Tuesday, 9 November 2021

Film Review: Eternals


Marvel's latest movie is a strangely cold and vacant slog that, despite a lot of talent, never clicks together.

Directed by Chloe Zhao (who earlier this year won Best Director for Nomadland, a film that couldn't be more unlike Eternals if it tried), this film is centred around a group of ten alien beings, known as 'Eternals' who were sent to Earth by an all-powerful 'Celestial' being – known as Arishem – to defend the planet from 'Deviants', which are these savage monsters with tendrils that want nothing more than to eat and destroy everything in their path.

The Eternals have guided humanity from their humble beginnings at 5000 BC to modern day, protecting them from Deviants and preserving life as we know it. Each member of the godlike group has a distinct superpower; Ikaris (Richard Madden) can fly and shoot laserbeams from his eyes; Thena (Angelina Jolie) is an elite warrior who can conjure weapons from thin air; Druig (Barry Keoghan) can manipulate the minds of others; Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) can harness cosmic energy using his hands; and so on and so forth.

The closest thing this film has to a protagonist is Sersi (played by the delightful Gemma Chan), who can transform matter using physical touch. After spending centuries working together, the Eternals went their seperate ways and started lives of their own, hiding amongst humanity – until a new Deviant attacks Sersi in London, prompting the group to reform and take them on. 

Eternals is Marvel on a Biblical scale, with onscreen text at the start ("In the beginning...") taking us from Genesis right through to a third-act Revlations populated with apocolyptic doom. The time-skipping narrative weaves its way from Ancient Babylon and Aztec-era Mexico to 1945 Hiroshima. It's vast and cosmic, compelling and confunding in equal measure – easily the most ambitious undertaking for the studio in many moons. 

And yet, unlike in the past, this might be Marvel's first major misfire. Even when they disappoint, entries in Marvel's sprawling universe are at the very least, entertaining. But Eternals is neither entertaining or engaging. Gorgeous, but weighed down by clunky exposition and two-dimensional characters who are akin to cold, lifeless puppets who occasionally drop a cheeky quip or two.

This mix of humour and heart is the tried-and-true Marvel formula, but here it feels...odd. Something about the way the laughs are staged or the characters click together, means that the humour doesn't mesh well with narrative. The second act is burdened with really lengthy and tiresome exposition, as the film strains to cram so much stuff into its already lethargic runtime. With the focus split across so many characters, only one or two feel like interesting people with something definitive about them. 

In many ways, Eternals is everything modern audiences are clamouring for; it's welcoming and inclusive, with actors and characters from diverse backgrounds, with disabilities and of different sexualities. And there's actually some semblance of sexiness too, which is unheard of in Marvel's sexless, product-driven world. Plus, it's made by a celebrated and pioneering filmmaker and largely shot on location (rather than in a studio), in places like the Canary Islands and Camden. 

Which is what makes the end product so disappointing; because despite all that, despite the A-star credits, gorgeous visuals and a soaring score from Ramin Djawadi, this film is just not very good. Simple as that.

Once we arrive at the two seperate post-credit stings that tee up sequels, the lack of energy with what we've just seen and interest in what comes next is evident. 

After Avengers: Endgame, Marvel has pressed on with the next string of stories, launching into its fourth 'phase' – but, aside from a couple of shows on Disney+, nothing has come close to validating that decision, to drum up excitement or anticipation for the future. Granted, I haven't yet seen Shang-Chi – but on the evidence of Black Widow and Eternals, Marvel's latest salvo is seriously lacking. 

The Verdict: 5.5/10

Eternals may look pretty, but this is the first genuine clunker that Marvel has made since, well, The Incredible Hulk. Cold, lifeless and lumbered with a convoluted plot, I can't conjure up much interest in returning to this corner of the Marvel universe for more in the future.

Eternals is in cinemas across Australia now.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't think it was as bad as the critics and audiences thought it was but it had some serious issues in the pacing and getting everyone together. Plus, they could've streamlined some of the exposition and maybe cut 15 minutes of it. I liked the visuals, the cast, and the stakes but it dragged. I think part of the film wanted to be a Marvel film but it also wanted to be an art film of sorts.



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