Eternals is a masterclass in how to make a superhero movie that breaks all the rules.
It is simply unlike anything the genre has produced with its sweeping cinematography, biting action sequences, and carefully curated humour. The contemporary lens of this cosmic ballad and refusal to let this unfathomably large-scale run amuck creates something more beautiful and intriguing than surface flaws suggest.
It dares to be intelligent in ways previous Marvel movies could never, nurturing a love letter to the superhero manifesto and its more tasteful mythology rather than the blunt force of super soldiers. The typical superhero formula is present, fighting against Chloé Zhao’s efforts to embrace a sleeker aesthetic.
Unfortunately, what makes Eternals‘ unconventional storytelling so enthralling for some is what will ultimately condemn it for many.
That is the issue when a franchise set in its ways chooses to tread new ground with an outlier.
Eternals is not for the current fanbase; it does not initially appeal to the young fans that fell in love with Iron Man all those years ago. It will, however, introduce audiences to something entirely new and whimsical. It will strip the classic Avengers romp of its appeal and rebuild something more emotional and meditative in its place.
Just as this ensemble looks to evolve the genre, audiences will have to be willing to adjust their expectations to enjoy the melancholy addition. For those capable of appreciating this experiment and how it rises above its flaws, the film will leave you with an entirely different kind of child-like wonder.
Not everyone will be willing to accept this blockbuster rule-breaking as groundbreaking. They will find themselves bogged down by the heavy sci-fi lore and off-put by a cast that refuses to fall into the familiar beats of the Avengers banter. Eternals will no doubt become a divided front for moving against the tide, unable to satisfy everyone but also incapable of underwhelming cinema. You may not like what it attempts to do here, but you have to respect this sprawling fantasy’s devotion to delivering on a vision so epic and sure of itself.
This fully formed identity of character-driven worlds and mind-blowing scope suggests Marvel is on the cusp of storytelling that could bring meaningful evolution to the blockbuster format. That is the irony of Eternals. Many of the complaints Marvel movies have generated over the years are touched on here.
The cast is the most diverse and colourful it has ever been, the characters are capable of real emotional growth, and the special effects are stylish. The story boasts heavy but enriching threads, giving this dysfunctional family ample screentime, to the point where the CGI monsters hunting them become fleeting antagonists.
Flawed as Eternals may be for these choices, it breaks from the formula just as we have asked and in delightfully tolerable ways.
Yes, this latest addition to Phase 4 is different, but it is never insufferable.
That is entirely up to this phenomenally casted ensemble. These super-powered aliens are tangible with honest moments of hate and admiration for each other. They share unique connections that are not fueled by stereotypes or restricted to romantic love. It is the most range any Marvel movie has shown to be capable of, and it is what saves this premise from drowning in the dense effects-driven plot like so many movies before it.
The plot is cleverly interwoven into the introductions of this motley crew, allowing for characters to drive the pacing forward. That means a good chunk of the film substitutes out quippy one-liners and external conflict for emotional turmoil, something a blockbuster rarely does. Heartbreak fuels the Eternals struggles and brings an emotional depth to what would otherwise be another project about emotionally-stunted gods.
Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo provides fans with familiar comedic beats, but his observational skills are imperative in narrating subcontext. Gemma Chan’s underdog Sersi is the perfect foil to Richard Madden’s reserved Ikaris. Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari and Barry Keoghan’s Druig defy all expectations, becoming instant favourites thanks to their electrifying chemistry — not to mention Makkari is one of the finest incarnations of a speedster in any superhero film. Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry round out this ensemble with notable performances and first impressions that are not all that they seem.
Yet, it is Ma Dong-seok’s Gilgamesh and Angelina Jolie’s Thena that will take audiences by surprise with one of the most beautiful relationships to be featured in a Marvel film thus far. Their connection is a masterclass in emotional payoff and a prime example of how non-romantic dynamics can be the richest storytelling to explore.
Eternals does not struggle in this grief. Instead, the film embraces its layers of stifling trauma, transforming into a showcase of beauty that compliments the stunning cinematography. This shift leads to many small victories for the story as the conflict builds and this large ensemble is able to survive their anti-climatic boss battle. It helps to lean on the couple who encompass the haunting beauty of this film best — Sersi and Ikaris.
Their love is forever doomed and in that tragedy is a painful beauty. Ikaris was falling in love with Sersi as she was falling in love with the planet, and when faced with an ultimatum, he couldn’t betray that love. The way his eyes flicker and suddenly this very stoic male figure slips into tears is powerful beyond words. Sometimes the best love stories are tragedies, and Eternals seems to understand this all too well.
If you are looking for faults, it is not in this cast. That said, one cannot champion the success of this character study without acknowledging its failures — because these immortal beings are not without their flaws.
