In 2018, Kevin Feige confirmed that an Eternals movie was being developed as part of their Phase 4 collection. He claimed that it would explore the ancient sci-fi part of the MCU that previous films haven’t covered. Chloe Zhao, who expressed interest to direct Black Widow and best known for her multiple award-winning film Nomadland (2020), was slated to direct. With an Academy Award winning director in charge, and an interesting angle, nothing could go wrong, right?
The film begins by explaining that 10 super powered individuals—Sersi (played by Gemma Chan), Ikaris (played by Richard Madden), Sprite (played by Lia McHugh), Gilgamesh (played by Don Lee), Kingo (played by Kumail Nanjiani), Phastos (played by Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (played by Lauren Ridloff), Druig (played by Barry Keoghan), Thena (played by Angelina Jolie) and their leader, Ajak (played by Salma Hayek)—and their mission to help other worlds advance to the pinnacle of their civilization. To do this, they must protect humanity from an invasive species known as the Deviants. They lived with humanity throughout history, and learned each of their various cultures, with Sersi and Ikaris even getting married in a traditional Babylonian wedding. While they helped humanity improve, they were instructed to never interfere in human conflicts. However, as human conflict escalated, Druig wishes to use his mind control powers to end all fighting. When the other Eternals disagree with him, he goes off on his own.
We then cut to the present, where Sersi and Sprite are living in London with Sersi’s boyfriend Dane Whitman (played by Kit Harrington). One night, they are attacked by a Deviant named Kro who could regenerate from his wounds. Ikaris appears to help them, and Kro escapes. Sersi, Sprite, and Ikaris decide to meet up with Ajak and the other Eternals. However, when they arrive at Ajak’s residence, they find her dead. Ajak’s pendent then chooses Sersi as the new leader of the Eternals as the trio continue to find the others all while being tracked by Kro.
This film has one of the most gorgeous cinematography I’ve seen in any Marvel film. Chloe Zhao uses a lot of wide shots to establish not only location, but also to add insight into what the characters are thinking while increasing the emotional weight of a scene. She really encapsulates the phrase “show don’t tell”, using lighting and color timing to bring the most potential out of a scene. Additionally, I really liked Gemma Chan’s performance in this film. She approached the role of Sersi as an empathic, yet resolute. She was one of the Eternals who truly developed a love for humanity and didn’t seek to control them in any way. Gemma Chan truly brought this character to life and I hope we get to see more of her in the future of the MCU.
The other Eternals are a relatively mixed bag so to say. Phastos was interesting as a character who gave up on humanity after realizing they used his scientific inventions for ill will. I also liked his family dynamic with his husband and son. Kingo was used as a mostly comic-relief character, who gave a few laughs but didn’t do anything in the third act due to agreeing with Ikaris’s goal of awakening another Celestial through Earth. Speaking of Ikaris, I knew he would turn bad just by observing how the trailers framed him. Sprite was supposed to be the one Eternal who never had the chance to really live as a human, however, I personally found her a bit annoying. Thena and Makkari were badass and had interesting stories, but their characters were under-utilized compared to the other Eternals, which is a shame.
Now onto the bad. First off, the pacing is everywhere. The first act was really slow, consisting mostly of flashbacks. The second and third act of the film suddenly tries to rush things to wrap up the story. The pacing was a complaint that I had with Chloe Zhao’s other film, 2020’s Nomadland. In Nomadland (2020), I didn’t know who to focus on, and what direction the story was going. Despite the gorgeous visuals and spectacular cinematography, I found myself yawning and almost dozing off several times throughout the film.
I honestly think that Marvel’s Eternals (2021) would be better off having a part 1 and 2, rather than trying to cram all the story into one film. You can have the first part showing the Eternals going through history and learning about other cultures and getting to truly know and understand people and have the second part revolve around their present day lives and how they’ve changed. That way, we can get to better know the characters and understand their plights. While we do meet two humans, Dane Whitman and Kingo’s valet, Karun (played by Harish Patel), they are only featured for a few minutes, and either add nothing to the plot in the case of Dane, or were only used for comedic purposes, as in Karun’s case.
Secondly, the goal of the Celestials made no sense. Why bring the other world to the pinnacle of civilization if you’re just going to destroy them all? Arishem, the Celestial that was communicating with Ajak and later Sersi, explained that he created the Deviants to ensure the development of life, but then they got too unruly, so he sent the Eternals to take them out. Then he explained that Earth has become too populated, which will awaken the Celestial Tiamut. Honestly, Arishem sounds like a discount Thanos knock-off with his speech of overpopulation.
Another thing I would like to mention was that this film had WAY too many villains. There’s Kro the Deviant, the Celestial Tiamut (and Arishem for that matter), and Ikaris. Why not just stick with Kro as the main villain while sowing the seeds for Ikaris’s betrayal for the potential sequel? He was the one who made them question their goal of helping humanity by wiping out the Deviants. It would have been a lot less congested. Instead, he was killed off with no second thought.
Upon release, Marvel’s Eternals (2021) was banned in several countries, including China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar for its inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters, namely Phastos and his husband. Due to China being a huge hotspot for ticket sales, there was concern whether they would cut out the romance between Phastos and his husband. Several actors, including Angelina Jolie, stated that they were happy that Marvel chose to keep the scenes in, not bending to the will of their critics. Personally, I don’t care about a character’s sexual orientation, as long as it’s naturally done, which in Phastos’s case, it is.
Overall, my feelings towards Marvel’s Eternals (2021) are very mixed. On one hand, I loved the epic cinematography, the film’s uniqueness, gorgeous visuals, and main cast. However, the pacing and plot convenience was unbearable at times. If the film were better paced, I think it would be one of the best films in the MCU. I would say my thoughts for this film are the same as my thoughts for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (2013). Both films have lots of promise and got me interested in the stories of their respective characters, but ultimately fell flat in their execution. Hopefully, Marvel won’t make the same mistakes in their future films as they did in this one.