Review: Eternals

Words by Gerry Otim

Walking into the unknown can be daunting. Especially when you’ve become so accustomed to something for such a long time. Very dramatic, I know. With a Rotten Tomatoes critic’s score of 49%, it ranks as Marvel’s lowest scoring film. Whilst I enjoyed the film and believe the overall critics score is harsh, I can see why this film isn’t to everyone’s taste. 

The Eternals are an unknown quantity to those that aren’t familiar with their backstory from the comic books. Created by the late Jack Kirby, the Eternals are extraterrestrials that hail from the planet Olympia and created by the god-like Celestial Arisham. They are dispatched to earth, led by Salma Hayek’s character Ajak to protect humanity from the barbaric creatures known as Deviants.

The job of depicting the story of the MCU’s first superheroes was handed to Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao. With the assistance of cinematographer Ben Davies, the film is a beautiful visual experience. The use of real life locations provides a naturalistic feel to the film and really differentiates itself from its MCU peers. Whilst, the special effects used really help to accentuate the powers of the Eternals.

Zhao, during the press run for the film, explained why the film was shot on real locations rather than the use of green screen: “We knew that there had to be a level of realism to everything, from action to the Eternals in historic periods. The audience have to actually believe that these immortal aliens have walked the planet for several thousand years. I want the audience to discover their relationship with this planet.” 

During their time on earth, which spans over 7000 years, the Eternals go far and beyond the duty of protection. Through flashbacks, led by Sersi (Gemma Chan) we see the Eternals build relationships with humanity, helping advance their technology whilst under strict guidance from Arisham to not interfere with any human conflict. 

The film has a huge focus on representation, with Marvel not being shy in their intention to push diversity, even if it took the studio 13 years to do so. Phastos, played by Brian Tyree Henry, is the first gay character within the franchise. Makarri (Lauren Ridloff) is an underused Eternal, who is great during the time she is on-screen, plays the MCU’s first deaf character.

Her chemistry with Druig (Barry Keoghan), an Eternal who has the ability to control minds, is teased during the film, but as with most of the Eternals, the film barely scratches the surface of these characters. 

The acting from the main cast is almost faultless throughout, despite how dense and cloudy the film is at times. Richard Madden as Icarus and the most powerful Eternal shines as the loyal and resolute member of the family with a god-like complex. Kingo (Kumali Nanjani) is arguably one of the more interesting characters. Merging the archetypical Marvel humour we’ve come to expect from the franchise, whilst providing poignant moments with his fellow Eternals. Gilgamesh (Don Lee) and Thena (Angelina Jolie) have a brother-sister dynamic. Nonetheless, Jolie feels underused and isolated. For a film that really drew back from being fight scene centric, Jolie should have been afforded more screen time to showcase Thena’s elegant combat style.  Sprite (Lia McHugh) plays the role of the young sibling in the family. 

As with most movies, the villain of the story will make or break the ceiling of a film. Towards the end of the second act, a plot twist may change your perception of who the antagonists of the film really are. 

The biggest weakness of the film is that there are too many characters and not enough time. With there being ten Eternals, it was difficult to really build connections with them as characters. By the time one character’s backstory is introduced, there’s another Eternal to get to know or someone else’s flashback to briefly visit. It’s almost impossible for the film to afford all ten of the Eternals enough screen time to give viewers an opportunity to understand their perspectives. To fully delve into their stories and hence resonate with them as characters. 

The film is a slow burner. Marvel have clearly made an attempt at steering away from their status quo here. The film heavily focuses on interpersonal relationships, poses the characters and in turn the viewers with a range of philosophical and morally encompassed questions. It is largely dialogue heavy and far from what viewers have become accustomed to over the 13 years of watching MCU movies. If you’re here for an action packed, fight scene centric blockbuster, then The Eternals isn’t that. The ending along with the customary mid-credit scene sets up an interesting arc for the sequel and shows there are consequences for the choices that were made. And as per usuals the post credit leaves you in anticipation of what’s to come in the MCU.

★ ★ ★ ½


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