Eternals movie review: Hey, at least it’s not as bad as Black Widow!
- Eternals movie review: Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden are unimpressive in Chloe Zhao's Marvel debut.
Chloe Zhao’s Oscar follow-up, Eternals, gets so much wrong, it becomes a task to keep up even after a short while. While it does often diverge from the Marvel formula, it’s rarely for the better — be it the forced, utterly awkward sex scene or the feeble attempts to impress the ever-growing desi audience. No amount of an affable Ibu Hatela can make up for the number of poor choices made.
But let’s try to be more empathetic and see things from the perspective of Zhao, who must have felt crushed under the expectations that come with taking on a project such as this. Not only was she supposed to mint a worthy successor to her Oscar-sweeper, the far humbler Nomadland, but also bring to life an entire platoon of superheroes played by popular TV stars and Hollywood icons.
Watch Eternals trailer:
The previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe never set up these heroes or their mythologies. If anything, they set expectations high for what a Marvel ensemble movie should feel like. So starting from scratch would not have been an easy task. But it shouldn’t have been this disappointing. With glaring errors in the plot, main characters that take an unexplained hike mid-climax, desi-baiting with a cringeworthy “Bollywood” dance item, and force-fed romantic plots between couples with zero chemistry—not once but thrice—your empathy for Zhao runs out quickly enough.
The Eternals, all 10 of them, have existed on Earth for almost 7,000 years. Zhao and her team of writers had to chart their journeys, set up their equations with one another, make them fit neatly in a post-Blip world where other superheroes exist, and, most importantly, make us care about them. Zhao tries to do all of these but succeeds at virtually none.
The Eternals are introduced as God-like entities created by other God-like entities called the Celestials. They are sent to Earth to protect humans from powerful but conveniently half-brained monsters, the Deviants. The first half of the film is spent hopping from one millennium to another, with pit stops in the present day where Armageddon is steadily approaching. In the flashbacks, Zhao hurriedly takes us through the Eternals’ arrival on Earth, how a few instantly fell in love with humans while others were frustrated by their greed and violence. But despite thousands of years of protecting and loving humanity, no Eternal-human relationship seems vital enough to be worth saving.
Sersi (Gemma Chan), the most loving of them all, saves a nameless school kid from a falling rock, gets her hair braided by nameless young girls and makes bread with nameless women. But the only human in her life with a name, her boyfriend played by Kit Harington, gets the boot as soon as her Eternal ex, Ikaris (Richard Madden), returns after ghosting her for a few centuries. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), who has taken up the side job of a Bollywood superstar, is perhaps the only one with a long-standing relationship with a human—his loyal valet Karun (Harish Patel). Their relationship, however, is almost always used as comic relief.
Phastos (Bryan Tyree Henry) is shown to have lost all faith in humanity after seeing the horrors that man was capable of in the name of war. But in the very next scene, he has resolved that issue on his own, having found a husband and a kid to show him the “goodness” that humans still have in them.
But forget these Eternals; they aren't even the worst of the lot. Angelina Jolie, perhaps the biggest star on the billing, is completely wasted in this movie. As Thena, she plays an Eternal who loses control of her mind a little too often, is supposed to be pretty good at battle, wears golden spandex, gets like four lines in the entire movie, and can’t even bother to join a few huddle-up scenes. Salma Hayek is the mom kind who usually does the uninteresting mom things with none of the mom-like warmth. Richard Madden, as Ikaris, flies like Superman, shoots lasers from his eyes like Superman, broods like Superman and is just as boring as Superman. The writing in the first half does him so dirty that even a more volatile second half can’t fix it. He plays Ikaris with all the charm of a wooden spatula. Mixed with Gemma Chan's bland Sersi, I get why no one would want a taste of their love story.
The characters are sloppily written, inspiring little to no affection from anyone watching. But at least it looks beautiful as all of this mess unfolds in front of your eyes. For Eternals, Zhao brought on board cinematographer Ben Davis, who has previously worked in five other MCU films. She also brings in her own love for the golden hour, dusk and landscape shots, wedging in the setting sun wherever she can. The action scenes are nothing you haven't seen in the last five Marvel releases. There are CGI weapons in brushed brass aesthetic, large and slimy aliens rendered after a dog or something, over-the-top costumes, and Insta-chic hairstyles.
Eternals needed a ton of work before being allowed to release in the state that it was, beginning from the writers room itself. Perhaps a tighter story and clear idea about the purpose of the entire exercise could have inspired better performances. But that being said, it did set out to have fun.
There are moments between characters that try to tap into the same, staple Marvel feeling first invoked by that shawarma scene. The cuteness of watching superheroes get a post-battle snack clicked so well with viewers that director upon director has been in pursuit of it since. And it has worked again and again and again. With Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok, all the Avengers movies, standalone Spider-Man films, the banter-b*llshit scenes between superstars as superheroes soon became more inviting than the CGI extravaganzas that these films offered. Eternals tries to do the same, with some success. This is perhaps what lifts it a step or two above the last MCU release, Black Widow. Unlike that lazy, uninspired snoozefest, Eternals did aim for a lot, however unsuccessful it may have been in delivering on most fronts. A lot could have been better but let’s also appreciate how it wasn't the worst.
Director: Chloe Zhao
Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani