Some time in Marvel’s Phase Three, the studio felt more comfortable taking risks, and as a result, we got some of its best films in the form of “Thor Ragnarok” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”, which were a little weirder than their formulaic predecessors. In this year’s “Eternals”, we take a deep dive into the bizarre as this film explores the origins of the Marvel universe through the titular ancient superhero team, who have been quietly guiding humanity in the shadows since the first human cities appeared in Mesopotamia.
Some people love this film, others hate it, and some have just found it boring. Directed by Nomadland’s Chloé Zhao, “Eternals” is easily the weirdest MCU film ever produced, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The Eternals were sent to Earth by the Celestial Arishem (David Kaye) to fight the predatory beings named the Deviants, who prey on intelligent life in the universe. Celestials are the most powerful beings in the galaxy, responsible for making new suns and responsible for all new life that spring from them, and they are the creators of the Eternals, who are immortal beings who don’t age, but can be killed, and have special superpowers. Earth’s Eternals consist of Sersi (Gemma Chan), an empath who can change physical matter into other forms, but mostly into water; Ikaris (Richard Madden), who is basically the MCU’s version of Superman; Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), who can make mini-suns from his hands, and becomes a Bollywood star; Sprite (Lia McHugh), an illusionist trapped in the body of a child; Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), an inventor and weapon-maker; Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), a deaf speedster; Druig (Barry Keoghan) a tormented realist who can mind-control people; Gilgamesh (Don Lee), the strongest of the group; Thena (Angelina Jolie), a powerful warrior who suffers from a mental condition that makes her attack her allies; and Ajak (Salma Hayek), the group’s leader, who is the only one who can communicate with Arishem.
The group has been splintered since the fall of the Aztec Empire, when they killed the last of the Deviants on Earth. Arishem gave them a directive to not interfere in human matters unless Deviants are involved, and they’ve been waiting to be allowed to go home to Olympia, a distant planet. Some Eternals agree with the directive, while others, like Druig, who uses his powers to end human conflict, openly defy it.
Not all agree that they should’ve sat out when Thanos erased half of everyone in the universe, and shortly after the events of “Avengers; Endgame,” their time of hiding comes to an end when a Deviant appears in London and attacks Sersi and Sprite, having previously killed and absorbed the powers of Ajak. Ikaris finds and helps fight off the Deviant, and Sersi soon finds herself thrust as the group’s leader when they discover Ajak’s body, as she chose to give her the sphere she uses to communicate with Arishem. The three then get the band back together to not only fight off the newly-emerged Deviants, but to get to the bottom of their sudden appearance.
Without spoiling much, the film is very morally-ambiguous, which actually works to the film’s favor. While the Eternals are mostly all good, the Celestials they serve are godlike cosmic beings with their own agenda, who aren’t necessarily good or evil; they simply exist, and everything they do serves to maintain the natural order of things. As such, the central conflict of the film gives you a lot more to think about than your standard Marvel fare, and — again without spoiling much — because of this, even when our heroes triumph, there are shades of gray to their victories.
This is not a perfect film by any means, and it’s far from Marvel’s best — with the film’s pacing feeling off, it drags a bit in certain places, and its dialogue ranges from great to clunky — but I appreciate what this film set out to do, and the fact that it has a lot more to offer under its hood as far as its narrative is concerned than most MCU films. This isn’t necessarily a film you can turn your brain off and just numbly revel in the good guys punching the bad guys in the face, which I think makes it a film you’ll want to rewatch at least once.
Despite having a large cast, I think most of the Eternals are interesting and charismatic, and Zhao did a great job of balancing the film’s various personalities, even if it arguably had too many characters. Henry, Keoghan and Jolie for me had breakout performances, but I would totally be on board for a Kingo Disney Plus series with his valet, Karun (Harish Patel), who has some of the best comic relief moments in the film. In fact, most of these characters would work well in any other MCU project.
I definitely recommend that you see this film in theaters for yourself. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but it does its own thing, and is a nice departure from what we’re used to in this genre.
“Eternals” gets an 8/10