Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao crafts a divisive superhero epic unlike anything previously seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for better and for worse.
The film tells the story of the Eternals, a group of 10 immortals sent to Earth millennia ago to protect humanity from the monstrous Deviants. Directed not to interfere in any human conflicts unless Deviants are involved, the Eternals wrestle with these orders of neutrality as a world-ending threat emerges and a newfound secret begins to tear their team apart.
“Eternals” has polarized fans with some audiences lauding it as one of Marvel’s best, and others claiming it’s the worst film they have ever put out. Notably, the film currently has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of any MCU film and was the first to be labeled rotten on the site.
Personally, I’m pretty conflicted too.
I found so much to love, but the execution was far from perfect. It’s an ambitious movie to a fault, forging uncharted territory while still clinging desperately to the tried and true MCU tropes.
Just explaining the plot, especially spoiler-free, is a difficult task due to its gargantuan scope. The story is told non-linearly, cutting between the present and various points throughout human history. It's stuffed with juicy lore accompanied by frequent exposition dumps and sprinkled with many twists and turns along the way.
Beyond just an epic scale, the story tries to dig deeper than previous Marvel films, delving into all kinds of philosophical and morally complex questions. Sadly, there just isn’t enough runtime to fully explore them, and the movie winds up feeling overstuffed as evidenced by an unnecessary villain subplot that probably should have been saved for a sequel.
On the positive side, the film is anchored by an investing, on-again, off-again romance between Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) who propel us on a classic get-the-band-back-together trek across the country. Along this journey, we’re introduced to the other Eternals played brilliantly by a whole host of Hollywood A-listers like Angelina Jolie, Selma Hayek and Kumail Nanjiani.
“Eternals” continues MCU’s trend of telling character centric stories. While it would be nearly impossible to fully flesh out all 10 Eternals, the film does its best to give each of them a unique personality, world view and character arc. My personal favorite of the bunch was the lovable brute Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok) and his heartwarming, unconditional love for Thena (Jolie).
Two other standout emotional arcs were Phastos’ (Brian Tyree Henry) rediscovery of the good in humanity through his husband and son and Ikaris’ struggle with the burden of knowledge and his Superman-esque persona. The actions and internal conflicts of these characters grounded the film’s fantastical story and kept me riveted from start to finish.
“Eternals” also stands out from a visual perspective not only in its depiction of breath-taking, otherworldly beings and stunning action sequences but also in its approach to quiet, down to earth scenes. Zhao’s affinity for practical locations and natural lighting bring a necessary feeling of intimacy and humanity to a story with characters that could otherwise feel alien.
In the end, there’s so much I love about this movie despite the imperfections. It’s got all the humor and action an MCU fan wants all while trying to reach for more. I walked out of the theater conflicted, but I haven’t stopped thinking about the movie, and honestly, I much prefer this love/hate feeling to the indifference I had walking out of the enjoyable but disposable “Black Widow.”
“Eternals” made me care. It got me invested in a new set of characters, captivated me with a morally complex story, and expanded the world of the MCU tenfold. I have a feeling this is one I’ll revisit often in the coming years.