Marvel Studios continues to expand its cinematic universe with its latest film installment “Eternals,” released on Nov. 5. It is worth saying that I am not a diehard Marvel fan, nor am I a Marvel hater. I love all of the Spider-Man films and I adored the Disney Plus series “WandaVision.” Although, “Eternals” lacked for me what made those so great: charm and creativity.
The film had me rolling my eyes from the start. It efficiently sets up its premise by literally having words on the screen telling you about these space gods called Celestials and how they created the Eternals, which protected life on Earth from the Deviants, which are just big space monsters that are not impressive as far as movie monsters go. They were all big, four legged creatures that were forgettable. Now, the Deviants are back and the Eternals have to join together after a few thousand years apart to defeat them. While I understand that there was a lot of lore to get through in the set up, I am not a fan of directly spelling things out for the viewer. It feels lazy, and it didn’t even work to help me understand why the Eternals exist. I found myself asking, “Why couldn’t the space god have done that?,” throughout the entire movie.
I was also unamused by Marvel’s typical humor and character tropes. The only characters that could make me smile were the silly Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), intelligent Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and loveable Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). The character that is obviously meant to be the young and spunky fan favorite, Sprite (Lia McHugh), I found terribly irritating. The brooding Druig (Barry Keoghan) came off as cruel and unlikeable to me, despite the fact that he’s meant to be a hero. The heart of the film is the relationship between Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden), which I did find beautiful and interesting, but ultimately faltered in its attempt at portraying a complex, romantic relationship between two immortal beings. This is possibly because the characters weren’t written to be interesting enough to support the depth of the relationship they are supposed to have.
While I didn’t enjoy the characters themselves very much, I felt the film was well cast. It is also worth mentioning that the diversity of this cast is amazing, and I hope to see it in future Marvel films. I especially loved that Makkari was a deaf character that communicated using sign language, a first for a Marvel superhero. Marvel was also able to secure two big actresses, Angelina Jolie as Thena and Salma Hayek as Ajak, who did well in their roles but didn’t always seem fully present. In my opinion, there were certain scenes where both actresses seemed either bored or more focused on superhero posing than giving their characters’ depth. Gemma Chan is a mesmerizing lead actress, although her character not being written particularly well definitely dulled her shine. The breakout stars to me are Kumail Nanjiani, Bryan Tyree Henry and Lauren Ridloff, as they managed to give life to the movie in its dullest scenes with their authentic and vibrant performances.
Even though the film lacks in many places, it is visually stunning. Director Chloe Zhao truly has an eye for nature and human connection, and it comes across on the big screen in a moving and beautiful way. Zhao does a wonderful job with the scenes in which the Eternals take part in human cultures: the colors of the fabrics are vibrant, the movement of crops in the wind is peaceful and the smiles on faces as humans build homes or create art are stunning. It all highlights the film’s central theme: humanity is beautiful and worth saving. Ironically, there aren’t enough of these moments to drive that theme home in any meaningful way.
I may not have loved “Eternals” but I do hope that Marvel continues to seek out diversity when casting their storytellers. This hope extends to their crews as well, as Zhao’s direction brought life and color to a franchise that is usually either superficial or dull in its visuals.