This film is leaps and bounds more progressive than other attempts to be inclusive. It does not pander to women as blatantly as other projects, but it considers the female gaze. It allows for cultures to live and breathe in harmony. Yet, to champion it for doing what is expected of most projects these days does not sit right. For the superhero genre, a sex scene and one adorable gay couple is a spectacular start. It is also a cruel reminder of what we have missed out on for too long.
There is more work to be done here if Marvel wants to truly evolve the genre.
Then there is the issue of formula. We can celebrate all the ways this addition to the MCU breaks the rules. Unfortunately, it still clings to the winning (and painfully predictable) superhero format in its crucial moments. The end battle throws in a few exciting curveballs, however, even special effects this gorgeous become tedious to watch when they entirely eclipse the conflict. And once again, the end of the world resolves itself all too easily.
As someone that could care less about the importance of one-note alien antagonists to the over-arching plot, I have to, unfortunately, admit when their absence leaves a glaring plot hole. Marvel loves to throw in these CGI creatures to create conflict for the early acts, and yet, aside from a key reveal in the Eternal lore, these invincible plot tools are the weakest element of this expansive storytelling.
Do any of these issues lead Eternals down a path to becoming the worst movie in Marvel Cinematic Universe history? Not even remotely.
Eternals is a cursed concept from conception. The idea that Marvel would ever successfully take this bloated crew of invincible beings and relate them to an audience willing to suffocate under the dense lore of their property is near impossible. It is the failed Inhumans TV series on a much larger and expensive scale.
On paper, Eternals has terrible odds of producing something worth embracing. However, the choice to have Chloé Zhao at the helm of this project is how this bizarre romp through superhero territory will thrive as a cult film in the coming years. It was a risk to give an independent filmmaker complete creative license to bring this franchise to life. Regardless, Zhao is a risk Marvel will be relieved to have taken.
Despite losing itself in the trappings of the genre at the worst possible times, Zhao’s vision is rock solid, her direction aiming true. The essence of her directing shines in every shot, with familiar themes driving the political undertones of the plot and carefully placed threads carrying through the entire story, presenting a more cohesive front than the non-linear time jumps would suggest.
Even so, as someone that detests bloated space ballads and experimental fantasies, Eternals was always a hesitation.
Like many, I enjoy the Marvel formula for its comforting predictability, and this film is a step outside that comfort zone. It is a step so many of us were sure to regret, yet the film negates these fears by not allowing moviegoers to fend for themselves. The strength of this other-worldly tale lies in the meticulous world-building that refrains from overwhelming its audience with information dumps. The lore operates within a series of calculated plot twists that unravel the backstory at a steady pace; the reserved Madden rears his head as a surprise antagonist for the final act, and the good guys reckon with their villainous roles throughout.
No one could expect to enjoy this polarizing concept less than this critic right here. In return, Eternals demonstrated to hordes of stubborn fans how genres transform without taking away the core values of the hero journey.
The fact is Eternals has the world talking. It is forcing genre veterans to take a step back for the first time in twenty-six films and ponder whether they are willing to embrace new forms of comic-book storytelling. This cosmic divergent is subjective just as art should be and flawed as cinema often is.
Yes, this film’s success suffers under the weight of its dense property at times. It also thrives in the quiet, melancholy suffering of its capable cast. This grander exploration may disappoint audiences for being too different and not different enough, but its accomplishments are too significant to call a failure.
This exploration of grief through the lens of eternal beings gifts fans a change of pace without the risk of it invading campier titles. It offers people on the outside an invitation to see their refined tastes reflected in blockbuster action. For society to finally see this diverse cast of exceptional storytelling vessels reflect the world as we want to know it. Eternals is a flawed experiment years ahead of its industry but, sooner or later, a film has to break the mold and prove superheroes are worthy of deeper, richer cinematic retellings.
Chloé Zhao molded the superhero genre in her image, and when critics dared to say she flew too close to the sun, her trailblazing storytelling persisted.
The End-Credit Scenes:
Who could have predicted Marvel would one day introduce Harry Styles into the MCU? It is a bold casting that understandably has theatres shook as the famous singer-turned-actor pops up at the end of the first credits. Bizarrely enough, Eros comes to life immediately in his presence, and once movie-goers get over the initial shock of this casting, they will find the royal prince of Thanos, brother of Titan, certainly is something to behold.
And in an exciting move, we see the franchise prepare to go medieval with a hint at Kit Harrington’s ominous Black Knight. This final tease is expertly built up through the film and finally comes through as the voice of Mahershala Ali stops Dane from revealing too much. It is a cheeky tidbit that is years away from valuable payoff, but in true Marvel fashion, this end-credit scene is still exceptionally cool.