Movie Review: ‘Eternals’

Director: Chloé Zhao

Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjianai, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Koeghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harrington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Bill Skarsgård, David Kaye

Plot: A band of un-ageing super-powered beings have been living among humans since the beginning of civilisation. Having gone their seperate ways, the reappearance of their enemies brings them together to fulfil their long planned purpose.

Review: It’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise that we didn’t get to the cinema to see the latest and most derided MCU film, as it seemed just fine in contrast to the dredging it’s gotten. It’s not the best movie in the series, not by a stretch, but it’s far from the worst. Everyone touting this as the first big mis-step of the MCU must have missed The Inhumans, because Eternals doesn’t come close to that dog’s breakfast. Eternals has got plenty of good stuff happening, it’s just saddled with a story that comes apart the closer you look at it.

At the very dawn of human civilisation, human’s live in fear of the Deviants, misshapen monsters that hunt and kill people every chance they get. Ancient space god’s known as the Celestials send a team of heroes from the planet Olympia to keep the Deviants in check. Each has a unique power in addition to their immortality and enhanced strength, giving them the ability to defeat the Deviants. For centuries, the Eternals have guided human progress, kept them safe but allowing their own conflicts to play out at the behest of the Celestial Arishem (Kaye). In the modern MCU, they mostly live normal human lives until Deviants start turning up again. When they reunite to battle the new threat, they learn their true purpose of ushering the human race to a point that they can be sacrificed for the birth of a Celestial.

In a sharp departure of the usual MCU model of introducing characters through individual adventure before adding them to the team, we get a whopping TEN new superheroes with a massive backstory to unpack. Let’s do the roster here. Sersi (Chan) is our main character, being positioned to take on the leadership role during the story, and has the ability to transform matter with touch. Ikaris (Madden) is the classic superhero archetype with the ability to fly and shoot lasers from his eyes, and was married to Sersi before taking off on his own without explanation. Sprite (McHugh) is a child, unable to age which gives her some serious angst, and can create illusions. Kingo (Nanjiana) provides comic relief and has been doing what we all expect we’d do by becoming a movie star. He can shoot energy blast from his hands, and charge up the energy for a stronger impact. Phastos (Henry) has vague inventing powers, designing and manifesting new technologies and he’s openly gay in a Disney movie, a more powerful ability. At the halfway mark we should introduce Ajak (Hayak), the leader of the Eternals when they arrive on Earth and has healing powers. Thena (Jolie) is their best warrior and can manifest various spears, swords and shields using her energy powers. Thena has been afflicted by ‘Mahd Wy’ry’, a psychological break caused by the weight of their memories, and runs the risk of attacking her own team-mates. She mostly held in check by Gilgamesh (Mesh), who is the team’s heavy hitter and uses his powers to deliver powerful punches. Druig (Keoghan) can influence and control people’s minds on a large scale and is the first to break away from the team on Earth. Finally there’s Makkari (Ridloff), a speedster who is also deaf.

Obviously, there’s a fair amount to take in. Throw in the Celestials, the Deviants, and the entire history of the human race and we have a jammed packed movie. Unfortunately, this means that the plot relies on some serious contrivances. The entire scheme of Arishem would fall apart the moment the Eternals start questioning things, and needs them to remain oblivious for thousands of years. For such a global and cosmic scale conflict, this feels very easy to pick apart. We don’t get enough opportunity to get to know all the characters, with Makkari and Gilgamesh certainly getting the short end of the stick. We never learn why Makkari has been hanging out by herself in their spaceship, except that this is convenient for the story to keep moving. This could have worked much better as two movies, the first showing them influencing history and splitting apart while beating the Deviants, and the second showing them coming back together to deal with the Emergence. It would certainly give us a stronger emotional link to the characters when things go badly for them.

Whilst the script needs a bit of ironing out, there’s plenty to enjoy here. The design work is uniformly excellent. The science-fiction elements in particular are interesting, giving the Eternal’s powers and technologies an ethereal look that feels more advanced and older than the Asgardian technology. The golden strands that convey data, construct physical items, generate energy blasts, etc., gives the movie a unique and distinct feel. Zhao has utilised wide landscape shots with the same level of skill as she did with Nomadland, making the film an impressive showcase of visuals across the globe and through human history.

As for laying the ground for future instalments, it’s difficult to see how this is going to fit into the wider MCU. It’s difficult to imagine the Avengers kicking about the Eternals as they exist in this movie. Kit Harrington appears as Dane Whitman, destined to become the Black Knight, but this is little more than a cameo appearance with the reveal of the Ebony Blade being slotted into the credits. If you’ve read this far into this review you likely already know about the other reveals. Patton Oswalt as Pip the Troll makes sense, but the CGI rendering of his character looks rushed. Harry Styles as Eros AKA Starfox AKA brother to Thanos makes a weird amount of sense. Finally, there’s an audio cameo from Mahershala Ali as the voice of Blade which sent the audience straight to Google to find out who that was.

In spite of the main headlines about this movie are dripping with gleeful disappointment, we’re reporting that this one is fine. It’s a different type of story and characters for the MCU, and we enjoyed the characters and style even if the story was rushed and wonky.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN