It’s funny; I swear I’ve been saying for years that I want my DC movies to feel more like the MCU. What the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest offering, Eternals, gives us instead is an MCU movie that feels like it would have been more at home in the recent DC filmography.
Which is to say that I was not a particularly big fan of this entry, especially on the heels of the FANTASTIC Shang-Chi. This is an enormous step down from that effort. Let’s just… let’s just get right into it.
Eternals clocks in at a whopping THE REST OF YOUR NATURAL LIFE (that’s only how it feels, though; the actual running time is 2:37), and boy, just… SO MUCH OF THAT could have been cut. There is a Snyder-esque level of self-indulgence at work here in this movie. The first act in particular is borderline insufferable with its constant irrelevant flashbacks to ancient history on Earth. You could have done with one or MAYBE two of these; Eternals gives you at least four or five I can think of off the top of my head. We get it; The Eternals were fighting Deviants for, like, a LONG TIME across all the continents. Move along, movie.
I will confess that, to the movie’s credit, it gets better as it goes. The second act is much more engaging and entertaining than the first. And while the climactic act has flaws, at least the action is pretty breathtaking.
While Marvel has been quite good at meting out characters so viewers can get attached slowly–you get several movies before The Avengers united, and even in Guardians of the Galaxy, you get to know the heroes in batches–Eternals basically throws an entire team at you right away and wants you to keep up. I was over halfway through the movie before I knew everyone’s names. And really? I’m not sure I actually still do know all their names. Let’s see!
Ikarus, Sersei, Thena, Ajak, Sprite, Makkari, Kingo, Druig, and… Phastos? Fostos? Something like that. Did I miss any? Oh, Gilgamesh! That’s TEN CHARACTERS! And it’s not like these are the X-Men. Even dedicated comic fans aren’t particularly up on The Eternals, a comic team with sporadic appearances at best. What are you doing, movie?!
We also get Dane Whitman as an eleventh named hero, but he’s mostly elsewhere here.
All right… let’s get into the story for a bit. SPOILERS BELOW, and if you wish to skip those, move ahead to after the second image from the movie!
The Eternals is about a team of ageless warriors who were sent to Earth by Arishem of the Celestials. Their purpose is to help Earth grow by fighting off the Deviants, a monster race who just want to eat people.
We get (again: far too many) flashbacks to some of The Eternals’ acts throughout history, culminating with their defeat of the final Deviants among the fall of the Aztecs in the 1500’s. Coinciding with that victory, The Eternals come to a massive disagreement about their purpose on Earth and separate.
In the present day, two of the group (Sersei and Sprite) are attacked by a more powerful Deviant than they’d ever met before while hanging out with Dane Whitman. And CAN I JUST SAY that I used to joke that by MCU Phase Seven, I’d get my early-90’s Avengers team of Black Knight, Sersei, Crystal, White Vision, Hercules, Black Widow, and Eric Masterson, and that might be shaping up way sooner than I anticipated. I’m not going to lie; I was tickled as hell at seeing Whitman and Sersei together. I almost shouted out “PUT THEM IN BOMBER JACKETS!” at the IMAX screen.
Ikaraus shows up to save the day, and from there we finally get the mini-reset to let the viewers get to know the characters by reintroducing them slowly. Ajak is dead. Thena is with Gilgamesh because she had started to develop Madweary–a form of Warrior’s Madness, if you will. Kingo is a Bollywood star. Makarri is just chilling in their old ship. Phastos has a family. Druig has a commune in South America.
Is that everyone? Again… so many Eternals!
They fight some returned Deviants. Blah blah blah. The movie is just killing a LOT of time before it’s two-fold reveal. First, the purpose of The Eternals is to keep life going on Earth until the population is big enough that the Celestial baby, Tiamut, who is incubating within the world, can “hatch”. The Eternals have done this across the universe for millions of years, “protecting” planets just so a Celestial can awaken and destroy it.
The second reveal is that Ajak knew their true mission and history and was starting to disagree with it, whereupon Ikarus killed her. From there, you get that old familiar feeling from any movie with a heel turn where you start thinking of everything that happened prior to it and think “Well, why would Ikarus have done THAT then?”. He actively sets up his own failure when all he had to do–even if he loved his family enough to not want them to die–was just mislead them and throw them off the real trail. He just had to stall them A WEEK.
