Let’s talk about Eternals.
It’s a new brave world for Marvel. While it started a bit later than expected due to a pesky little virus, Phase 4 is probably the bravest Marvel have been in a long time. They have invested in experimental TV programmes which has seen them parody 1960s sitcoms and explore the multiverse. The movie department is also showing signs of bravery. Admittedly, Black Widow was fairly formulaic. But Shang-Chi was a new franchise built out of a comic often seen as racist even back when it was first released and that paid off with record takings even with the spectre of the pandemic still dominating the cinema scene. Now we go even more experimental with Eternals.
Eternals are seemingly immortal beings that have been sent to Earth by the Celestial Arishem in order to help with the humans progress and to fight deviants. They have completed that job and have gone their separate ways until deviants start re-emerging and targeting them.
So this is a big attempt at something very grand. It is very keen on being truly brilliant and epic. You can sense that from the opening titles crawl which not only invoke Star Wars with the bolding of key words, but also the Bible with how it starts with ‘In The Beginning’. If you are a movie invoking the words of the Bible, you are definitely trying to do something epic because you don’t risk the wrath of Christians without thinking you’ve got something good on your hands. Then we open to the actual movie and it’s beautiful vistas and characters which hold themselves like Gods because in many ways, they kind of are. This is a beautifully shot movie and I think it does achieve the sense of grandiosity it is aiming for. It also marks this film out as a bit different. While there is some humour, it’s definitely trying to be more serious than other Marvel films.
The problem that comes with this is a complete lack of personality. Well, in our leads anyway. While there are a group of Eternals, our effective leads are Sersi and Ikaris. Sersi has the rather naff ability to turn matter into other matter, one of the films few jokes is to mock this power, while Ikaris is basically Superman. He is so much like Superman that Marvel decide to make DC Comic canon in their universe so they could compare the two. And boy are they boring. They are both incredibly self serious and just not that enjoyable to watch. Of course, a hero doesn’t have to be joking all the time in order to be engaging. But they do need to show some charisma. I don’t blame their actors Gemma Chan or Richard Madden for this, even though neither help things by being as wooden as an oak tree, as the writing for them gives them nothing but brooding and self serious talks.
What makes this worse is that they are surrounded by much better characters. The rest of the Eternals are much more entertaining and far more interesting. Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo, a laser beam shooting Eternal who later becomes his own Bollywood dynasty, is funny and ends up showing us an interesting quandary which will provoke some thought in the audience. In the end, he’d be a far better lead but he’s in the background as we watch two and a half hours of brooding from Sersi and Ikaris. Of course he has jokes, but Angelina Jolie’s Thena doesn’t and she is still engaging. Not only does Jolie do a great job, it’s easy to forget that she’s a very good actress, but her character has a serious conflict at her heart as well and then it even comes to a satisfying conclusion. While this is what keeps the film from being a chore, it is also frustrating as you want to see more of the supporting cast than the leads.
The base problem that Eternals has is that it takes itself way too seriously. This exacerbates every other problem it has. Marvel films are usually around two-and-a-half hours long and while I’m the first to complain about a movie being too long, they never usually feel that way. That’s because they have a frenetic pace and plenty of fun throughout that run time. That’s why End Game was around 40 hours long yet felt like it whizzed by. This is not the case here. Because of its more deliberate pace and the fact it spends so much of its time brooding, this one definitely feels long winded. I have never looked at the time more watching a Marvel film than I have this one. You can criticise the Marvel formula all you like but what that formula does is deliver enjoyable movies. Yes you will recognise familiar patterns but that’s like complaining at the loop-de-loop in a rollercoaster, yes you’ve had them before but it’s still fun. This is a divergence from that formula which proves why they have used it so much.
I can’t be angry at Marvel for trying something very different with Eternals. it does feel like something very different and an attempt to make an epic with truly universal implications. But while it has its bright moments and a fun supporting cast which keep the film going, this is definitely the most disappointing Marvel film to date. It’s not bad, it has too much quality in terms of performances from the supporting cast and it is honestly beautiful to look at, but it’s quite a slog considering how breezy and fun many of the other Marvel films are. While Eternals will have a big part to play in the future of the MCU, this will be one to skip when doing those monster marathons in future.