Marvel’s Eternals is the long-awaited look at the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While that story may need to be told, it probably should’ve been told in a different way than what we ended up getting. The film is uneven, trying to tell the history of the MCU while simultaneously introducing a dozen or so completely new characters. It works at times, but it just can’t live up to its vast scope.
The film tells the story of the Eternals, immortal aliens sent to Earth in 5000 B.C. to fight the threat of the Deviants, evil creatures that feed on intelligent life. The group helps humans progress culturally and technologically through history and, eventually, wipe out the Deviants. Afterward, they adapt to being part of everyday society, separating and becoming teachers, actors and homebodies. When the Deviants re-emerge following the events of Avengers: Endgame, the Eternals must come back together to eliminate the threat.
The main group is made up of Ajak (Salma Hayek), the leader of the group who has healing abilities; Sersi (Gemma Chan), who can manipulate matter; Ikaris (Richard Madden), who can fly and has laser vision; Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), who can shoot cosmic energy out of his fingertips; and Thena (Angelina Jolie), who can create weapons from nothing. There are even more of them, including Druig (Barry Keoghan), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), but they don’t contribute as much to the film and aren’t nearly as important as the others. So, you could probably see how this film can feel bloated just due to the sheer number of characters in it, but it also has the burden of explaining the origins of the MCU as well. It had all the cards stacked against it just by its premise, and it couldn’t overcome the house.
The cast, which is possibly more diverse than any other comic book film, is fantastic. They’re all great, even if most of them are given small roles in comparison to the leads of the film, which are Chan and Madden. Madden gives a subdued performance, which makes sense given that his character is very quiet, regardless of his strength. The same can be said for Chan, though she’s asked to give a bit more emotion and sells that in the scenes where more is asked of her. The others also give good performances, and most of them are likable, but none of them really sticks out, which is a shame because the actors they secured for these roles are incredible. Most of these characters could be cut with no real impact on the story. The only real exception to this, outside of the leads, is Nanjiani, who’s the film’s main comic relief and relishes that role. He’s hilarious and steals all the scenes he’s in. It’s just a shame he wasn’t in more of the film.
Another great strength of the film is its cinematography done by Ben Davis, which is easily the best of any MCU film. It’s honestly shocking how long it’s taken for Marvel to learn how a film should be shot, especially when it’s given such a massive budget. It’s also strange that the film looms the way it does, mostly because Davis has worked on multiple MCU projects before this, and none of them looks this good.
It’s a true shame the film is so uneven because the ingredients are all there: the director, Chloé Zhao, is an Oscar winner; the cast is all great; the cinematographer is consistently good; and the composer, Ramin Djawadi, is historically fantastic, but not one of them comes together to make something worthwhile or special. The only thing that’s special about it is that the cinematography sticks out as being better than other comic book films. That’s it.
The script is the biggest problem here because it feels like a first draft. The film has two villains, one of whom doesn’t even have a name that’s spoken in the film (apparently his name is Kro), and the other is a character who gives no inclination of being villainous before the moment where they reveal themselves. It’s truly baffling the more I think about it. Eternals also has issues with how it delivers exposition. Instead of delivering it steadily throughout the film’s extended runtime, it chooses to go all out with several extended exposition dump scenes, some reaching upwards of five minutes. It’s all just a mess, especially in its rushed third act.
I wish I had nicer things to say, especially as a fan of most of what Marvel has done in the last decade, but this film just doesn’t give me much to work with. It’s just trying to do too much, even with a runtime of over two-and-a-half hours. Eternals is never boring. I can give it that but not much else. I’m excited for what some of these characters can contribute to the MCU going forward, but this film is just a massive misstep in Marvel’s otherwise almost spotless portfolio.