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?
For a group of engineered beings who are all-powerful and immortal, they sure act human. Jealousy, rage, love, greed, fame, dementia are all reoccurring characteristics of the Eternals. I know it is a movie based on a comic book invented in the 70s, but the characters seemed like regular people to me. In an attempt to play up their humanity, I feel the immortal Eternals become less real.
Maybe the point was that Earth and humanity are special, so the more they become human the closer they come to reaching fulfillment. Regardless of their newfound humanity, the movie did not leave me with a lot of desire to see more Eternals. The fight scenes and characters were cool but mostly unmemorable and plastic.
Ultimately, the movie’s biggest flaw is following the Marvel formula much too closely. Some of the best Marvel movies are not easily broken into acts and have their own style. Thor Ragnorak was driven by humor, went all over the place, had tons of cool characters, and still managed to return to blow up Asgard. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 bounced from planet to planet, engaged several new cool characters, and had some great scenes that did not focus on the Guardians. Recently, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings managed to break out of a restrictive space and establish its own distinct style (and the real Mandarin). Even Dr. Strange breaks the mold and makes it more about character than action.
And that’s why Eternals will never be considered the greatest Marvel movie. I can barely name the characters and the outcome is utterly predictable. It would be very unfair to call it the worst Marvel movie. This seems like an affair in Marvel filler similar to Age of Ultron, and I’m hoping that time and this Phase’s development have me look back and revise my opinion. I’m hoping to see if this film sets up anything spectacular for the future as we saw at the beginning of Phase 1, making me go back and reconsider where it fits in the Marvel pantheon, but I’m going to limit how long I keep my hopes up.