Eternals movie review (2021)

Marvel’s latest epic, Eternals, has quite a bit going on and it feels a bit disjointed at times. However, the strong character moments carry it through with absolutely beautiful cinematography and visual effects, along with a promise of something game-changing to come.

The third Marvel Cinematic Universe film to release this year, Eternals, will be out this Friday and I was fortunate enough to catch an early screening of it. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a number of reasons. For one, I absolutely love the MCU and most of the films and TV shows released as a part of it. Of course, some are better than others, but with everything that has been established so far, it’s very challenging not to get excited about all the potential this superhero universe has. With so much happening already, it continues to take it to the next level with new stories and characters. Secondly, Eternals, from the trailers alone, already seemed drastically different to the rest of the MCU. We haven’t seen these characters just yet, but they’ve apparently been around the entire time. The scope of it was also massive and after seeing, it’s definitely true. Having Chloe Zhao at the helm was always an exciting prospect and I knew she was going to bring a distinct flair we haven’t seen just yet. Lastly, it’s simply something new to this universe, and after seeing Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, I’m all for new appearances. I know it seems I’m gloating about Eternals, but it isn’t without its flaws. Let’s get into it.

Marvel’s Eternals follows a group of 10 immortal, supernatural beings who have resided on Earth for centuries. Their sole purpose is to protect the Earth from evil creatures known as Deviants. After allegedly doing away with all the Deviants and going on living their lives, they’re forced to reunite after the Deviants return to stop them for good.

The main aspect I enjoyed about this film is the focus on all the characters. There are quite a few of them to focus on and I wish some were around longer or felt a bit more important to the central plot. Then again, I think the movie did a fine job giving everyone some shine and specific moments where you’re able to enjoy and appreciate them. It’s obvious from the very beginning Gemma Chan’s Sersi is being set up for a huge role in the movie. She may not be the strongest Eternal at first glance, but as you continue to watch, you begin to notice how critical she is in the movie and how her powers may be what makes the difference. She’ll definitely be a fan favorite.

The strongest is Ikaris (Richard Madden). I like to think of him as Superman without the cape. He can fly and shoots powerful laser beams out of his eyes. I would assume he also has super speed and strength as well. Kumail Nanjiani is the obvious comedic relief as Kingo. He’s mostly funny in everything he does and this is no different. His powers are also pretty unique, projecting cosmic energy out of his fingers. There are some DragonBall Z Kamehameha and Street Fighter Hadouken vibes when he charges the energy up and shoots powerful cosmic balls at enemies.

Sprite (Lia McHugh) is an “old soul,” as McHugh says, living in a child’s body. She can project illusions and it reminded me of some of the spells we’ve seen Doctor Strange use. Bryan Tyree Henry’s Phastos is, in essence, a genius, and as you watch along, you’ll see how he’s influenced the advancement of the technological advancements and creations among humans with a variety of his inventions. Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) possesses super-speed and is also deaf. She ended up being one of my favorite characters because of her interactions with everyone else. I also enjoyed how the film used her super-speed powers in comparison with other movies I’ve seen.

One character I feel will go a bit underrated, unfortunately is Druig (Barry Keoghan). He might be my favorite Eternal. He can manipulate the minds of others, which is an awesome feat, but what I enjoyed the most about him is his humanity. Despite being able to do what he does, he never takes advantage of it in a malicious way. He’s always thinking of the greater good. Gilgamesh (Don Lee) is incredibly charismatic and likable as well. He’s the strongest Eternal and his punches contain insane power. Despite being so strong and intimidating, he’s more like a big teddy bear. Thena (Angelina Jolie) can make any weapon out of cosmic energy. She mostly only made spears and swords, but she’s an extremely skilled fighter. There’s an interesting dynamic in the film with her, but I won’t spoil it.

The last Eternal is Salma Hayek’s Ajak. She’s the leader who possesses healing abilities, but is also the only connection the rest of the team has to their creator, the Celestial Arishem. I spent quite a bit of time speaking about the main characters simply because this is the highlight of the movie. As much as there are, as mentioned, each of the Eternals have somewhat of a backstory and, in a way, as a viewer, you get a sneak peek into their lives outside of killing Deviants. Other characters include Kit Harington’s Dane Whitman. Harington is very likable in mostly everything he does, and this is no different. Sadly, he doesn’t get much to do here, even though his future in the MCU is promising, to say the least. Kingo’s manager, Karun (Harish Patel), is also great. Much like Kingo, he’s very funny in most of the scenes he’s in and, in many ways, felt part of the team despite being a regular human being.

