The Marvel Cinematic Universe is officially a teenager. After years of rousing, epic, individualized superhero stories, the MCU is finally ready to take a big step and try something new: taking real risks, hoping to yield worthwhile results. The outcome is a mixed bag that is Eternals.
Eternals takes place over seven thousand years, splitting its time between the past and the present as its ten titular immortals carry out their mission on Earth: to rid the planet of the monstrous Deviants. They’re led by Ajak (Salma Hayek), and to be completely honest, it would take an entire article to discuss each and every character the film focuses on. Unfortunately, not everyone gets the spotlight they deserve — such is the downside with large ensemble casts.
Not to mention that visual master (and recent Oscar winner) Chloé Zhao has taken the reins, and given a fair amount of creative control. It’s written all over Eternals, a much more restrained and meditative MCU film. It still has the expected amount of superhero action, but this time there’s a lot more in between, giving time to flesh out the central characters around the latest world-ending threat. Zhao’s direction also incorporates her fantastic visual style, which is part of what makes Eternals’ (very) long runtime more bearable — here, every frame is a painting.
The core group of Eternals that we follow for the majority of the film is led by Sersi (played by Gemma Chan, in her second MCU role after Captain Marvel), and features Ikaris (Richard Madden), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) and Sprite (Lia McHugh), among others. Each has their own power, gifted to them by the Celestial Arishem (voiced by David Kaye), who initially sent them on their mission to Earth.
While elements present here have popped up in the MCU before, Eternals is different and unique, which is what the Marvel Cinematic Universe desperately needs. This isn’t to say that their films were getting bad, but keeping a franchise fresh is a difficult task, especially one that has gone on this long. It’s for this reason that Eternals won’t satisfy everyone, both those hoping for a traditional Marvel movie and those hoping for something drastically different. Marvel’s quest to satisfy its entire audience is unfortunately not wholly successful, and I don’t believe it will be for quite a while.
That said, I appreciate what Eternals set out to do. It burdens the task of balancing traditional and recognizable Marvel elements with more artistic sensibilities. In fact, the most “Marvel-y” part of Eternals is probably the quips and very intentionally-focused humor, and even that feels somewhat out-of-place here. Ideally, this is the dawn of a new era in the MCU that isn’t as hesitant to take chances. Eternals has lots of implications for the larger, intergalactic Marvel universe, and I hope that this is a road destined to be explored further. We wouldn’t want the franchise to tire itself out without trying some new things, even if they’re not all one hundred percent successful. [Grade: A-]
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writers: Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo
Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry
Rated: PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, some language and brief sexuality
Fun Fact: Eternals is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film since Doctor Strange to not feature previously-established characters.
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