Marvel Studios throws us into the most expansive story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet in Eternals. Telling a story over the course of 7000 years, whilst juggling the introductions of ten new characters, it offers up something way against the usual comic book movie curve, opening a fresh door whilst also giving enough to keep long time Marvel fans on board.
Written by Alex Gilston
Phase 4 continues with yet another origin story, explored in a way that is quite different than normal. The Eternals are immortal beings created by Celestials, beings that tower over planets as if they were but a marble, and assigned to planets to protect their populations from beings known as Deviants. Created by the celestial Arishem and led by their prime eternal Ajak (Salam Hayek) this band of power wielding gods are sent to Planet Earth 5000 BC to defend humanity from the deviants with one catch: don’t interfere in anything unless it involves Deviants. This is just a very small part of the narrative that feels as huge as the amount of time the eternals spend integrating themselves on Earth. One of the biggest strengths of this film is the storytelling. The non-linear narrative, which catapults you thousands of years either way each time, never feels clunky or overbearing, and although we are constantly being drip fed information, it’s constantly engaging enough to feel worth it. The fact it’s so slow and contemplative could be a deal breaker for some, but as it’s such a wild change of pace from the likes of Shang-Chi and Black Widow, it’s welcomed with open arms.
Indie darling Chloe Zhao comes off the back of a momentous Oscar win, for her film Nomadland, to helm her first major blockbuster. The pairing of Zhao and Marvel Studios leaves for one of the most fascinating outings in the franchise yet. A perfect blend of big budget Marvel fare and Zhao’s signature stamp of stunning style, and deeply interesting character work. Throughout the Eternals runtime these feel like two sides of the same coin being flipped constantly, but never at the behest of the other. But the film is at its best when it really embraces what makes these characters tick, and this is thanks to none other than Chloe Zhao herself.
Eternals introduces us to ten completely new characters. With films in the franchise like Infinity War and Endgame already proving that juggling a massive amount of characters is possible, but it’s a lot more of an uphill struggle when these characters aren’t already established. Eternals does go a long way in showing that this is also possible, with the character work being the strongest aspect of the film. Every character gets their respective moment and none of them feel wasted. Gemma Chan shines as the lead here and it’s justice served for her under utilisation in Captain Marvel. Although every person playing an eternal is absolutely wonderful in their own way, the real highlights come from Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), who offers light in the more serious moments, and Gilgamesh (Don Lee), a most natural superhero conveying power and loyalty in a moving way. Lauren Ridloff portraying the first deaf superhero in the MCU is a big step, especially after the decanonising of Clint Barton’s deafness, and what feels even more so, is that it’s never alluded to, and is just an accepted fact. Another huge moment comes with Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), the first marvel character to be in an openly gay relationship. These may seem like small steps, but are really momentous, especially considering that it’s just a natural counterpart of the film and is never made a big deal of when it’s shown.
Humanity and faith is at the forefront of Eternals. The battle that all of them go through to make their own way amongst humanity, whilst also staying true to their initial purpose. This is explored the best through Ikaris (Richard Madden). The lines are blurred between his attachment to Sersi (Gemma Chan) and the role he has been given in this universe. The burden of not fitting into humanity is also explored through Sprite (Lia McHugh). Although it does make sense there is one aspect of this character that could have been dealt with, easily, very differently and is really the only point of contention I have with the film.
Eternals also offers up some of the most stunning visuals we have seen from the MCU yet. From the expansive capturing of space, all the way to the naturalistic golden hour landscapes. Ramin Djawadi also comes through with an ethereal score that matches the nobility of the Eternals. The action on offer, albeit a little sparse in favour of the expositional character work, is brilliant. Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) brings us some speedster fun with kinetic sequences that gives the Flash a run for his money. Some of the best fighting comes from Thena (Angelina Jolie), decimating deviants with her cool cosmic manipulation. Marvel Studios and Chloe Zhao swing big with Eternals. It’s like nothing we have seen in the 12 years of the MCU and that’s part and parcel of the reason it’s reception has been so divisive. But if the swing hits for you then it could easily be in the top 5 Marvel projects to date. Beyond that, it’s interesting to see what implications the plot of this film will have going forward and where we will see certain characters again. There will also most likely be a sequel to this film in the future too and I for one want it yesterday.