Overall, the characters are the best part of the movie, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot, almost too much, going on. With so many characters comes a handful of stories to tell. The film tries to touch on a variety of plots points and although most of them do work, others are bit cringe and unnecessary at times. I understand the Eternals have lived throughout most of the Earth’s documented history and sometimes, when they visited specific events in history in the film, it was cool to see. Other times, however, it didn’t feel like much of a fit. In that regard, it may have tried a bit too hard to showcase just how involved some of these characters were with historical moments we’ve grown up learning about and I’m starting to believe the movie would’ve been better off without some of these scenes.

Because of this, the pacing is a bit choppy at times, especially when it cuts back and forth between moments in the past and present day situations. It can all feel a bit jarring when in reality, it could’ve been much smoother. It didn’t have to try and explain every single detail and, like in many other films, not everything needs a dedicated backstory. Sure, some do, and the ones that do work, but some were placed more for exposition rather than substance, which is a bit disappointing. Granted, Eternals is large in scope and full of phenomenal ideas filled with potential. It doesn’t mean to get carried away with it all either. Sometimes, simplicity in the middle of grandness pays dividends when trying to tell a story with so many factors.

At times, it’s hard to tell where it fits in the overall MCU as well. Obviously, they’ve been around throughout everything that has happened in the other films and series, and other than pointing out some important events and characters (Thanos’ snap, Iron Man, Captain America, etc.), the film never alludes to knowing about everything else going on. They more than likely know already, but isn’t like they’ll interfere with most of the human interactions since Deviants aren’t involved. Now, unless Thanos doesn’t have a Deviant gene, which, in the comics, explains why he looks a bit different, then why didn’t they help in the fight against Thanos? I guess the film pretty much confirms that plot point, which is Thanos not having a Deviant gene, but still. Getting back on topic, with everything else going on, such as Wanda officially becoming the Scarlet Witch and using chaos magic, Doctor Strange casting the spell in the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home, and all of the events with He Who Remains in Loki, now we’re throwing the events of Eternals into it all. I don’t want to spoil everything, but if you’ve been following along with the Disney+ shows, you know there’s a drastic change of power coming to the MCU. Now, the Celestials are in the mix, which are practically gods, and are they under the influence of He Who Remains and the Sacred Timeline, according to the events of Loki? It can be hard to believe considering they’re supernaturally over-powered cosmic beings responsible for the creation of new worlds and life across the galaxy, but who knows? It’s so much to process and I’m sure everything will be explained in due time. It’s hard not to get caught up in it all, however.

As for the villain problems, I do think it isn’t as bad as some other MCU movies, but I found it hard to find a convincing villain in Eternals due to so many factors. In reality, without revealing too much, there are multiple villains in this movie, and sometimes it works, but it also doesn’t. For example, the main Deviant, who you’ll learn of and understand more when you watch the movie, is a bit disappointing in the end. I expected so much more and the trailer led you to believe he’d have a much bigger role. That isn’t the case, unfortunately. Granted, the Deviants are a species of creatures and most of them, at the start, seem like just another set of vicious apex predators. But, there’s one in specific, which is the one I’m referring to above, who starts to become aware and sentient like humans. There was more potential to use this character, I feel. I may be the only one who feels this way about the Deviants, but it’s a missed opportunity. As for the other villains, I’ll let you decide since there are still more films with these characters to come, and my opinion can change moving forward.

Despite the flaws and the confusion it can cause, it doesn’t mean the Eternals doesn’t work. I still think it works in telling a coherent story at the end of the day. It can get mixed and skewed throughout with all the bases it’s trying to cover, but at the end of the day, you do begin to understand it once everything begins to unravel. The cinematography is breathtaking and the use of practical effects is immediately evident. When you see what Zhao was able to do with Nomadland, seeing the scenery and camera work in Eternals isn’t very surprising. The special and visual effects are outstanding as well. There aren’t many points in the movie, if any, where I thought the CGI was poorly done. One thing for sure, this movie is very pleasing to the eyes. Throw in some great action scenes where every character utilizes their unique abilities in different ways and you’re in for entertaining fighting sequences.

Eternals is fine as a standalone movie and it only pushes the overall narrative of the MCU further. The storylines to come, along with the exciting character introductions, only make being a fan of this entire cinematic spectacle so worth it. It’s not my favorite MCU movie by any stretch, but it gets plenty right and remains enjoyable and entertaining throughout all the annoyances. I hope to see more of these characters in the future, which I’m sure I will, because they’re going to be needed with whatever is about to happen.

P.S. Stay for the two post-credits scenes, but if you’re truly a Marvel fan, I shouldn’t have to say it.

Score: B

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