Eternals, the latest Marvel movie, attempts to build on the success of its predecessors. It’s an entertaining movie. There are the prescribed number of action sequences, world-threatening events, and quirky humor and of course, there’s the magic of bringing your favorite comic book characters to life on the big screen. However, elements that make Marvel movies fun to watch and repeat business, work against this film.
The movie tells the tale of the battle between the Eternals and the Deviants, their age-old nemesis. The old Titan’s myth is retold, with Arishem acting as the creator of the Universe, and spawning both the Eternals and Deviants to maintain balance throughout all of creation. The Deviants are pretty standard baddies, reminiscent of Thanos’ creations from earlier movies, with sharp fangs and tentacles, running around devouring sentient humans and fighting Eternals throughout history. The film attempts to give them more depth by evolving the main Deviant, giving him speech, and hinting at some dark motivation for their being. As the movie progresses, there is the predictable betrayal by the authority figure Arishem (because we all know our boss, politicians, and even God can’t be trusted) and several pretty cool fight scenes. We learn that the world is in danger, and the Eternals are in a position to either save or destroy us all.
The first act is the most enjoyable part of the movie where we learn about the character’s powers and watch some of our favorite actors play the part. Panning through time and seeing how the Eternals try not to ‘guide humanity’ is very well done. It was great seeing a lot of these actors in a Marvel movie. Richard Madden and Kit Harrington haven’t seen one another since leaving Winterfell in Game of Thrones season 1. Every moment Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo is on screen is a gift. His humor and situational comedy bring the movie to a whole new level. And Ma Dong-seok of Train to Busan fame provides banter that much of the movie needs.
And that is where my interest in The Eternals comes to an end. The lesser-known comic book characters become a blur of archetypes; flying guy, mind control guy, fast girl, and snappy one-liner guy. At no point do we really empathize with the characters. I never thought that Ikaris or Makkari were about to become my new favorite superheroes. These characters were created in the 70's, during a publication battle between Marvel and DC comics, so they are not original inventions and are mostly unrecognizable to the general public. The movie is driven by star power. Jolie and Hayek are familiar to watch, both giving a generally solid performance, but the entire time I feel like I’m watching Jolie and Hayek, and not Athena or Ajak.
Problems in the plot arise as the movie progresses. The audience is given a lot of information through exposition in the beginning, then more information through exposition in the middle. There’s not much character action that drives the development of the plot like they’re just kind of along for the ride. It almost seemed like the story is told as if you were reading the highlights on Wikipedia.
The Deviants disappear until the end of the last act, leaving the audience wondering if we’re watching two different movies and they’re not the only ones who take an unexpected leave of absence. The movie kills off Ma Dong-seok’s character early and has Kingo walk out on the final confrontation. Excluding Kumail Nanjiani’s humor from the final battle leaves the ending humorless and one-dimensional. A predictable betrayal among the Eternals turns the movie into another battle among heroes. We already saw Avengers, Age of Ultron, Civil War, and the 2021 Presidential Inauguration. We don’t need more movies about infighting.
In an attempt to be highbrow The Eternals discusses the question we’ve all wondered when interacting with our coworkers: is mankind worth saving? Barry Keoghan, is the best non-comedic part of the movie and a vehicle for this concept. His character, Druig, can control people’s minds, and he languishes over the fact he could force everyone on the planet to stop fighting and do his bidding., essentially to not be human anymore and take away their free will. This is debated several times with the obvious answer of ‘yes, of course we are, where else will we make Marvel movies if humanity goes extinct?’ So with that complex question answered in the simplest of terms, a new question arises: are the Eternals worth saving?