October 29th, 2021
STARRING: SALMA HAYEK, GEMMA CHAN, RICHARD MADDEN, ANGELINA JOLIE, KUMAIL NANJIANI
DIRECTED BY: CHLOE ZHAO
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
I’m incredibly conflicted in my thoughts about Chloe Zhao’s Eternals, the newest cosmic comic book installation, into the ever expanding Marvel cinematic universe. On the surface and underneath, it is a movie that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before, and in the world of superhero cinema, it often only takes a few steps in a different direction in order to separate yourself from the pack. That is what Zhao has done, creating a film that is in her style of narrative, with an all-star cast of actors on hand, and still capturing her signature cinematography on site, expanding beyond endless galactic lands. It all amounts to a collection of super-human characters, trying to win the battle against monster beasts, in hopes to provide eternal protection in the world. Along with Loki and Shang-Chi recently, the major goal and mounting powers in the MCU are growing to massive size, sometimes gorgeous to look at, but resulting in more disappointment than Eternal bliss. Eternals is ambitious in scope and hollow in the core.
The team is made up of ten characters, Ajak (Salma Hayek) the wise, a healing power leader, Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) shooting bolts of fire from his hands, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) the creator of inventions beyond comprehension, Sprite (Lia McHugh) a child-like women of multiplying wonders, Thena (Angelina Jolie) the powerful fighting warrior, Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) super speed that makes your head spin, Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok) the man with powerful fighting fists, and Druig (Barry Keoghan) with the mind capacity to control anyone. The two main characters that the screenplay- written by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan and Kaz Firpo- decide to focus on is Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden), both connected for centuries with one another, her with ability to change all matter, and him flying and shooting lasers from his eyes. This team has been together for centuries, since the dawn of time, sent by the creator Arishem to defeat celestial beasts known as Deviants. Only their protection has rules to not become involved in the ways of humanity, but when a new batch of Deviants has arrived in the present day, something has awoken, and now the Eternals must band together to do what they do best- protect the planet.
When I spell it out a bit more Eternals seems to make more sense, but when sitting in the theater there’s a lot to take in. The massive scale of the story is almost ripe for the director of Nomadland to take on, using her style of taking large landscapes as the background setting, held up against people who feel lost and alone. Unlike the independent film style her earlier work benefited from, the massive scale of Eternals, along with a large cast lacking in any true chemistry, this production never finds a way to gel. There’s never a single performance that finds a groove, with Nanjiani and Tyree Henry used as the comic relief, dropping lines that only evoke “huh’s” and “hee’s”, while Chan and Madden desperately attempt to suck out a romance that can never blossom. Even Hayek and Jolie feel placed in the back seat, where their characters are neutralized, more than set free. When the monsters arrive to fight they’re not fearsome beasts, but more CGI concoctions that have little design to separate them from any other threat in a Marvel movie.
In many ways Eternals is not a Chloe Zhao problem as much as it is an MCU problem. After the lights came back on my first thought was that this is where comic book movies have “jumped the shark”. The goal of Kevin Feige and co. continues to be cinema domination, expanding the rolodex of characters that will allow them to criss-cross stories and Disney plus shows, but at what cost? The cost for Disney is a pile of money. For the art of cinema it’s a never ending stream of movies that become increasingly boring and pointless. The stakes in Eternals are set up as the disintegration of the universe as we know it and not for a single minute is there a genuine threat. It’s not that I’m spoiling the ending, where audiences will flood the theaters and see what it’s all about anyway, but our heroes rarely lose. For Eternals it is the peak of that problem. The cinematography is beautiful in moments and the characters all have unique powers- something Marvel-Disney will do all over again with X-Men soon- but what they never are is interesting. Were it not for Zhao trying to inject more reality into the superhuman beings, Eternals would be a big flop.
That’s not to say I am entirely down on Eternals, especially because this is still Marvel trying a different narrative style, a different approach to a story that wants to inspect the internal conflicts of beings that have lived forever. That’s not been done enough and Zhao is an auteur that desperately injects her way of filmmaking. It’s all still not enough, where the ending becomes a large-scale battle, complete with CGI fighting, and post-credit sequences that are supposed to mean something greater for the future, negating everything we watched before them. Eternals may be a movie worthy of a second look as time goes on, but for now this is a movie that’s better left in the past.
ETERNALS IS IN THEATERS FRIDAY NOVEMBER 5TH, 2021
Written by: Leo Brady