuman powers who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years, reunite to battle the evil Deviants.

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My interest in the MCU has been gradually decreasing ever since Endgame, and while I still enjoy the post Endgame instalments (especially the recently released Shang-Chi), there were only a few movies I was really looking forward to. One of these was Eternals, mainly because it’s a very different kind of Marvel movie focussing on completely different characters. Not only that, but it also has a great cast, and the director is Chloe Zhao, who earlier this year won Oscars and acclaim for Nomadland. Then the trailers eventually were starting to release and it looked rather disappointing, looking much blander than I was expecting. Then strangely, the reviews for Eternals turned out rather mixed, and if anything that got me excited for the. There was clearly something different about this movie from the others, and I was very interested to see it for myself. While it definitely has issues, I really liked Eternals on the whole.

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First and foremost, Eternals is not a traditional MCU movie and in a way, it is a welcome break for the franchise. I will say though that it is a bit of a mess. It is refreshing seeing a different structure than the one we see in pretty much every other MCU movies. There is a lot of worldbuilding, especially as if it’s for a side of the MCU we’ve not seen or known about before. While I was interested in it, it’s not like it didn’t come with its problems. It feels like there’s so much information that needed to be conveyed, and a lot of this is done through numerous flashbacks over the course of the movie, specifically focussing on the Eternals. You could say that Eternals has something of a non-linear narrative, and it doesn’t always work. It’s not unusual for a Marvel movie to have flashbacks but the Eternals are 10 immortal beings who have lived for centuries, and so there’s many moments that are presented to us, and most of the time it interrupts the flow and pacing. I really do feel like they could’ve pulled back on the flashbacks, an example of this is one involving Brian Tyree Henry’s character which lasts less than a minute and doesn’t end up adding anything. All this exposition is probably why it’s the second longest Marvel movie at around 2 hours and 40 minutes long. It doesn’t help that much of the main plotline is the Eternals reuniting, so it feels like its on repeat until it approaches the third act.

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The plot itself isn’t the best, essentially it’s about the Eternals trying to save the world from ending. Not only is the premise very simple and familiar, but it’s also feels meaningless at this point given the countless other “save the world” plots from the other Marvel movies. With that said, I was still invested in the plot, and I think its to do with everything around the plot. For one, despite the overload of information, I was interested in the lore and the worldbuilding. There’s particularly a scene where Gemma Chan’s character is being presented a lot of information, and I loved the way that it was shown on screen. The characters also got me invested, and it really helped that despite the large scale and stakes, Chloe Zhao approaches the story from a very human angle like Nomadland (and presumably The Rider which I haven’t seen yet). She deliberately focuses on the human emotions and the relationships between these beings who have lived many centuries and generations. The downside is that it unfortunately clashes with the Marvel formula that Eternals still partly follows, and in a way it makes this one movie feel like two very different movies struggling to meet a compromise. For what its worth though, it made the story a lot more interesting to watch. The reason I was still invested in the third act was because of the characters, making the stakes feel more personal despite the scale. I also appreciate the subtle moments and it actually seems like its taking the audiences seriously in a way. As expected the MCU has humour that’s hit or miss, and being placed in this movie makes it play even worse and out of place. I feel obligated to mention that Eternals has two credits scenes as expected, teasing a follow up if it ever happens. However it will be disappointing if Eternals doesn’t get a sequel, because even before the credits roll, the film ends on a cliff-hangar. While it does make an effective hook for the sequel, it is tempting fate if we don’t see a continuation.

