Even after the storm has died down, “Eternals” is still being held as one of Marvel’s most debatable films yet and upon glancing it at today for the first time….
….yeah, I can see why. The way I see it, Eternals is a movie of two familiar extremes: the wild card and the cogs.
This is the first MCU movie that actually focuses more on world building and in-universe mythology than telling a coherent story and similar to ZSJL, Chloë Zhao’s direction here comes off meditative but also rather pensive. Her visual stamp of sweeping, picturesque landscapes that snap, crackled and popped the eyes of the few who watched Nomadland actually serves a purpose to the this documentarian-like undertone that bleeds into this production design. With an attempt at a human story at its core, it seemed right up Chloe’s ally.
Performances are consistently solid, nothing too taxing to piece apart and while the lack of Angelina Jolie was a little unnerving, Brian Tyree Henry, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Don Lee, Lia McHugh, Kumail Nanjiani and a phenomenally dense and hearty competition between Gemma Chan and Lauren Ridloff was enough to sort of override that.
You have well-choreographed action sequences, succulent CGI and visual effects, a nice variety of cinematic shots and angles with mostly sturdy editing to accompany the scenery, the tone is a lot more deftly subtle in its profound seriousness even with some nuggets of chuckles here and there. It’s themes are a direct mirror of the first Wonder Woman movie: picking apart a delicate tapestry of love, friendship, grief and betrayal between the Eternals to make them conflict sacrificing the few for the many and understand that humanity is responsible for unthinkable violence but also great beauty, art, and curiosity.
Now we get to the cogs because, well…..
Since the film has an ensemble cast of more than ten lead characters instead of just one, most of the resulting runtime is unfortunately stuffed with bloated exposition about their overall relevance to the story. I understand the importance of developing each of the characters' individual personalities and I LOVE CHARACTER DRIVEN STORIES, but not only do few of them stand out, so much time is spent doing this that it causes the second act to drag on way longer than it should.
And speaking of dragging, man, the pacing was a letdown: Some scenes either go by too quickly or drag out for too long and the tonal whiplash that follows heavily contrasts against the momentum that’s supposed to grip the story.
There’s so much setup it’s hard to follow what’s going on and why and between the odd editing for the flashbacks and jumping back and forth between locations and different periods of time, Eternals feels unfocused.
The biggest flick in the nuts about this entire thing is Marvel already gave us enough information to work off of about the Celestials in both GOTG movies and this movie not only completely retcons any of the setup seen in Guardians of the Galaxy but opens up even MORE plot holes regarding the entire crux of the Eternals even coming to Earth. And that’s a predicament I’ve been struggling to talk about even before the damn film came out: everything from the Celestials, deviants, questions about humanity, and some of the Eternals characterizations were all really REALLY great ideas but they never take the time to actually explore anything beyond just scooping the surface; it’s thought provoking themes and philosophical concepts?
You would’ve had much better luck making this a mini-series so you wouldn’t have to worry about the time constraints. But unfortunately, not even that can fix the twists and turns that hardly carried any weight, each trope being extensively marketed off and never straying from it, stakes that hardly ever transcend conventionality and make you go ‘DAMN!’ and despite Zhao’s involvement, not even she is immune from the dreaded Marvel third act. It isn’t as drawn out like Shang-Chi or embarrassingly stupid like Black Widow but this is more like somebody filling out a checklist as opposed to something that actually has to be there.
Zhao has a little more control over her craft than Cate Shortland did in Black Widow but….come on.
Will I take a unique and ambitious but messy ‘failure’ compared to the shit we’ve actually been getting so far in Phase 4? At this rate, I’m gonna have to: it didn't achieve everything it was setting out to accomplish and it’s still a standard superhero movie at the end of the day, but it was still bold enough to attempt to ACTUALLY deviate from the monotonous formula the MCU set in stone over the past thirteen years. It’s a messy entry….but it’s a start.