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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.

1917 (2019) Review

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1917

Time: 119 Minutes
Age Rating: 2773-o[1] Depicts graphic & realistic war scenes
Cast:
George MacKay as Lance Corporal Will Schofield
Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Tom Blake
Mark Strong as Captain Smith
Andrew Scott as Lieutenant Leslie
Richard Madden as Lieutenant Joseph Blake
Claire Duburcq as Lauri
Colin Firth as General Erinmore
Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Mackenzie
Director: Sam Mendes

During World War I, two British soldiers — Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Cpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) — receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades — including Blake’s own brother.

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I’ve heard about 1917 for a while now. I knew that it was a World War 1 movie being directed by Sam Mendes, and was being shot by Roger Deakins, with much of the movie made to look like it’s shot in one continuous take. With awards season ramping up and it getting some attention, there was much talk about the movie. While narratively 1917 isn’t great, it’s pretty much outstanding on every other level.

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1917 is a simple story, our protagonists have to get to a particular place with not a lot of time to spare, and a lot of danger along the way. It’s also not contemplative about the nature of war or the like (closer to Black Hawk Down than Apocalypse Now), this is intended as an tense, action war thriller, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you aren’t immersed in what’s going on and don’t feel somewhat tense at least once within the first half hour, you might be a little bored throughout, because most of the movie is the main characters going from place to place, and occasionally getting shot at. There are already plenty of comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, another war movie released a couple years ago. I’m not going to talk about which is better, but to illustrate my next point I’ll compare them briefly. Dunkirk is a pure war movie experience, and although there are many characters throughout, there’s not really any focus about their journey and you don’t learn anything about them, it’s more them trying desperately to survive and succeed at what they had to do, and that worked for the movie. 1917 isn’t a character study or anything but it does have a little more characterisation, mostly with the lead characters. This is mostly shown during the downtime scenes, which is usually when they’re out of danger and are talking about things. Unfortunately, these scenes don’t work quite as well. They seem to grind the pacing to a halt, which I’m fine with, but in order for them to work you actually have to care about what’s going on beyond the basic level of them being human beings and our main characters. While you’re on board and wanting the lead characters to succeed in their task, you aren’t invested enough in them, so during these moments you don’t really feel much and you’re mostly just waiting for the next exciting thing to happen. While I wouldn’t trade these scenes for more scenes of tensions or action and the scenes aren’t bad by any means, this movie might’ve been fantastic if these scenes were handled better. With all that being said, the emotional payoff at the end is surprisingly effective.

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As seen in the trailer, there are many big names in this movie, with the like of Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and others involved. They are good in the movie, but they are pretty much one scene cameos playing notable supporting characters along the way. Instead the leads of the movie are George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, and both give great emotional and physical performances throughout. While the character work doesn’t exactly great (as I said up above), the acting from both more than made up for it. MacKay in particular is great, and in a less stacked year would be getting awards consideration.

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While I’m not sure that I’d call 1917 Sam Mendes’s best movie, his work here is undeniably fantastic. His task was incredibly ambitious on a technical level, and he managed to pull it off. Let’s talk about the one take shooting. Roger Deakins is great as a cinematographer, but this ranks amongst some of his best work. As mentioned earlier, much of the movie is made to look like it’s filmed in one continuous take. There are moments where you can probably guess where they made a cut between two takes (like when entering a location of darkness or when something is blocking the camera), and there is one very distinct cut to black at one point, but otherwise everything else is made to look like it’s in one shot. Some people have called this a gimmick understandably, but I don’t think it’s a gimmick. It immerses you into what’s going on with the lead characters as they struggle to navigate their environment. There are some truly stunning sequences, both with the camera movements, and the actual visuals themselves. The environment, production design, costumes, and the like are also well handled, and the one take shooting shows them off in how much attention to detail it all is. It’s dark, grimy and unpleasant, like it should be made to look. Outside of the very clear downtime scenes, you don’t feel safe in the rest of the scenes, and there’s a level of tension throughout. Thomas Newman composed the score, and it does very well to ramp up the tension.

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When I say that 1917 is a pure cinematic experience that works best when watching it on a big screen in a cinema, I mean it as a double edged sword. It’ll very likely be one of the best cinema going experiences you’ll have from a 2019 film, however I don’t know how well it’s going to hold up after it leaves cinemas. So I implore you to go watch 1917 on the biggest screen possible. As that, it’s a fantastic thrill ride (despite some complaints I had with the characterisation and narrative), and it’s really worth seeing. Even if it doesn’t fare that well after it leaves cinemas, Sam Mendes’s work here is absolutely masterful, and the acclaim on that front is deserved.

