- Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for “Eternals.”
- Marvel’s latest project suffers from too many superheroes who are never fully fleshed out.
- Kumail Nianjaini steals every scene. The film’s second half is far superior to the first.
One of Marvel’s most ambitious movies in years is also one of its weakest since “Thor: The Dark World.”
“Eternals” boasts A-listers from Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek to Kumail Nanjiani and the film offers some of Marvel’s most shocking moments. Unfortunately, much of the talent is underutilized in this stacked cast.
Directed by Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”), the film stumbles for the first hour as several plotlines in the movie compete to be the main star.
From the start, we’re introduced to 10 super-powered beings, a group called Eternals, who were sent to Earth 7,000 years ago to defeat a monstrous group known as Deviants and help mankind thrive. Each Eternal is bestowed with a unique set of gifts, including flight, laser beams, brute strength, super speed, and the power to heal, among others.
From the large opening fight sequence, it looks like the Eternals would have been handy in a lot of the previous MCU battles. Conveniently, the group was told not to interfere with any human dilemmas – like taking on Thanos – unless instructed to do so by a mysterious force that’s better left explained in theaters.
After 5,000 years together, the Eternals fracture into smaller groups to try and find their own separate paths on Earth. In the present, the gang must get back together to prevent the destruction of the planet while also fighting off those mysterious Deviants. Much of the film is spent painstakingly gathering the Eternals to stop an event called the Emergence, while also dealing with the Deviants who may or may not have anything to do with Earth’s end of days.
Simultaneously, some of the Eternals are navigating relationship drama. There’s a love triangle between Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, and Kit Harington’s characters (because why not?) while a different member of the group sometimes wants to murder them all (but not on purpose).
Yeah. There’s a lot going on here.
Though the second half of the film is better with great action sequences and beautifully constructed moments that feel out of “2001: A Space Odyssey” or the end of 1968’s “Planet of the Apes,” it doesn’t make up for an oddly structured part one that feels like it was pieced together, taken apart, and then Frakensteined all over again.
The story suffers from a bloated cast and too many locations
There’s no nice way to say this: The first half of the movie is a mess.
It’s stuffed with too many characters, locations, and back-and-forth moments between past and present. After multiple time hops, I simply stopped counting.
Even by the film’s end when you think you’re finished with the location jumping, it does it at least twice more. It’s overwhelming.
In the comics, there are dozens of Eternals. While the 10 in the movie are a solid representation, the film deviates so much from the comics that it doesn’t matter which members were chosen. The movie would have been better served by having three or so fewer main characters to let the storylines breathe.
Audiences expecting to see Jolie as a gorgeous warrior may be disappointed to learn her character struggles with a memory issue and is essentially babysat by another Eternal, Don Lee’s Gilgamesh, sidelining both characters for the majority of the film.
Imagine benching Jolie and Lee, the latter a huge South Korean star (watch him in “Train to Busan”). When they’re finally allowed to show off their fighting skills, those are some of the film’s best sequences.
Meanwhile, Hayek’s Ajak is the maternal leader of the group with her healing powers, but she’s not given much to do. Once you see her character’s arc, it’s not difficult to understand why the actress told Elle she “got into a serious fight” with the film’s director over the script.
Touted as Marvel’s first deaf superhero, Lauren Ridloff (“The Walking Dead”) is underutilized and feels like a mere check of the diversity box. It’s a shame because a moment late in the film showing her character’s super speed drew cheers from the premiere crowd. By the film’s end, we know little of her background and motivations.
She and Barry Keoghan’s Druig also share a sweet fondness for one another, something the film only scratches the surface of.
Perhaps none of this should be a surprise once you know Ridloff told The Hollywood Reporter that the cast “had a hard time… agreeing on what exactly the story was going to end up being.” It sounds like there may have been too many cooks in the kitchen offering ideas for what Marvel’s “Eternals” should look like. It shows.
Even the Deviants get the short end of the stick. Explained far too quickly, they appear as little more than typical CGI Marvel monsters. But, if you’ve read the comics, you know that’s not the case – they’re likened to tortured souls who weren’t created as beautifully as the Eternals. We start to see that hinted at with one particular Deviant, Kros, but the film never takes the initiative to deep dive into an exploration of his species.
