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Derrick Dunn

An Eternal let down of a movie

Fresh off her Oscar win for Nomadland, director Chloé Zhao takes a journey into the world of superheroes with Marvel Studios Eternals.   Following the events of “Avengers: Endgame,” an unexpected tragedy forces them out of the shadows to reunite against humanity’s most ancient enemy, The Deviants. The Eternals include Ikaris (Richard Madden), an all-powerful being who can fly and project cosmic energy beams from his eyes, and the emphatic and humankind-loving Sersi (Gemma Chan) who can manipulate inanimate matter.  


Other Eternals include Cosmic powered Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), super-fast Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), intelligent inventor Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), eternally young, old-soul Sprite (Lia McHugh ), mighty Gilgamesh (Don Lee), and aloof loner Durig (Barry Keoghan). Veteran talents fill the remaining team member slots.  Salma Hayek portrays the wise and spiritual leader Ajak and Angelina Jolie as the fierce warrior Thena. Kit Harington, in the role of Dane Whitman, is the only human character worth mentioning.


Jack Kirby created Eternals in 1976, where the series ran limitedly in ongoing and limited format months at a time. Over the next forty-five years, Eternals would have five volumes and a total of fifty-one issues. In hindsight, Eternals is one of the lesser-known Marvel properties. So it was a massive surprise in the spring of 2018 when Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced the series would be a feature in the slate of Phase Four films. In comparison, Marvel Studios had a massive hit with an obscure title in 2014 with a little movie called Guardians of the Galaxy. Sadly Eternals has the distinction of falling into the category of weaker Marvel films.


I’ll start with the positive, which is the casting. While I didn’t fully connect with the ensemble, everyone does get a moment to shine. Chloé Zhao, who wrote the screenplay with Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo, did succeed in fleshing out the characters and tapping into the various personalities of the ensemble. Regret, brashness, nurturing, and humility are just some of the things that the script explores.  Humanity is also a big part of the film, as we get our first love scene between two heterosexual characters. 

In addition, as reported earlier, Phastos, portrayed by Brian Tyree Henry, is the first superhero to be depicted as gay in an MCU film. However, the handling of the character is organic and natural, and audiences shouldn’t have anything to complain about. I did find Henry’s acting to be the strongest, and his character was my favorite, as he uses brains instead of brawn.


I also liked Gemma Chan’s portrayal of Sersi as she keeps the character grounded and never comes off as forced. Barry Keoghan and Don Lee are also impressive in the roles of Drug and Gilgamesh, tapping into the strengths we’ve seen them display previously. Familiarity does affect two principal parts in the film, however.  Richard Madden’s Ikaris has an arc that even a novice Marvel fan will figure out where it’s going. In comparison, Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo serves as the film’s comic relief. Initial reports had Nanjiani bulking up, so I expected something different with his performance. Concurrently, Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek could do these roles in their sleep.


The biggest issue with Eternals is the film’s running time.  The movie clocks in at over 2 ½ hours and there were a few moments in the movie I dozed off. Given the scope of the project, it’s clear that the studio gave Chloé Zhao free reign. A lot of her standard exposition shots are present in the film, in addition to the long-winded dialogue. There are spurts of action in the movie, and the effects are impressive when it happens, but overall for me, Eternals lacked that Marvel magic.


Furthermore, outside of a few lines of dialogue for fan service, Eternals is a standalone film. I didn’t notice anything that connects the film to the much superior Shan-Chi from this past fall. Eternals isn’t the worst film of 2021, but it is one of the weaker ones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, falling in line with the second Thor and the Iron Man films. 


While I do respect the ambitious choices the film tries to go for, a limited series may have fared better than a traditional feature


Final Grade: C-

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