Updated: Feb 3
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Although there are many creative ideas attempting to push the boundaries of blockbuster diversity, Eternals fails to deliver much substance or amusement in its very muddled tale about the heroes who came before the Avengers.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been growing strongly year after year in both fandom and product quantity. In 2021 alone, the MCU has released three films and four TV shows, and there are more on the way. Spiderman: No Way Home and Hawkeye are still set to release later this year. It seems to keep the fans happy, but is Marvel overcompensating?
Growing a franchise and being a staple of the box office is essential in the Disney conglomeration, but people grow tired of the same old antics and projections with each new project. When a director tries something more ambitious, the fans wish it was more of the same stuff they are used to, and vise versa. In the case of the latest installment, Eternals, it has moments where it seems like it might be Marvel’s path to change from blockbuster mediocrity. Yet, by minute fifteen, all hope for subversion is lost.
The Eternals are the newest team of Marvel superheroes joining the cinematic universe, ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years under the command of a Celestial to kill off the Deviants- or, so they think. After the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), a tragic incident causes them to reunite after years without seeing each other. The Deviants are back, causing a ruckus, and the Eternals must stop them before it is too late. Even with its considerable aesthetic positives, the negatives cancel them out. It isn’t the worst outing of the ever-growing universe, but it does fail to deliver a concrete narrative or any genuine emotional depth. Zhao aims for the diverting piece about the human condition with a superhero resound, similar to what James Mangold did with 2017’s Logan, yet its plot and ethics are all over the place.
What is praiseworthy of the celestial romp is its all-around cast diversity and inclusion. Re-thought from the original comic strips, Zhao and her writing team recreate the comic book characters with big-name actors in mind. That is the most thoughtful element that Eternals has for its audiences.
The problem is that the rest of the film is a big mess. Its vision is straightforward, and it's possible to see where Feige, Zhao, and crew wanted to go, but how it is told to the public raises many questions, and the answers are of no significance. The setting sporadically changes from country to country and year to year while the Eternals fight the Deviants. Because of the indistinct world-building and dialogue-begets-battle structure, there isn’t a fixed narrative. It acts more like a treasure hunt than an actual plot. It reminds me of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, wherein the characters go from place to place for scenic value and achieve almost nothing in the process.
The best way to describe the trajectory is a “getting the gang back together” scenario. There are many Eternals members, which results in brief, vague character intros before the film returns to the headliners, Richard Madden’s Ikaris and Gemma Chan’s Sersi. Meanwhile, the most interesting characters are the ones underdeveloped, especially Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari and Barry Keoghan’s Druig. Their romance and chemistry carry most of the sparse emotional weight that the flick has. Its epic-like story would have worked better and more efficiently as a limited series so that each character could receive proper development.
On paper, Eternals should be the film that stands apart from other comic book movies because of the existential questions each Eternal has. Some question whether humankind is actually worth saving. Yet, the moral quandaries are never explored to their capacities. The movie, despite its philosophical musings, is spiritually empty. By the time the film reaches its last act, the most intriguing Eternals are either not present or are given absolutely nothing to do. It is unfortunate that the film’s conception started out with so many grand metaphysical ideas but the execution remains soulless. Eternals ends up being yet another mechanically dull and repetitive box office hit.
After dozens of films, and projects slated for years to come, what’s next? Half of the universe was already “snapped” out of existence. What original material could one-up planetary destruction and mass genocide? I was a fan of the MCU; seeing Avengers: Endgame (2019) on opening day was one of the best experiences at the cinema I have ever had. But I don’t think I can get emotionally invested anymore. I don’t believe there is much more good in store for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Every new adaptation sounds moderately pleasing on paper, but the final projects hit the same repetitive story beats time and time again. I want to hold out hope that things could take a turn for the better, but Disney’s focus seems to be quantity over quality, and that isn’t a formula for captivating cinema.