From there, we get probably the most interesting premise of the movie: The Eternals struggling with whether it is better to save Earth or let Tiamut hatch so he can then go create other worlds (celestials create suns and therefore, life). Are the 8 billion lives on Earth worth all of the hypothetical lives Tiamut would create?
And, credit where it is due, this is actually a good argument that splinters the team. Ikarus wants them to go on living their purpose. Sprite, who has an unrequited crush, goes with him, and Kingo, who agrees with Ikarus in theory but not with his methods, just peaces out during the final conflict.
Let’s talk about that!
Kumail Nanjiani is, to the surprise of no one who has seen him in things, the absolute MVP of the movie. He’s charming and funny and just works at breathing some life into this otherwise kind of dull flick. Also, his super power is, like, Goku’s Spirit Bomb? So that’s cool. But he is the best part of everything… and then the movie just WRITES HIM OUT OF THE THIRD ACT.
The choices you make, movie, I swear to god.
Then they have a big fight, and Sersei deus ex machina’s up the ability to turn Tiamut into a glacier or stone or something. Day saved! And I kind of love that just a new fixture of Earth’s landscape is a giant Celestial head and hand coming out of the ocean.
The Eternals then split up–some go into space to find others of their kind and let them know the truth, the others stay on Earth to live their lives. Arishem is all obviously pissed about what went down, so he abducts the Eternals still on Earth…
Which leads to our mid credits scene, where we are so balls deep into the MCU that our big reveals are fucking Pip The Troll and Starfox, who…
Something doesn’t add up…
So we are told in this movie that The Eternals are synthetically created beings. They are millions of years old, get rebooted like computers, and were created by the Celestials to never age or evolve or change.
At the end, Starfox shows up and is all “Hey, I’m one, too! Let’s go save your friends from Arishem”.
And it’s announced that he is Thanos’ brother.
Soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo… in MCU continuity, is Thanos an Eternal? So he was created by The Celestials eons ago to help birth other Celestials?
But they just… let him go do his own thing? Which was going to actively destroy their plans?
Also, none of our Earth Eternals refer to themselves as siblings. Two of them marry, and another has a crush on one. So they are clearly more like coworkers.
So how is Thanos Eros’ brother?
(I mean, I know in the comics that they are brothers, but Thanos is also a Deviant in the comics, and that’s clearly not the case here)
I am confused.
The thing is, the movie isn’t BAD. The nice thing about the MCU is that they have achieved a base level of goodness at which it operates. They just know what they are doing. So there is a formula that works even for a movie like this which seems wildly unfocused and wastes time on all of the wrong things. The action is great. The humor is fun. The acting…
Well, the acting is MOSTLY great. Angelina Jolie and Gemma Chan and Kumail Nanjiani all do great work. Don Lee (aka Ma Dong-Seok from Train To Busan) and Lauren Ridloff are nice additions. But then you run into Barry Keoghan as Druig and Lia McHugh as Sprite, and the quality drops off substantially. A lot of their lines feel forced and unnatural, and I don’t buy their characters for swaths of the movie. It’s not typical MCU quality.
Another weird complaint… I dig the action set at the end. This movie had a good climax. But… the previous MCU movie was Shang-Chi, and this movie had a character who… threw weird magic rings around at people.
WE JUST DID THIS EXACT THING!
There wasn’t even another movie in between!
Movie #25: Guy that throws magic rings.
Movie #26: Guy that throws magic rings.
Someone should have caught this!
So yeah, this wasn’t bad, but… it wasn’t particularly good, either. I’m wondering if the MCU is settling into this weird Bad-Good-Bad-Good trend for Phase 4.
(at least I want to believe that because I will not accept No Way Home being less than glorious)
I’ve seen some people say this is the worst of the MCU. It’s not. It is far superior to either Iron Man sequel, the first two Thors, and probably Incredible Hulk. It IS the worst MCU effort in several years, though, which is not great when Black Widow was already just an adequate entry. And I’ll take a movie that starts slow and gets better than the opposite.
Until next time… take care!