Eternals Review: Big, Bold, and Hollow

Eternals follows a group of super-powered people created by cosmic entities called Celestials who task the Eternals to protect Earth from dangerous predators called Deviants. Right off the bat, this film solidifies one central idea:

Marvel has been running into a problem lately.

Every time a big scale story element is introduced, whether it be in their movies or Disney+ shows, it overlaps and contradicts with existing lore from previous projects. In the grand scheme of things, it makes sense. They’re clearly trying to top the danger that ensued in Avengers: Endgame to keep these movies and shows fresh and not repetitive. But this ends up entangling different ideas with each other, leading to confusion on how they all exist together. Without going into any spoilers, Eternals is no exception. 

The sense of scale in this film is among the biggest we’ve seen throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). In terms of entertainment, especially with visuals, it’s certainly not a bad thing. However, when putting it in perspective with the rest of the MCU, questions begin to arise as to how various elements of the film play a part in developing the overall story each film carries. I mean, this is an interconnected universe after all. I’m not suggesting Marvel should intertwine every movie with each other. The MCU strives off of giving it’s characters their own story within this universe. Constantly tying everything together would take away from telling the story of the film itself. In the case of Eternals, some might enjoy the fact that this particular film feels less like a Marvel movie and more like a story taking place in its own individual world. However, I do think it’s important for Marvel to remember its roots and maintain continuity when it comes to the overall story elements of the MCU. The impact to the greater story should be emphasized, especially when introducing giant-scaled phenomenons like these.

Eternals hand-in-hand.
Eternals hand-in-hand.

When it comes to showcasing said phenomenons, Eternals excels in every department. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since Academy Award winning director Chloe Zhao, who has a history directing in visually stunning environments, is at the helm of the film. The cinematography is one of the most defining qualities of Eternals and is what sets it apart the most from the rest of the Marvel Studio films. Rather than using green or blue screens or filming on a sound stage, the majority of the film was shot on location, making the visual difference clear as day. Even so, during large scale visual effect sequences, the quality of CGI matched the beauty and realism that comes with shooting real world environments. One of my favorite shots was when the scale of a celestial was demonstrated by comparing its size to a human. From the character design to the still and subtle movements, this scene and many like it allows the audience to feel the presence of an actual planet-sized cosmic being. However, a lot of that realism becomes tainted when characters begin to interact with each other and their environments. 

Coming into this movie, it’s expected that Eternals could never fault in performance given the star-studded cast that includes Angelina Jolie as Thena, Richard Madden as Ikaris, Salma Hayek as Ajak and Gemma Chan as Sersi. However, there are many instances in the film where characters fall flat. Richard Madden especially felt quite dull during the beginning parts of the film. There’s instances where dialogue isn’t accompanied by tonal or physical expression relative to the emotional situation, instead resulting in a passive performance of staring and standing. I noticed the same with some of the rest of the cast, particularly Gemma Chan, who during a dangerous encounter with a Deviant in a forest, showed no fear or concern during the situation. It doesn’t help that the writing of the dialogue lacked in quality as well. A lot of conversations felt oversimplified. For a movie with lots of exposition detailing its complex story elements, it’s difficult to follow along when both dialogue and acting are easy and low energy. On the other hand, Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo unexpectedly carried the movie with his performances alongside Harish Patel who played his assistant/cameraman. The banter and chemistry between these two provided Marvel’s best and most enjoyable comedic relief of all their movies so far.

Volcano on an island.
Volcano on an island.

Zooming out of the spoken words and seeing the film from afar, the overall story was great. I found that many elements relate back to our real world, particularly with environmental situations involving climate change as well as the impacts of past history-defining events. It’s fascinating to see that these events in our world also happen in the MCU, and the way they’re incorporated in this universe provide for interesting moments of these eternal beings questioning their own moral obligations.

Morality isn’t the only thing challenging the Eternals. Outside of the grasp of the celestials, the Eternals’ singular purpose is to go up against a race of predatory creators who threaten the progression of humanity. In hindsight, you might expect these foes to be the formidable opponent for our heroes, yet they act more as an obstacle than a dangerous threat. The development of the deviants as characters, while intriguing, lacks duration causing it to lack in interest and remembrance. With a runtime of 2 hours and 37 minutes, you’d expect enough time to delve into each character, but even then, there’s just simply too much story to fit all in one movie.

Eternals cast

From a distance, Eternals is a decently entertaining and visually-stunning commentary on humanity and morality. Up close, the cracks begin to show when it comes to writing, performances and scale when incorporated with the development of the MCU storyline. 

Eternals is out only in theaters on November 5th, 2021.

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