Marvel’s Eternals: A Review
Since the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in 2008, and up until COVID hit, there has been a steady stream of Marvel movies coming out at least once or twice a year. Thankfully, towards the beginning of 2021, streaming services picked up the slack and provided a lot of content for Marvel fans on Disney+. It started with MCU shows like “WandaVision” and then with the movie “Black Widow.” “Eternals,” the next big Marvel project, was released in theaters on November 5 to a mixed reaction. Critics didn’t like it and gave it the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score ever for a Marvel movie, 48%. The fans, however, enjoyed it, making this film one of the most divisive MCU movies yet.
The film follows a group of ten immortal beings called Eternals. They were sent to Earth 7,000 years ago by the Celestials, the architects of the universe, to protect the Earth from a predatory dog-like species called the Deviants. The plot, without spoilers, follows the Eternals after several thousand years have passed and the Deviants have now returned and it’s up to the group to finally complete their mission. There are also surprise twists to the plot itself that will change the overall objective of the Eternals’ mission.
The Eternals are led by Ajak (Salma Hayek) who has the ability to communicate with the Celestial Arishem. The rest of the group is comprised of Ikaris (Richard Madden), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Druig (Barry Keoghan) and Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). This is the most culturally diverse cast we’ve seen in a Marvel film, and it’s great to see all of these different kinds of people being represented. However, with a group of ten characters to introduce, some get lost in the shuffle. The film primarily focuses on Ikaris and Sersi, but there are clearly other characters, such as Thena or Ajak who are show stealing with their charisma and action sequences, but only get minimal character development and screen time. Some characters, like quiet mind-controlling Druig for example, don’t get any development at all and it leaves the audience hoping that they’ll get more attention later on. It’s difficult to handle a cast this large, especially when we’re being introduced to them for the first time.
“Eternals” uses non-linear storytelling throughout the entirety of the film, which is a different structure compared to other Marvel projects. Fans already knew going into the movie that we would be witnessing the Eternal’s throughout the course of history for the past 7,000 years. However, instead of showing us all this in the first act so that we understand where they are in present day, lengthy flashbacks are used quite often to tell the story of this group of heroes. For instance, when characters are having a discussion in the present, the film immediately jumps to a flashback of the group to help explain the context of the present day conversation. While most of the flashbacks worked well within the story, sometimes they can feel overused when there’s another one happening only ten minutes away from the last one. It’s a big risk for Marvel to tell a story this way, and for the most part it paid off, but I believe that with a bit of tweaking they can really nail this type of structure to where it doesn’t feel overused or tedious.
The action sequences and VFX work in this film are absolutely stunning, especially when the Eternals showcase their different powers. Sersi’s is by far the most impressive, seeing as she can literally change matter into anything she wants. It’s beautiful to watch her turn a bus into millions of tiny flowers. The fight choreography is also incredibly well done. The effortless way the Eternals move helps to establish just how well groomed they became in combat over the past 7,000 years. The sets in this film are also one of the highlights, seeing as it allows us to travel to different civilizations throughout the course of history. The film’s able to transport us to these times and make us feel as if we’re actually there, even if they only show up for a few minutes each. Babylon is easily the most beautiful. All of the vibrant colors, the attention to detail in the carvings and statues in the giant barrier wall, to the homes of the villagers, really helps give audiences an idea of what this ancient civilization would have looked like. It’s a blast into the past that was clearly well thought out and cared for.
Overall, “Eternals” is a solid and enjoyable Marvel film. It’s a breath of fresh air to see such a variety in the casting and to see a different way of telling a superhero story, and it does so successfully. One of the biggest takeaways from this film is how it impacts the MCU going forward. This is our first deep dive into the cosmic side of Marvel and it helps plant the seeds for projects that center around the power cosmic in the near future. Some of the most powerful heroes and villains use cosmic energy, such as the Silver Surfer and Galactus, and it’s only a matter of time before we see them enter the MCU. I’m also curious to see how the Eternals play a part in the MCU going forward and whether or not they will get the opportunity to interact with the Avengers. There are still so many unanswered questions about the Eternals and Celestials that it makes it hard to wait for the next installment. Then again, that is what Marvel does best. While it has its fair share of issues with the structure and managing it’s large cast, “Eternals” is a great addition to the MCU. I’m eager to see what’s in store next for these amazing heroes.
Illustration by Seb Torrens