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One of the biggest selling points of this movie is the huge and talented cast. A lot of attention has been going towards the diversity and representation with the cast and characters, and its very well earned. Some characters get more focus than others, but when you essentially have 10 main characters that’s to be expected. There’s a lot of relationships between a lot of the Eternals that feel very real and genuine. I also like how a lot of the characters are very distinct and different from each other. Unfortunately, two of the weaker performers/characters are the leads, Gemma Chan as Sersi, and Richard Madden as Ikaris. Sersi is the closest character to being a main protagonist, and despite Chan’s solid performance I found her rather boring and not that interesting. I also found Madden quite underwhelming as Ikaris (who is pretty much Marvel’s Superman in terms of powers), and he was not that interesting especially when he’s placed alongside the other Eternals. With that said, there is a point later on in the movie where Madden and Ikaris do vastly improve and become more interesting. Also while I earlier mentioned that the relationships between the Eternals are believable, the relationship between Sersi and Ikaris felt very weak. It just feels fake and stiff, Chan and Madden barely have any chemistry, and annoyingly it’s the most prominent on screen relationship in the film. Salma Hayek plays Ajak, the leader of the Eternals, and while she’s good in the part, she has the least amount of screentime of the 10 main characters. So while its established that she means something to each member of the Eternals, its hard to get emotionally connected to her.

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Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo is quite funny and of the cast probably brings the most amount of levity. Lia McHugh as Sprite was a mixed bag, I oscillated between liking and not liking the character. The rest of the Eternals I will be mentioning really needed a lot more screentime than they received. Angelina Jolie as Thena had an interesting character setup especially as she’s on the more unstable side, but she’s strangely underutilised outside of the action. She is good at the action, I liked her powers, and Jolie is really good at the silent warrior thing, but unfortunately that’s really all there is to the character outside of her relationship with Gilgamesh, played by Ma Dong-seok. Gilgamesh was enjoyable and likable, and I liked his powers, and I wish we saw more of him. Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos was also one of the highlights of the film for me. Barry Keoghan as Druig was probably the most interesting of the Eternals, especially how he’s quite different in both personality and powers. Lauren Ridloff as Makkari is definitely held back by her lack of screentime but makes a strong impression, especially with her speed powers.

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There’s a few other supporting actors I want to mention. One of the cast members is Kit Harington as a guy named Dane Whitman, who early in the movie is Sersi’s boyfriend. He’s really only in the movie for a few scenes but he’s likable, and shares believable chemistry with Gemma Chan. He’s basically just in this movie to establish him here before he plays a more prominent part in future instalments (if they ever happen). There’s also Harish Patel as Kingo’s manager who is along for the ride with the Eternals for much of the film, and he’s quite fun to watch. The villains aren’t special but I didn’t have a problem with them, with the exception of one. Many of the physical enemies the Eternals are up against are Deviants, monsters they were sent to fight and destroy. They work well enough as physical threats, even if they are nothing special. However there is one deviant voiced by Bill Skarsgard that’s focused on and given some prominence, and I don’t really get why. I only mention this because he’s forced into the third act for some reason, and he just distracts if anything.

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Chloe Zhao’s work as the director of Eternals definitely helps the overall film. You do get to see the massive scope and scale of the film. The cinematography is really nice, it’s a beautiful movie to look at, especially with some stunning landscapes. The action sequences are quite good, even if there’s not a lot of them. The visual effects could be disappointingly average a lot of the time, but I was able to look past them. I like how a lot of the Eternals’ powers are represented, a highlight being Makkari’s speed power. The score from Ramin Djawadi is great as expected, and it really elevates the movie.

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Eternals has its fair share of issues, some of the characters needed more screentime and fleshing out, and there is an overload of exposition which results in the narrative being a little messy and disjointed. With that said, it’s one of the most interesting MCU films in a while, if only in terms of how it differs from the other movies. While the central plot is nothing special, the characters and their relationships made it easy for me to get invested in what was happening. Additionally, Chloe Zhao’s direction also really made it one of the most unique MCU entries. It would be a shame if Eternals doesn’t get a follow up because its genuinely showing signs of the franchise somewhat changing, even if it makes them at odds with the formula it unfortunately still needs to somewhat follow. I would not put it in my top 10 favourite movies in the franchise, but I do think it’s at least worth checking out.

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