Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Eternals

Eternals is ambitious as hell. It may be the most ambitious movie Marvel has attempted since weaving together various threads into a single story in The Avengers. Sadly, it's nowhere near as successful. With an opening crawl, monologues aplenty, and flashbacks, Eternals struggles to introduce and flesh out a dozen characters, their purpose, their backstory, and their place in the MCU. 

I'll give writer/director Chloé Zhao credit for assembling a talented and diverse cast, but with so many characters to keep track of (many of who disappear for large amounts of screentime) more than once I forgot an actor was even in the film. Gemma Chan is given the juiciest role as the Eternal who cares the most for the Earth, even falling in love with a human (Kit Harington, whose character is awkwardly shoehorned in here). Angelina Jolie, Ma Dong-seok, and Richard Madden play the team's heavy hitters. Jolie is given a post-traumatic story to offer her character some subplot, but Madden is bland personified in a role that looks like someone lost a bet on whether or not Marvel could create a more stoic version of Cyclops who could fly.

Lia McHugh and Kumail Nanjiani have the most visually interesting of the team's powers, but they are often pushed aside as if they were nothing more than sidekicks for the other characters. Speaking of under-used, Lauren Ridloff's mute speedster is someone I would have liked to have seen developed in far more depth. We also get Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, and Barry Keoghan to round out the the somewhat immortal crew. Despite all the new faces and characters, somehow Marvel puts out a movie without any villain of note. Instead we're offered CGI monsters called Deviants who the Eternals were sent to destroy thousands of years ago by their Celestial overlord but have returned.

Despite a comparison to the Avengers by one of the characters in the film, the Eternals aren't heroes. Nor is this a super-hero film. It's a sci-fi film that you can feel getting way from the four credited screenwriters as so much of the plot has to be explained to the audience rather than explored naturally. It struggles with story, too many characters (none of whom Marvel seeded into the shared universe earlier to lay some foundation), and a complicated cosmic plot made small while giving the group of aliens credit for all the achievements in human history (but little of the blame).

Marvel has teased the idea of more space movies since the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Although Eternals takes place almost entirely on Earth, the movie does feel like the studio desperately wanting to create an epic sci-fi tale to build on. And it tries so hard, and for so long, you want to like the movie more than the final product deserves. What we get here, though, is half-baked sci-fi that is alternately beautiful to watch yet incredibly superficial and boring. Oh, as an attempt to keep you from nodding off, there's a twist so obvious, but also so integral to the plot, you wonder why even bother.

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