Released: 3rd November
Seen: 3rd November
It’s kind of nice having a whole bunch of Marvel films back in cinemas again, with several coming out this year and even more next year, it’s like it was before the world went to hell and back. Well, now it’s time for one of the big ones… Eternals, directed by the woman who brought us Nomadland and that has been getting a thrashing by critics who proclaim it to be the worst MCU film. Is it really the worst MCU film or is this some backlash to actual serious attempts at diversity? Yeah, probably the second one.
Eternals introduces the titular Eternals to the MCU. The Eternals are an alien race who have lived on earth for thousands of years, sent here by the big chunky boys known as the Celestials in order to defend humanity against Quiet Place reject creatures known as Deviants. The Eternals have only been given one rule to live by; they must not interfere with humanity beyond destroying any Deviants who appear (So there, MCU fans, that’s why they didn’t help with Thanos… can we move on now?).
For thousands of years they believed their work was done and that they could just live normal lives on earth doing things like teaching history (easy, they lived it) or work on a ranch or appear in thousands of Bollywood films, until a new much more powerful Deviant than normal turns up and forces them to come out of the shadows to team up to fight against the most powerful villain they’ve ever faced… and that’s just the beginning of their epic journey.
Eternals is basically the exact film that one should expect after learning the person helming the project is the person behind Nomadland; it’s a slow ponderous film that leans heavily on visuals and an intensely human story that spans over a large amount of time and worries more about interpersonal relationships than anything else. If you go into this expecting Marvel’s usual wall-to-wall bombastic action scenes where a super powered person gets into a fist fight with some kind of supervillain who throws quips about the place, you’re going to be somewhat disappointed.
Eternals is a lot more about the big picture, exploring this idea about multiple universes that has been overtaking this era of the MCU. It does this by introducing The Celestials, giant creepy gods who can create entire universes out of nothing and who are the ones that charged the Eternals with protecting earth and also clearly have something else going on that looks to become a major conflict that’ll probably turn into another massive movie in 10 years (Be prepared to cry when they pay a few actors a shitload of money for a very brief appearance in the big fight against these domino-faced giants).
Now, as a film Eternals has a few very hard jobs to do and the first one is to answer the question “Where the hell have these people been? We had a giant purple planet destroyer snap half the population away, could’ve used the help!” and they answer that well, it’s partially why this film required the epic scale it has. Taking place over thousands of years in dozens of locations, the film hammers home why the Eternals had to let things happen without them to a point where hopefully that question can go away now. Its scale is epic because it needs to justify why this super powerful team didn’t stop things like Hiroshima or Thanos, it takes the time to answer that and uses every bit of the scale it’s been given to pull off some impressive work.
The second thing Eternals had to do was introduce us to almost a dozen new characters and make us love them and for the most part it pulls that off. Characters like Icarus (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Cersei (Gemma Chan) are instantly intriguing and have some of the best emotional sequences in the entire film. Then you have Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Gilgamesh (Don Lee) who all not only provide some of the most fun moments in the film, they’re huge wins for diversity in this genre since now we have gay, deaf and Korean superheroes in the MCU.
Then you have great comic relief in Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) and Sprite (Lia McHugh) who both get probably the funniest lines in the film, all this topped off with great smaller but important roles in Ajak (Salma Hayek) and Druig (Barry Keoghan). Each one of them gets a real moment to shine, both showing their worth as characters and delivering some of the best performances in the MCU. It’s a cast that’s so great that you kind of wish they ended up in the same scene together after the opening credits but once we’re done with the opening fight, good luck getting another big heroic shot of the entire cast at the same time.
In general it’s just great to see how diverse this cast is. Everyone who wants their own hero gets one and they’re all so badass. Sure this probably pisses off the idiotic mouthbreathers who think that X-Men isn’t a political series (Seriously, those people exist… I’m not even a comic book nerd and I have to laugh at that) but anything that pisses them off makes me happy. Everyone gets a hero and all of them are glorious.
That problem of the cast being split up for the entire film might be why Eternals fumbles the third thing it needs to do, create a grandiose epic story that’s completely engaging. It certainly tries, it shoots for the moon and pushes itself to do something unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU. It’s huge, it’s enormous, it’s world changing… and it just never quite reaches the height of its ambitions, at least not consistently. When this film works, it is absolutely fantastic in ways that the MCU has never been before but much like Nomadland, there are long stretches where you end up wondering when the next high is going to come.
Most of those low moments come when Eternals plays with time, it flies back and forth from present day to some era of the past in order to fill in some parts of the Eternal’s history. Sometimes this works really well, like when they explain what made Phastos decide to shut himself off from the world but there are times when it’s just very self-indulgent and kind of makes Eternals harder to follow. Not impossible, but certainly harder than it’s been for any other MCU film.
Speaking of Phastos, let’s talk about the first gay couple in the MCU for a bit because that’s a thing I always get on my high horse about. As my constant annoyance at Disney’s “First Gay Character” headlines will attest, I often want the characters to be visibly undeniably gay in a way you can’t remove for alternate countries and to this films credit, it is. Phastos constantly refers to his husband and child, there’s an absolutely adorable scene where you see this entire family functioning together. Hell, Phastos’ husband is WHY Phastos comes back into the fold and they even kiss. It’s about as explicit as one would expect a couple to be in this franchise (He said, referring to a film that ups the ante of what a couple in the MCU can do because they can apparently do a whole bunch of sex on the sand now!) and it’s great to see.
Without revealing what it is, I’m going to state that Eternals has easily the best villain reveal of the MCU. Like, one of those villain reveals that makes your jaw drop when you realise what they’ve been getting away with for the entire film. It’s not just pulling the rug out from under you but it then just beats you over the head with that rug, it’s the kind of reveal that not many films get to pull off but something with the size and scope of Eternals absolutely can… and it all ties in to that “Why didn’t they help before” narrative that basically is the entire film. Now they’ve got that out of the way, hopefully this means that some of the members of this group will have the chance to come back in the future at some point.
Eternals is certainly a different kind of MCU film, trying to be more grandiose and high class than everything that came before it and while it doesn’t always work, it’s still a genuinely good film. This is mid-tier MCU where you admire the ambition and the aesthetics but the story needed a little more work. It’s certainly not the worst thing to come from the MCU, it’s just very, very different and not ashamed to revel in that difference. It’s probably just suffered a critical smack because it had to follow the genuinely awesome Shang Chi which is very standard MCU fare. Go into this one without expecting it to be like the other origin stories the MCU has told and you should have a really good time.
There are twoend credits scenes, both of which seem to be setting up fairly major events in future films so as usual, stick around till the very end.