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Geek Review: Marvel Studios’ Eternals

After Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel Studios continues its Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with Eternals, its latest superhero flick with no hero you’re likely to have heard of, but boasting a large ensemble cast featuring some of the top names in Hollywood, including Angelina Jolie, and Salma Hayek, alongside Gemma Chan of Crazy Rich Asians fame, Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden and Kit Harington, and Train to Busan’s Don Lee.

Set in a post-Snap world, the members of the Eternals are seen reuniting once more after hundreds if not thousands of years since they last met, on a task to protect the world from a new threat. For a very long time, the Eternals have been hiding and living amongst humans in secret and have been instructed by their creators, the Celestials, to not interfere in any conflict that does not involve any Deviants – abnormal and mutated beings who terrorised humans in humanity’s earlier days. 

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And if all of this sounds completely new to you, that’s fine. While this film is set in the MCU, this is also the most independent Marvel movie that has a familiar backdrop, but little connective tissue to link it to the previous 25 movies that came before it.

Eternals does its best to introduce a brand new chapter into the MCU that many fans will be or are unfamiliar with, and for the most part, does an amazing job in fitting all of the Eternals’ rich history and mythology into the 2 hours and 37 minutes film. Chinese director Chloe Zhao (Nomadland) mainly does this by using flashbacks to explore how the Eternals’ came about, and their involvement throughout human history, and cleverly weaves it into the story’s current timeline where Eternal members Sersi (Gemma Chan), Sprite (Lia McHugh) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) are seen travelling across the globe in search of leader Ajak (Salma Hayek) and other members including Bollywood star Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), loving dad Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and more. 

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The use of flashbacks is definitely a smart move on Zhao’s part as it also allows viewers to understand each of these characters better. Whilst all of the Eternals members have superhuman strength and deal with cosmic energy, each of them possesses a unique skill that sets them apart. Jolie’s Thena is a warrior and is well-versed with weapons, while deaf Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) has super speed, Phastos is a genius inventor and Sersi can manipulate matter and is deeply empathetic. Introducing 10 new characters and a relatively unknown group of heroes and villains is no easy feat, and Zhao deserves props for making it look and feel easy. 

It also helps that the Eternals’ cast are made up with some of the most talented actors and actresses we’ve seen, with Jolie, Ridloff and Nanjiani serving as standouts. Jolie immediately steals each scene she’s in though she barely speaks throughout the film, while Nanjiani is by far the most entertaining of the bunch, especially for someone whose powers involve pointing finger pistols at enemies. Ridloff has a smaller role compared to lead stars Chan and Madden, but she is memorable due to the warmth she brings to her character as the MCU’s first deaf superhero. 

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Eternals brings many firsts to the MCU from the first deaf superhero to the first openly gay superhero, played by Henry, and when we say openly gay, we mean we see a queer family and two men in love kiss on screen, as opposed to casual mentions that most other mainstream movies try to showhorn in. Eternals also includes the first sex scene in the MCU, which is likely the most shocking and least expected revelation given how Marvel movies have always been more child-friendly for the most part. These are bold strides for Marvel and Zhao, and while they are definitely welcomed, it’s unclear if these are one-off instances for this movie, or if future MCU films and Disney+ series would take a much more adult turn too.

That’s because tonally and visually, Eternals is quite different from what audiences have been used to in the past. Unlike Marvel’s usual witty and light hearted tone, Eternals is a darker and more mature story, and one that fans would expect coming from DC Comics, instead of the folks behind your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. Even Black Widow, which dealt with difficult topics such as trauma still keeps to Marvel’s comical roots, compared to Eternals whose main topics surround the ideas of family and loyalty.

One can almost see this entry as an experiment for Disney and Marvel, and whether Eternals becomes the norm or an outlier will likely depend on its box office and critical success, and this could either be the movie’s biggest downfall or saving grace. Like it or not, Marvel has often used the same old formula that we’ve seen from Iron Man to Shang-Chi, to Ant-Man and even Black Panther, where our heroes are incredibly likeable and relatable from the get-go and experience the same emotional highs and lows. Even the Avengers movies are repeats of the same old characters behaving in their same ways, even under different situations and some internal strife. 

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On the other hand, the Eternals are not at all relatable, and audiences will be hard pressed to identify with the 10 characters aside from representational means like being LGBTQIA+, a person with a disability, Asian or Latino. Their difference is part of the appeal, but may be a double edged sword where audiences don’t find themselves caring or rooting for the characters at all. 

In addition, the movie’s biggest strength lies in its visuals and cinematography but isn’t as impressive when it comes to the action. There aren’t any memorable fighting scenes as one would expect from a Marvel movie, and if you’re stepping into Eternals wanting to see the heroes tear stuff up, you’d have to settle with beautiful sceneries instead. 

As a standalone Marvel film, Eternals is an underwhelming superhero entry, especially when you’re talking about 10 heroes with almost God-like abilities, and isn’t the spectacle that was promised. Although director Zhao is a magician with making things look pretty, you can’t help but want more action, more exploration and more comedy to keep audiences engaged for the over two hours.

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Marvel could have taken a page from its own playbook, and benefitted from releasing solo movies based on the characters we see here first, before reuniting them for this movie, as they once did with the Avengers movie, where we got Iron Man, Hulk and Thor films first. Maybe there are plans to make some solo movies after Eternals, or even look at several Disney+ series, like what it has done with WandaVision, Loki and the upcoming Hawkeye, but if the Eternals ends up flopping in the cinemas, it prematurely cuts short what could’ve been a deep dive into one of the richest mythology to ever grace the comics. 

Ultimately, Eternals is a fresh and new take for Marvel and takes big bold strides to set itself apart from the franchise’s most beloved films, but it has done little to make audiences care much about the characters before this. And while it features the most diverse team we’ve seen from the studios and hits all the right spots in terms of representation and cinematography, it does little to make geeky hearts pump and flutter when it comes to action. 

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Eternals is unlike any Marvel movie and there will be those who won’t appreciate it. Large on cinematography and little on comedy, this new movie could either be the MCU’s saving grace, or biggest mistake.

Overall
7/10
7/10
  • Story - 6/10
    6/10
  • Direction - 8/10
    8/10
  • Characterisation - 7/10
    7/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 7/10
    7/10


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