7,000 years ago, the Eternals, a group of immortal beings created by Celestial space giants, arrived on Earth to protect us from the Deviants. In the present day, the Eternals reemerge after living among us humans to fight against the Deviants, who have returned, and stop the end of the world.
Eternals has all the right elements there, including a 2-time Oscar winning director in Chloe Zhao, an acclaimed, diverse ensemble cast that includes Oscar nominees and winners like Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie, a compelling concept and premise, and tonal elements of a more intimate yet grand and mystical MCU film. Though all the parts are there, something feels missing that could have made this one of the best films in the franchise but instead falls short. The movie is very bold and feels the least like the rest of the series, mostly because of the slower, more character and emotion-focused story rather than fast-paced fun that dives straight into the conflict. There is big action and humor, but the movie never spends enough time with either tone at once to give us an earned emotional moment or a “classic MCU moment”. Unfortunately the movie doesn’t have neither the humanity nor the fun it wanted to evoke. Though it did keep me engaged throughout its runtime, I never really felt much of a reaction from watching what should’ve been exciting action go down, though the action set pieces do feel like a mess. There’s often too much going on at once during the fights and the finale especially has messy CGI and questionable character placements.
The cast is great, especially Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani and Brian Tyree Henry. Chan plays an empathetic and strong protagonist and Nanjiani gives the movie its funniest and most entertaining moments, including a Bollywood dance being filmed for a movie his character Kingo directs and stars in. Henry gives the movie lots of charisma as well and an interesting edge due to his character having the most to lose on Earth, having settled down with a husband and son. Richard Madden, Barry Keoghan and Lia McHugh also come to mind with interesting performances of their own, and Lauren Ridloff also gives the movie a lot of heart, even though there’s an extended period of time where she’s not in the movie, which does happen with a few of the film’s best players. The problem is that with there being 10 main Eternals, the movie keeps trying to push them all to center stage and have all of them be the emotional core, which makes the character development very messy, and some of the best characters’ arcs have disappointing or unrewarding resolutions. Avengers: Infinity War managed to balance having over 20 main Avengers by having some beloved characters have more of a supporting presence while a few take the lead in terms of emotional importance, unfortunately the writers here try to shove everyone front and center which hurts the dynamic between the characters and the audience. Hayek’s performance feels especially weird and unnatural at times, and Jolie’s character keeps trying to feel important but the script has no idea what to do with her for the entire second half. Kit Harington needed to be a much bigger part of the film but unfortunately is sidelined in the movie, as he gives the film a lot of charm and humanity.
The movie runs at 2 hours and 37 minutes (even longer than Infinity War!) and though there’s a lot of grand world building including ties to ancient history which makes for interesting sets, the movie definitely slows down with the messy explaining and reexplaining of exposition and dragged out drama between acts 2 and 3 that could’ve been shortened by at least 10 or 15 minutes. If you’ve seen Zhao’s previous film Nomadland, which won Best Picture at the most recent Oscars, you know her style is very intimate and naturalistic, and the movie doesn’t spend enough time with the intimacy and beauty of the scenery to give you much to care about and feel with its characters, as too much is thrown in to really stop and care, despite some great moments between Chan and Madden. On the other hand, though there’s some good humor and lots of big action, the movie never gives you enough epic-ness or fun to feel the stakes and unfortunately, the action and endearing characters going hand-in-hand is always what make these Marvel films resonate. It doesn’t commit to being small-scale or exciting, and this as well as the unrealized pace holds itself back from really gripping you the way Shang-Chi hit the mark earlier this year. It’s a good watch once for MCU fans or those who are interested in the premise and cast, but won’t leave you with that same elation and wonder, and urge to rewatch and treasure the film later, if only the film had been shorter and more focused.