Review: Eternals

Eternals (2021)

Director: Chloe Zhao

Writers: Chloe Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo

Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Laruen Ridloff, Barry Keoughan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harrington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie

Plot: The Eternals, a group of celestial beings sent to protect humanity, learn that their mission may not be quite what they thought it was.

Review: Listen, I get it.

Even as a semi-hardcore Marvel guy, my eyes want to glaze over as soon as you start talking about the Eternals. There are many times they’d show up in massive universe wide events, only for me to look them up and immediately get bored or forget everything that I read. It just all seems so pretentious. Power wise, they’re only about a step below being as over powered as the Justice League and, personality wise, they’re about as flavorful as a box of Wheaties. The marketing for this movie didn’t help either. While I respect her work, Chloe Zhao seemed like an oddball pick for Marvel and the cast, while full of big-ish names, didn’t really grab me as must see either. And, then, the trailers made the whole thing look like third rate Shakespeare. We never really got a sense of what this movie was about. It was just billed as the important, deep, new Marvel movie. All of that with a two and a half hour runtime. Honestly, going in, I warned my friends that it might be a tad boring. I was hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

Then, the movie opens with some text. Immediately, my mind wanted to check out. If those were the opening lines of a comic book, I’d probably give up and move onto the next. No one could possibly make me care about the Eternals… or so I thought.

Honestly, you have to kind of make a conscious effort to enjoy Eternals. It’s a lot. The plot is relatively dense with exposition, especially for a Marvel movie. They’re throwing almost a dozen new super characters at you, all with semi-ridiculous names. The tone is drastically different than most Marvel movies. I can definitely see how some might now enjoy it. However, after putting in that effort, I found it to be a really solid movie.

Just about everything that I assumed would be a problem for me faded away. The lore actually became very interesting and the characters really started to grow on me. Their pretentiousness really makes sense when you think of the fact that these characters are pretty much gods. They were created to watch over us and have for thousands of years. No wonder they act like they’re above us. Because they totally are. A lot of the joy comes out of watching these godlike figures integrate into every day society. Watch as they learn to enjoy all of the little things humanity has to offer. It’s basically what the first Thor movie was, but on a much larger scale. Imagine all of Asgard falling into New Mexico instead of just the thunder god. That’s pretty much Eternals.

And, while there are moments where you really feel that runtime, Eternals is honestly trying to do a lot. And mostly succeeding. Without spoilers, they’ve got to introduce all 11 or so characters, set up their original mission, have a twist where everything is not quite as it seems, then have inter-group drama over that, and finally have the whole big superhero climax. They could’ve easily split this into two parts ala Dune, because it’s pretty dang close to as dense. Heck, do you know how long it took before the MCU had 11 superheroes in it? At least seven or eight movies. Now they’re introducing 11 at the same time? But, as I’ve said, I think it works. With the exception of one or two, I feel like I knew these characters pretty well by the end of the movie. I knew what they wanted in this world and understood why each of them would make the decisions they did. The greatest strength of the MCU is their character work and I’d say that’s very much on display in Eternals as well.

I feel like I also owe Chloe Zhao an apology. Because she ended up being kind of the perfect choice for this movie. Some of the visuals in this movie are jaw dropping. Eternals is all about scale and Zhao did a terrific job of making this FEEL epic. It feels right up there with Dune and The Lord of the Rings in terms of big, important story telling from the visuals alone. It’s a lot like how they got Kenneth Branagh to direct the first Thor movie because of his Shakespearean roots. However, this time they had enough fate to just let Zhao make her movie and not worry about it being a “Marvel movie.” Because this does feel very much like one of her movies. If you just went through her filmography without knowing this was a franchise flick, it wouldn’t stand out too much. It seems like the next step from Nomadland but with a big budget and science fiction elements. Heck, there were a few times that I even forgot I was watching something from the MCU. I’d just be wrapped up in a movie that felt like an original science fiction flick when they’d mention Thanos and I’d go “Oh yeah. That’s right. He exists in this universe.” In a saga as self-referential as this, it was refreshing for something to just feel original. I’ve never bought into the “all Marvel movies are the same” argument before, but I definitely don’t want to hear it after Eternals.

Overall, I quite enjoyed Eternals. It’s a lot crammed into one movie, but I think it works as long as you give it a fair shot. I’m glad that Marvel is willing to take risks like this and tackle some of their lesser known properties with big budget, different feeling movies. I don’t think this is a bad movie. And, honestly, I don’t even think it’s one of Marvel’s worst. Personally, they haven’t made a movie that I’ve disliked yet. I’m still very much on board wherever the future takes this franchise. And, if that future happens to be Eternals 2, count me in.

Score: 7/10 (Good)

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