At one point, it seems the film may touch upon a history between Kros and one of the Eternals, but the moment quickly passes. It’s yet another missed opportunity.
Kumail Nianjiani is a scene-stealer and the film’s saving grace
Chan, Madden, and Lia McHugh are all standouts. Madden is, essentially, Marvel’s Superman who can fly and shoot beams out of his eyes. He’s nearly indestructible. Chan’s Sersi, who has a soft spot for humans, and McHugh’s Sprite, a thousand-year-old Eternal trapped in a 12-year-old’s body, are the film’s heart.
Harington is delightfully funny, too, as Sersi’s human boyfriend, Dane Whitman. He previously showed off his comedic chops in HBO’s “7 Days in Hell.” He’s not in the film much, but the actor told Insider we can hopefully expect to see more of him in the future.
But it’s Kumail Nianjiani who steals every scene in the movie and gets the film’s best quip as Kingo. “Eternals” didn’t come alive until Nianjiani re-entered the movie in a Bollywood dance sequence, which the actor spent months learning. Get this man his own Disney+ spin-off.
‘Eternals’ takes a huge Marvel critique to heart: It has real stakes
One of the most impressive things “Eternals” does is let you know that it’s a more mature movie right from the start. It’s not afraid to get violent. “Eternals” is as close to Disney’s version of “The Suicide Squad” as we may ever get.
There are some truly shocking moments in the film and at least one twist you likely won’t guess. One of those shocking moments comes very early on in the movie and may disappoint some fans.
There’s one moment in ‘Eternals’ parents will want to know about before taking kids
Parents of young children should be aware there’s a sex scene in the movie. Though it’s a close-up shot of two characters, there’s obvious thrusting.
For a Marvel movie, it seemed unnecessary since the audience is told the two characters have been together for thousands of years. We didn’t need them to prove it with a 10-second lovemaking scene.
‘Eternals’ gets right Marvel’s first true openly LGBTQIA+ family on screen
When Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) finally rejoins the Eternals, we meet not just him, but his husband and son who were previously revealed in marketing. They’re Marvel’s first openly gay family and their inclusion is presented without feeling shoe-horned in the way it has in previous Disney films.
Phastos’ relationship is not shown in the background of a scene or during a fleeting moment. It’s front and center and natural.
It shouldn’t have taken 25 Marvel movies to see an openly gay character in the MCU. (No, that moment in “Avengers: Endgame” was not great representation.) During the film’s premiere, Marvel Studios’ president, Kevin Feige, told Variety that “Eternals” is “just the start” of representation on screen.
The two end-credits scenes are some of the film’s best parts
To its credit, the film’s final 30 or so minutes – once the Eternals are finally gathered together, fighting for a cause – are excellent. There are big reveals as puzzle pieces set up in the first half come together. The film may have benefitted from making some of these reveals known earlier.
But the loudest cheers, by far, during the world premiere were due to the first end-credit scene, which you may or may not have had ruined for you on social media in the past week. (Be careful out there.)
Both end-credits scenes are two of Marvel’s best, and each has huge ramifications for the future of the MCU. But you shouldn’t have to sit through a so-so movie to see them.
In “Eternals,” it seems like Marvel wanted another “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The 2014 surprise hit was an adaptation of an obscure comic book that grossed $US772 ($AU1,034) million worldwide. Marvel likely figured they could do the same with “Eternals,” an equally obscure comic the company revitalized.
But in this case, lightning didn’t strike twice. The difference with “Guardians” is you fall in love with each fully fleshed-out character. By introducing too many characters all at once, “Eternals” became disjointed and hard to follow, even if you were well-versed in the comics.
Ultimately, “Eternals” tried to do too much – it wanted to be a romance and an end-of-world spectacle while introducing 10 new diverse heroes, multiple villains, and another potential antihero. Sadly, there were too many cooks in the kitchen.
Produced by Feige and Nate Moore, “Eternals” will be in theaters on November 5.