Reel Reviews | Eternals

By Charles Kirkland Jr.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe gets a powerful upgrade with the Academy Award-winning director Chloe Zhao’s submission, Eternals.

Currently living in London, after centuries of peaceful lives, Eternals Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Sprite (Lia McHugh) are attacked in London by one of a presumed extinct race of alien monsters called a Deviant.  They are quickly joined in the fight by fellow Eternal Ikaris (Richard Madden).  Together they repel the attacker who has obtained a strange new healing power.   The three Eternals decide it is necessary to get all the Eternals who have now spanned the globe back together to find and eliminate the rest of this threat to humanity when they find that their leader, Ajak (Salma Hayek) has been killed by a Deviant.  Can the remaining Eternals defeat the threat and save humanity as they believe they were sent to this planet to do?

The screenplay for Eternals was written by Chloe Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo from a story by Ryan and Kaz Firpo based upon the comic book The Eternals created by the comic book legend Jack Kirby who created most of the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee.  Eternals stars Chan, Madden, Hayek, and McHugh along with Angelina Jolie, Kit Harrington, Kumali Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seuk, and Harish Patel.  The film is directed by Chloe Zhao.

To begin, a little explanation.  The Eternals, in the MCU version, are a race of beings sent to Earth to protect it from the alien race known as Deviants who just desire to kill Earth’s human inhabitants as they have on various other planets.  After defeating the Deviants, the Celestials, the ones who sent the Eternals to the planet, have explicitly instructed the Eternals to not get involved with the development of the inhabitants of the Earth, kinda like the Star Trek “observe but not affect” directive.  This conveniently attempts to explain the reason why this super-powerful race of beings never got involved in the affairs of the MCU including “The Snap.”

(L-R): Karun (Harish Patel), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Gilgamesh (Don Lee) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

In the past MCU movies, there has always been some allowance for alterations from comic book sources for cinematic purposes.   For comic book purists, the allowance has been little less than a nuisance.  For others, it has been just a rewarding experience.  This movie abandons everything that has come before.  This story strays largely from the comic book, in ways that will not be explained here for the purposes of being spoiler-free, to create a villain who was a major hero.  This is a major faux-pas for purists.  Heroes are heroes and should never cross the line.  For those who are not purists, the “observe but not affect” directive serves no purpose, especially in light of one of the end credit scenes.  (Again, spoiler-free.)  The movie will even make movie fans leave the theater with more confusion and anger.

Chloe Zhao’s directorial style comes to the fore in this film as well.  Thankfully, Zhao, who won an Oscar for her beautiful and pensive look at America in Nomadland, brings her lush cinematographic eye to this film as well.  She delivers gorgeous landscapes and breathtakingly beautiful portraits of her actors as they work.  Unfortunately, she also brings the same pensive, story-driven, dialogue-heavy, vision to the screen as well.  The movie is so super-slow and so lightly peppered with action that Even Zack Snyder would probably protest.  Zhao, who is usually good at creating emotional connections, fails to give viewers any reason to lock into the motivation or emotion of almost anyone in this film.  James Gunn laid down the blueprint for how to create a compelling and entertaining story about characters that are very minor to the Marvel universe.  While Zhao has her style in delivering movies that are very grounded in reality, it would have been smart for her to borrow a bit from those who have done this type of grand scale, fantasy action movie with characters that are not well known.

Look, Marvel movies are almost bullet-proof and anything said here will most likely not make much of an influence but if they continue to release films of this caliber, the franchise will soon find themselves in the “gotta prove it” territory. 

Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, some language, and brief sexuality, Eternals is a cinematographer’s dream for the MCU.  With fantastic and breathtaking shots, Chloe Zhao has created a wonderful look at how appealing the universe can look.  Unfortunately, the story does not support beauty.  It is overly long, leaning towards boring, and not very rewarding.  It’s not the worst in the MCU but…  By the way, there are two end credit scenes but even they don’t help the regular fan, only the comic book geeks.

Rating:  C-