Marvel Studios in 2021 has so far released 2 feature films and 4 series streaming exclusively on Disney plus. Their plan post Avengers: Endgame and the Infinity Saga has left many scratching their heads (including me) at the new direction the expanded universe would go down. With no Captain Rogers, Tony Stark, and Black Widow to lead the team forward, the time for new heroes to emerge as the leaders going forward into phase 4 and beyond is now. And with Marvel ready to introduce a slew of familiar faces into the MCU thanks to the acquisition of Fox, the possibilities are endless for the number of characters to pick up the mantle.
With their unprecedented 26th feature film (one more than James Bond) Marvel and head honcho Kevin Feige are taking a huge risk. The same risk they took in 2014 when James Gunn put out Guardians of the Galaxy. To everyone’s shock, that property which is currently gearing up for its 3rd installment is a top 5 MCU film. Eternals I’d argue is an even bigger undertaking and risk because it’s just as obscure as Guardians possibly surpassing that team of lovable losers who saved the galaxy on two separate occasions as more of an unknown entity.
But in Feige we trust, that’s the saying we all agreed on, right – he hasn’t let us down before, maybe once or twice but overall, the MCU has been a machine turning out win after win for well over a decade. And with a talented director at the helm in Chloe Zhao – who just won best director at the Academy Awards earlier this year, the peace of mind grew stronger.
Eternals is an ambitious undertaking. Almost too ambitious for its own good, barely keeping itself afloat with how much is written into the screenplay by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo. It sounds like too many cooks in the kitchen but the result, what is presented on screen (I can’t recommend the biggest screen enough) is a beautiful work of art that is hard to believe it’s in the same universe as Captain America or Iron Man.
Zhao took the tried-and-true Marvel formula in which the universe has applied to each new installment and thrown it out completely, creating her own template for telling this story. Fear not, the familiar elements are still there, The hero’s journey, the humor, the 3-act structure, and the poor villain with zero motivation for his actions. But Eternals is more than the MCU assembly line – its deeper than we thought an MCU film could be. It’s dense – a word majority of critics have used to describe this film in a shockingly negative consensus. That’s right, Eternals is the first negative rotten tomatoes scored film in the MCU. It was bound to happen eventually, right? Not every film in the MCU will make a billion dollars and have a 90+ critic and audience rating. That’s not possible and its foolish to have those expectations.
No doubt, Eternals is a divisive film, it will divide the fan base and the critics down the middle. And I completely understand both sides perspectives on the matter. That being said – Eternals is a beautifully shot film. It’s a comic book property film told for the cinephile in how deep the film explores the greater universe and its beginnings. Plenty of exposition is laid down to not only introduce 10 characters but the creation of the universe itself and the beings that predate the infinity stones themselves. Not for nothing, but 10 characters to introduce, develop and give a full history on is a lot to expect of audiences to willingly sit through for 157 minutes. We just did this with Dune not too long ago and that film was only part 1 of 3.
A longer runtime isn’t always the answer for a film of this size and scope. Coming in nearly at the Endgame running time, Eternals moves at a turtle’s pace compared to what Joe and Anthony Russo gave the world. It plays like an old Hollywood epic mixed with a Shakespearean tragedy. Well after its seen, depending on how the film left you, it will stick in your subconscious. Many may not want to revisit this film nor think about it immediately after the two post credit scenes (make sure you stay to the very end) but it’s the type of film that will make you think about why we are here, are we alone, what is our purpose. Think of the Alien Franchise and what Ridley Scott attempted with his prequels. Zhao did it better, told the story from a different point of view, the creators (Credit to that mind-blowing revelation goes to producer/online pendant Robert Meyer Burnett).
Starting the film is a Star Wars like crawl that brings the MCU off planet and expanding its boundaries to the creation of the universe. Beings called the Celestials namely Arishem the Judge (voiced by David Kaye) and the created Eternals who are 7,000 years old and have been sent to Earth to watch over humans. The team of Eternals consist of Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Ajak (Salma Hayek), & Thena (Angelina Jolie). The non-Eternal cast include Dane Whitman (Kit Harington) & Karun (Harish Patel).
The cast alone make this a film that needs to be seen with their individual powers and chemistry. For a team that has existed together for thousands of years, their chemistry is spot on and instantly believable. Relationships between one another add to the rich history of these characters. But it’s a lot. The difference between an ensemble cast of talented actors and actresses like Eternals and an Avengers film – each Avenger has been previously introduced and developed. Some characters are hard to form an attachment to as the film truly focuses on a quarter of the Eternals.
Coming off Nomadland, Zhao’s decision to shoot on-location rather than in front of a green screen adds so much depth to the mythology. Seamlessly transitioning between present day and the past going back as far as 5000 B.C. the conflict in staying out of any human conflict is a lot of weight on these ancient beings’ shoulders that gives each character a sense of humanity. They love humans, interfering in any human war is something that will continuously haunt them especially Phastos with his power set of advancing technology.
Everyone, me included wondered why the Eternals never stopped Thanos and that explanation is there. Whether it’s a solid explanation is another thing entirely. Unless Deviants are involved, the Eternals cannot interfere in manmade warfare.
possibly the best aspect of Eternals is the diverse ensemble cast – the most diverse cast in the MCU thus far. Though some characters are given more emphasis than others, the big names like Jolie or Nanjiani find their place within the cast to not steal the spotlight. Lauren Ridloff’s performance steals the show.
I am in awe of Eternals and what director Chloe Zhao was able to accomplish with this film. Her vision is stamped over every frame shot by cinematographer Ben Davis who captures the beauty of the planet the Eternals inhabit. The scope and scale of this film is nothing the MCU has seen before. It’s ambitious, dense and a lot to take in with new obscure characters to be introduced to for the very first time. Its Jack Kirby’s vision brought to life on a big screen. Divisive, yes, this film will not land the same with every single person. In short, its stunning, scored well by Ramin Djawadi and sets up the future MCU on a universe level that some never thought would be possible 12 years ago.
Written By: Chloe Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo
Directed By: Chloe Zhao
Music By: Ramin Djawadi
Cinematography: Ben Davis
Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kit Harrington & Harish Patel
Release Date: November 5, 2021
Running Time: 2 Hours 37 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 48%
My Score: 4 out of 5
Based On: Eternals by Jack Kirby