PG Score: 6.75/10
Eternals opened in theaters on 11/5/21
In a razor-sharp example of a double-edged sword, Eternals is truly unlike anything else previously seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao (Nomadland and The Rider) shatters the superhero blockbuster mold with an uneven, colossal adventure that fortunately, soars more often than it stumbles.
The latest installment in Phase Four of the MCU centers on a mysterious team of extraterrestrial superheroes who have kept their existence on Earth a secret for thousands of years. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, an unexpected calamity draws them out of the shadows to reunite against mankind’s earliest adversary, the Deviants.
The set pieces are filled with jaw-dropping visuals that showcase the exceptional work of Director of Photography Ben Davis. The MCU veteran has previously applied his talents to Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel, and as evidenced by his latest credit, he has clearly mastered his craft. Equipped with vibrant, ancient armor and fluorescent garments, the Eternals are striking. Their movements are equally enthralling as they fight the relentless enemies at hand. The beasts known as Deviants are imposing in both stature and sheer power. Like the protagonists, they too vary in their abilities and appearance, and Zhao (who also co-wrote the screenplay) captures them in all their fearsome glory.
Despite the captivating imagery and enormous scale, some of the action sequences are somehow a bit underwhelming. The choreography functions well enough as the titular heroes use mystical weapons and extraordinary superpowers to vanquish their formidable foes. A handful of finishing moves emphasize various characters’ special abilities and are particularly dazzling as a result. However, unlike many other MCU entries, the combat in Eternals usually fails to resonate on a deeper level. Given the character development that takes place during the lengthy 157-minute runtime, the action is simply not as impactful as expected.
The franchise has never been one to shy away from character drama, and Zhao has no qualms about fully leaning into that in her Marvel debut. Despite their superhuman attributes, the Eternals are far from invulnerable. Like humans, they are more than capable of betrayal, and their emotions can send them spiraling down dark paths. Their weaknesses are explored in the present as well as visited through an excess of flashbacks. While it is refreshing to see these otherworldly entities humanized, the timeline-hopping grows tiresome and ends up being counterproductive. By jumping back to scattered points throughout history so frequently, Zhao interrupts the momentum that is building in real time.
Eternals contains a great deal of exposition, which has its fair share of pros and cons. On the plus side, it ushers in a wave of new powerful forces and their corresponding backstories. At the top of the list are the unrivaled Celestials. These cosmic powerhouses warrant significant audience attention and are sure to be major players going forward. Another benefit is Zhao uses this time to make bold choices that take the franchise in new directions and encourage other filmmakers to do the same as the MCU expands. The downside to all this worldbuilding is it creates gaps in the action, occasionally causing the pacing to slow considerably.
The loaded cast features a host of new faces for the MCU. Gemma Chan plays the even-keeled Sersi and gives a committed performance as the lead protagonist. She shares plenty of screen time with Richard Madden, who portrays the fiery Ikaris with the appropriate level of vigor. Angelina Jolie adequately depicts Thena, a skilled warrior with a fierce streak. Salma Hayek is compelling in a more limited role as Ajak, and the same can be said for Kit Harrington’s Dane Whitman. Lia McHugh is the weak link acting-wise as the conflicted Sprite.
Barry Keoghan does not miss a beat as Druig, one of the more empathic members of the group. Ma Dong-seok effectively fills the shoes of the burly Gilgamesh. Harish Patel steals every scene he is in as the side-splitting Karun. A physically transformed Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo and Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos supply the remainder of the comic relief. The latter breaks new ground for Marvel on the big screen as his humorous and inventive character is gay. Continuing this trend, deaf actress Lauren Ridloff takes the reins as Makkari, the first deaf superhero for the cinematic universe. These inclusions feel seamless and point to a culturally rich and socially diverse future for the franchise.
Flawed, but Impactful
Chloé Zhao combines sublime cinematography with courageous directorial decisions to burst through multiple MCU barriers. Eternals is a flawed, yet unique experience that lives up to its name and will certainly be remembered (for better or worse) while it sets the stage for what is to come.
PG Score 6.75/10