The questions heading into the film are numerous. Some are answered: even more arise in their wake.
Director Chloé Zhao
Screenplay Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo
Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie
Eternals is a film with the unenviable task of being the trojan horse for Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s story is complicated on its own with its battle between the titular guardians of humanity and their foes The Deviants. Eternals is saddled with much more than this. The questions heading into the film are numerous. Some are answered: even more arise in their wake.
The story starts with the dawn of mankind 7000 years ago. We discover a super race of beings who are sent by a creator Celestial named Arishem in order to protect humanity from Deviants, who are a race of predators that had been sent to do the same task, but decided making humans were prey is a better idea.
The team of Eternals, all with certain gifts and lead by Ajak (Hayek) split up after thinking they’d eradicated the planet of their foes. Five centuries later, in London, Sersi (Chan) and Sprite (McHugh) discover otherwise.
One would guess that the rest of the film is basically a “let’s get the band back together” romp…and one would be wrong. There is that element, but along the way there are some surprises.
The film’s main plot does have the premise of stopping the big thing from happening in a certain place. There are enough variations on this cliche to keep things interesting, though. This is even true to the point where not everyone ends up in the same place or even wanting to be there.
The biggest problem with Eternals is not in the main story, but rather the vomit of exposition the viewer is exposed to in the course of setting up not just this story, but a whole slew of stories that will follow. It’s tough enough to concieve of these God-like creatures and their viewpoint of planets not as holders of their children, but really just fodder for future Gods. If you don’t understand that, good, don’t worry. That’s only the beginning of divergent plot points.
When one considers the multiple timelines opened with Avengers Endgame and then exasperated by Loki, consider that is just one massive thread that isn’t even pulled in the events of this film.
The pluses do outweigh the minuses though. Much of this is due to the gorgeous cinematography and exceptionally rendered 3D by Zhao and her team. The film doesn’t waste the third dimension by constantly throwing stuff at the viewer. Instead, Zhao uses the effect in much the same way Marvel critic Martin Scorsese does in his classic Hugo. It’s there to give depth and make things feel right there and beautiful.
The cast of Eternals (outside of Harrington) is effectively portrayed, especially given how incredibly vast the list of name actors. There is a clever interplay that cuts back and forth in time over the 156 minutes that gives Zhao creative ways to show personality and growth of character one might not normally expect. The team of Eternals are all portrayed with a freshness, no characters who seem like filler, because the screen writers are smart enough to split elements in ways that are innovative.
It is easy to like this film, but hard to love it. The story, clever and adept, is rendered a window dressing employed to open up a larger universe which is almost too much for viewers to want to comprehend. Introducing new elements can be tricky. Sometimes they compliment the story you want to tell. Other times they reveal that the story you just saw take place over 7,000 years really didn’t mean all that much, because, to parapharase Up:Look! Squirrel!
(***1/2 out of *****)