Rocketman (2019) Review

Time: 120 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Sex scenes, offensive language & drug use
Cast:
Taron Egerton as Elton John
Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin
Richard Madden as John Reid
Bryce Dallas Howard as Sheila Eileen
Director: Dexter Fletcher

A musical fantasy about the fantastical human story of Elton John’s (Taron Egerton) breakthrough years.

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Rocketman was a movie I was looking forward to. Although I was only recently getting into Elton John’s music, I’ve liked what I heard from him, and with the likes of Taron Egerton involved (and the trailers looking pretty good), I was curious about it. If there was one thing that had me slightly worried, it was Bohemian Rhapsody last year. While I liked the movie when I saw it, much of its flaws and failures became apparent to me over time, and now it’s just a wasted opportunity and a misfire. With yet another music biopic focussing on another musical icon, I was a little nervous about how it would turn out (directed by Dexter Fletcher, who did the reshoots of Bohemian Rhapsody), despite it looking good. Thankfully I can say that Rocketman is pretty much the anthesis of Bohemian Rhapsody.

While I don’t want to spend much of the review comparing this and Bohemian Rhapsody, it really just emphasises what Rocketman does so well. Both movies had the artists involved in the making of them, but while Bohemian Rhapsody was very clean and sanitised (particularly with the portrayal of the alive band members), Rocketman seems genuine and raw and doesn’t filter what happened. This is definitely not a PG-13 movie and I’m glad that’s the case. Elton John was involved in the movie but he seemed to give the filmmakers the reign to what they want to portray his story, warts and all. It covers a lot of the bad choices he’s made and the things that he goes through, without feeling like there is some kind of judgement of him throughout. While I don’t know his story outside of the movie, I can tell that there’s probably some bits that aren’t entirely accurate (like most biopics). However, you get the feeling that thematically it nails his story. For example, at certain points they play his music during segments, even songs that weren’t even made at those certain points in his life yet, but it works surprisingly perfectly for those particular moments. With it being a fantastical story, they can play around with things like that. Within the first few minutes you know what sort of movie you are in for. Rocketman is 2 hours long and on the whole I liked what we got in that runtime. It’s a little slow to begin with as it starts out in Elton’s childhood, but it picks up as it goes along. Despite its unique take on a biopic, it does admittedly follow some of the familiar biopic beats, however it’s the way that it handles these moments that allow you to overlook them.

Taron Egerton is fantastic as Elton John. Not only is it him actually singing (and doing it greatly), but he just embodies Elton John so well as a person and it doesn’t come across as just an impression. Egerton had a pretty good start to his career, with his breakout role in Kingsman, followed up by movies like Eddie the Eagle, but this is his best performance yet. It would be an absolute surprise if he didn’t get any awards attention, and it would be well deserved (and no, I don’t think I’ll be changing my mind like I did with Bohemian Rhapsody). The rest of the supporting cast work really well, Jamie Bell as Elton’s songwriter Bernie, Richard Madden as Elton’s manager (who also appeared in Bohemian Rhapsody, played there by Aiden Gillen instead) and Bryce Dallas Howard as Elton’s mother.

Dexter Fletcher directed this movie very well, he’s got a great handle on everything. It goes without saying that Elton John’s music definitely elevates things but it’s not just that it’s Taron performing these songs in concert scenes, they use them in a great way in the movie. It doesn’t rely on recognisable songs to get the audience to like the movie, it actually fits the scenes they appear in very well. The aforementioned fantasy sequences are also shot really well, visually stunning. It’s much more surreal than a typical biopic, and it was definitely a risk but it definitely paid off, there was no other way to do a Elton John biopic justice. When I say this movie is a musical, I’m not just saying that because it has a lot of music. At some points there are choreographed moments where multiple people are singing Elton John songs (not just Taron), that look right out of a classic musical. In that, it’s definitely best that you see this on the big screen because it’s a real experience.

Rocketman does justice to Elton John in such a great way and was way better than I thought it would be. It’s a really entertaining experience of a movie, very well directed and Taron Egerton is tremendous. Even if you were really off put by Bohemian Rhapsody or are just on the whole not a big fan of music biopics, I still think you should give it a chance. If you’re a fan of Elton John, I recommend you checking it out and even if you’re not familiar with him I still think there’s quite a bit in the movie that you’ll like.