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Review: 'Eternals' (2021) Dir. Chloé Zhao

Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Don Lee, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani, Kit Harington and Bill Skarsgård,

 

The debut for lesser-known Marvel heroes Eternals, this is brought to screen by an Oscar winning cast and crew to help continue the wider MCU journey with new heroes and villains...


For thousands of years, a group of immortal superheroes called Eternals have protected Earth under the leadership of Ajak (Hayek), battling a dangerous species of intergalactic beasts known as Deviants.


A time progresses and the group find themselves divided by clashes of opinion in how to let mankind evolve, they are brought back together in the present day when a Deviant appears on Earth and they must fight back.


In an attempt to seek out the remaining Eternals, warriors Sersi (Chan), Sprite (McHugh) and Ikaris (Madden) must unite and bring the heroes back together to fight a new evil and protect Earth - and the galaxy - from total devastation...

26 films in and the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows no signs of stopping, even with the culmination of a decades worth of story in Avengers: Endgame. We have the evolution of old heroes and the introduction of new for Phase 4 in the MCU, and following Shang-Chi, we now have Eternals. The Eternals are a ten-strong group of immortals who each have their own unique powers including super strength, super speed, matter manipulation, fight and telekinesis. While the display of superpowers are nothing new in these films, it's the characters who embody them that help define the success of each chapter. New stories and characters need to be injected into the MCU in order to keep the world building fresh and interesting, but using one of the lesser known (and lesser successful) of the Marvel properties is a risky move when it's harder to impress audiences so used to the quality expected from Marvel.


With Hollywood veterans Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie leading the pack of heroes, fresh blood to the industry such as Gemma Chan, Richard Madden and Lauren Ridloff populate the rest. It's tricky enough to balance the screentime for a handful of new heroes, but for ten, it takes something special. Sadly the relationships we are introduced to feel forced and flat; there is something missing between them. The film really belongs to Chan and Madden, and some of the talent just feels wasted like Jolie's Thena who doesn't get much chance to shine or lead as she could. But kudos to Marvel for finally observing their first gay character in Brian Tyree Henry.


The development is non existent and instead we some heroes pining for love, some heroes trying to work out just what they are fighting for and others there for ineffective comedic relief - looking at you Kumail Nanjiani.


These many character arcs feel both rushed and undercooked, going back and forward with relationships and morals. These morals could be more effective for a later film when we can actually try and care what happens to these characters. Right now, it's hard to do just that.

Thanks to Madden's Ikaris being pretty much the Marvel interpretation of Superman, there's a little cheeky hint an hour in that perhaps the Man Of Steel himself exists within the MCU? Cue the fan theories.

Oscar winning director Chloé Zhao also co-writes this story, and it's clear there is a indecision which way to take this. On one hand we have numerous nods and references to the wider MCU with fantastical CGI action, but there's also a strong empathic narrative that reflects on humanity, the ability to evolve and grow, and relationships away from being a hero.


While Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings used a wealth of Eastern culture to offer something new to the MCU with characters, motives and themes, there is little of that here. There is nothing that captivates or conjures any sense of myth and wonder, bar fleeting hits at Gods of the ancient world through CGI heavy flashbacks. In fact, there are so many flashbacks, it's forgivable to lose track of where we are and who is doing what and when. It's back to fighting CGI beasts across CGI landscapes, especially in the third and final act of world-saving confrontation.


It's interesting to question if audiences now want that CGI excess, or if recent films are starting to give us something more exciting and immersive with minimal action, but more intense and on a personal scale without much grandeur.


That being said, the shots do look good with a mix of real locations and enhanced visuals, showing that Zhao is trying hard to give us something a little more beautiful to look at amidst the chaos. It's nice to see a blend of old and new cultures combine to bridge the ancient worlds with the modern.

One of the longest Marvel films to date makes this a slog, especially for such an underwhelming origin to so many heroes, villains and plot points. There is far too much talk about the worlds that have come before, the intergalactic villains and their history, the motives of Eternals and their Gods...while superhero exposition is fun and fantastical in the right dose, the balance here to exciting action and adventure is way off and it sags beneath the weight of what it sets out to do. Even the score and general film-making process is lacking real imagination or difference, which is a shame for a film boasting so much power and talent in front of and behind the camera.

Not even Marvel can have a flawless run of untouchable films. 'Eternals' is too busy with flat characters and exposition that swamps an over-long story. It tries to be different, but it didn't need to try so painfully hard.





'Eternals' is a Marvel Studios production


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