When Marvel Studios announced plans for Guardians of the Galaxy the response from most people was, “Who?”. The prospect of making a star-studded film with a massive budget based on a fringe team of superheroes seemed ambitious to say the least. Nevertheless, the gamble paid off. The movie was massively successful and characters like Rocket Raccoon and Groot are now household names. Now, Marvel is taking another shot at showcasing a team of mostly unknown superheroes in Eternals. Will this ambitious venture enjoy the same amount of success? Probably not. Will most people find it better than expected? Yes, I think so.
7,000 years ago, the Eternals were sent to earth by the celestial Arishem for the singular purpose of protecting humanity from the beastly predators known as Deviants. Each imbued with a unique superpower, these ten protectors are led by Ajak (Salma Hayek), who can commune directly with Arishem. Largely on the back of the most powerful among them, Ikaris (Richard Madden), the Eternals vanquished all the Deviants from earth millennia ago.
Having sworn not to interfere in any human conflicts, the Eternals split up and have lived peacefully among the humans ever since; many inspiring legends bearing resemblance to their names along the way. Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Sprite (Lia McHugh) are living in present-day London when, for the first time since their vanquishment, a Deviant reappears; this time hunting Eternals. Sersi and Sprite set out to reunite the team, discover why the Deviants have reappeared, and along the way uncover truths about their origins and purpose.
Eternals is an ambitious step for Marvel. Not only are they introducing a new team of superheroes, but we’re now exploring the realm of universe-creating celestial beings which adds a complex layer of metaphysical intrigue to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Much of this is done surprisingly well. Shockingly, all ten characters are developed enough to make them interesting, and each brings something unique to the table. Thena (Angelina Jolie) is a bit understated but is fierce, mysterious, and has a tremendous screen presence. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), who is living as a Bollywood actor before being called back to duty, provides that signature Marvel comedic touch exceptionally well. There is no low point in casting and great care is taken to make each character stand out in personality.
Last year’s Oscar winner Chloé Zhao is in the director’s seat for this ambitious project, and she does an incredible job. The cinematography is gorgeous and the special effects are unique and interesting. While the run time might be a little excessive, it lends itself to the massive worldbuilding side of this project. Marvel spares no expense, and this is no exception. The care and dedication put into these projects continue to show as well as their desire to explore new ideas and different realms of storytelling. This film dares to explore some pretty big ideas and pose even bigger questions.
However, the ambition did lead to some pitfalls. While Eternals succeeds at presenting ten new and intriguing characters, inevitably many feel underutilized or rushed in their development. The Deviants feel like a lazy MacGuffin for most of the film. I was pleasantly surprised about halfway in when these Deviants became more interesting, but then unpleasantly disappointed when they failed to capitalize on it. Much of the growing conflict feels like it gets rushed to climax in the final act, leading to a messy and somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. There is no lack of cool ideas or engaging conflicts, but even its 2 ½ hour run time doesn’t feel sufficient to thoroughly explore them. Thus, I can’t help but feel Eternals may have been a better candidate for a Disney+ series, rather than a feature film.
It’s also questionable how much appeal Eternals will have outside of superhero fandom. While superhero junkies may not tire of depictions of super-speed and laser eyes, general audiences may be growing weary of these troupes. That’s not to suggest there isn’t a uniqueness to this film. The grander premise is effectively utilized to pose some fascinating questions surrounding identity, free will, and sacrifice. These are explored thoroughly enough in the unique context of this film to give Eternals something meaningful to offer this crowded genre, but the execution still feels mired in convention.
Marvel may have bitten off a bit more than it can chew, but the ambition and extent to which Eternals succeeds are nonetheless praiseworthy. It’s not breaking down the door of originality, but it’s knocking in a manner that’s just intriguing enough. Eternals lacks the overwhelming charisma which made Guardians of the Galaxy an instant hit but still left me caring about these little-known characters more than I expected going in. Its greatest faults lie in not leaning harder into what it does well and leaning too hard on the crutches of genre convention.
However, as with every entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is not the last chapter. I imagine the legacy of Eternals will rest more on what’s to come. With alternate timelines, multiverses, and godlike celestials entering center stage, the MCU is venturing into a world of metaphysical craziness accepted in the land of comics but not thoroughly tested on the big screen. Eternals plays its role of introducing audiences to some of these concepts quite well, but if Marvel wants to truly succeed with this going forward it needs to be willing to step a bit more out of its box.
Synopsis: Millenia old protectors of earth living covertly among us must find each other and reunite when the monsters they vanquished ages ago suddenly make a reappearance.
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writers: Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo
Stars: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie
Runtime: 2 hours, 37 minutes
Releases: November 5th, 2021 (USA)
I am an ASU honors graduate with bachelors in Political Science and Philosophy. I work as a Paralegal by day and enjoy casual, volunteer, and sometimes freelance writing on the side. I'm a long time movie buff and avid gamer. Collectible card and board games are my specialty. I also remain actively engaged in the world of politics and like to stay up to date on all things science. If there is one goal I have in life it is to never stop learning.