'Eternals' Is a Drag Directed by Chloé Zhao
Starring Gemma Chan, Kit Harington, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Don Lee, Lia McHugh
Published Oct 25, 2021Over the years, the MCU has had excellent luck in teaming up with non-action directors. See: comedy master Taika Waititi's outstanding Thor: Ragnarok, or arthouse director Cate Shoreland's thoroughly enjoyable Black Widow. That's what makes Eternals particularly disappointing, as Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao has come fresh off the mind-blowing Nomadland to make a movie that feels simultaneously overstuffed and hollow.
Similar to those regrettable first couple of Thor movies, Eternals dabbles in silly Greco-Roman mythology without having a sense of humour about it. The Eternals are a group of ancient superheroes who have spent thousands of years protecting humans from monsters called Deviants. It's been a few centuries since they wiped out the last of the Deviants, so they've been living among humans. Sersi (Gemma Chan), is working as a teacher at London's Natural History Museum and dating Dane (Kit Harington), who is weirdly blasé when he learns that his girlfriend is a near-immortal superhero. Her nice life is upended by the arrival of both a new Deviant and her former flame Ikaris (Richard Madden), leading the Eternals to reconvene and learn more about their true purpose on Earth.
There are 10 Eternals, all of whom are new to the MCU, and all of whom have their own powers and backstories. It's way too much character development for one movie — just imagine if we had met all of the Avengers at the same time. It's like the usually patient Marvel is trying to do an entire Phase in a single film. As such, there are long periods of exposition, with repeated flashbacks to past centuries, as characters are introduced and then seemingly forgotten about; in particular, Dane is central to the first few scenes and then disappears for two hours. A few of the Eternals are given almost nothing to do, so I had forgotten a couple of them even existed before they were reintroduced close to the final battle.
Adding to the film's drab tone is the dimly lit cinematography — a strange visual choice that makes a long battle scene in the forest a total drag. Thank goodness for Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, an Eternal who becomes a Bollywood star, and his hilarious manager Karun (Harish Patel), who provide comic relief in a film that desperately needs it. Some epic, cool-looking special effects towards the very end finally add a little bit of the razzle-dazzle otherwise missing from Eternals.
In theory, it's not a bad idea: Eternals aspires to be more than just another action movie, as Zhao takes a ponderous look at human progress and tries to offer more than just laughs and explosions. But even if Eternals takes itself a lot more seriously than most recent Marvel films, it still won't satisfy the gatekeepers of "cinema." Most importantly, it isn't any fun. (Marvel Studios)