Review: Marvel’s Eternals is a movie cursed by its beauty and ambition

(L-R): Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Ajak (Salma Hayek), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and Druig (Barry Keoghan) in Marvel Studios' ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Ajak (Salma Hayek), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and Druig (Barry Keoghan) in Marvel Studios' ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved. /

If you thought Marvel was starting to feel overstuffed and overcomplicated during the Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame era, you haven’t seen anything yet. And if you weren’t on the “downsize Marvel” bandwagon already, you’ll definitely be feeling that way after seeing Eternals.

Eternals is, quite frankly, a lot. And it’s one of the more complicated films to analyze, especially compared to every other film in the MCU. In a nutshell, there are a lot of wonderfully executed aspects in this Chloé Zhao-directed film. She’s an Oscar-winning director after all, and she knows her stuff. But as a whole, between the quest to make this an epic, breathtaking film while still trying to be a Marvel property, the thing just fizzles out.

The parts of the whole, admittedly, are well-done on a fundamental level: the scenes, the scenery, the costumes, the characters, the acting, and sometimes even the humor. But this film is best described as a patchwork dress. You can have many gorgeous pieces of fabric. But when sewn together, they don’t necessarily make an appealing garment.

So, let’s start with the plot. This is essentially a “getting the team back together again” movie. The Eternals, who have all been on Earth for thousands of years, were given a mission by the Celestials to guard the planet from Deviants, destructive little monsters that wreak havoc on tour world. At some point, the Eternals accomplished their mission and eradicated these creatures. But many years later in the present day (after the team has broken up), more Deviants surface, and this time they are more advanced. This leads the group to team up again, on a mission to find out why these mutated Deviants have appeared. And ultimately, it leads them to discover what their true mission on Earth is about.

The plot’s biggest flaw is the main antagonist, which draws inspiration from (what I can only imagine are) video game monsters you might find in a PlayStation 2 game. While more nuance develops as the movie goes on, I would expect a film of this caliber to have an opposing force that’s more mature, more calculated, and just more villainous than a couple of vicious, four-legged creatures. The action scenes were far and few between. And when they do occur, seeing the heroes fight a bunch of motiveless creatures was not effectively entertaining. After having beautifully written villains like Thanos and Erik Killmonger, the stakes in a Marvel movie have never felt lower.

Eternals has interesting characters but a flawed approach to them

The characters, though, were an enjoyable aspect of the film. But two hours and 37 minutes simply is not enough time to get to know 10 brand new superheroes.

The movie is seriously hurt by its non-linear storytelling. It switches back and forth between scenes in the present day (when the team is broken up) to scenes in ancient history when they’re still fighting together. In those team-up scenes, there’s not much time to build up the characters individually. They’re either busy fighting the Deviants or every person in the scene is vying for screen time, which means none of them get much attention individually. You have to wait until the film jumps back to the present day when the team member gets recruited again to spend some quality time with them. The people who get recruited last suffer especially, because they get even less time to develop than their colleagues.

Though if I had to pick, my favorite character would be Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo, who is thankfully introduced fairly early in the film. Nanjiani brings a lot of his comedic charm to the role. I also enjoyed Gilgamesh (Don Lee), who didn’t get half as much screentime as he deserved.

An abridged cast speed run: Richard Madden (Ikaris) does his best Superman impression. Gemma Chan (Sersi) takes up the most screen time but is probably one of the least interesting characters. Most of the plot centers around these two and their complicated feelings for one another. And as they (or other characters) talk at length about their feelings for one another or their love for humanity, you instantly get pulled out of the scene, and the film begins to feel like a bit of a snooze fest.

Another victim of this mess is legendary actress Angelina Jolie (Thena), who is criminally underused in this film. She’s the Eternal who gets the least amount of character development out of all of them, and isn’t even afforded a true personality outside of her ability to fight. The rest of the characters are all just fine, and the actors work ably with what they were given.

There’s so much more to dissect from this dense movie. For example, Eternals introduces the MCU’s first openly gay hero and first deaf hero, which are victories that get overshadowed by everything else crammed into this film. Eternals also squeezes in Marvel’s first, semi-explicit sex scene, which was quite uncomfortable to watch. The characters are definitely unclothed and visibly in the act, but having this scene doesn’t add much more to the movie beyond putting up the facade that this is supposed to be a “mature” superhero film.

Of course, because this is a Marvel movie, there are a few references to the MCU here and there. But as the story unfolds, you find out the purpose of the Eternals and their existence is just a weak concept overall. While I don’t mind fallible superheroes (it’s what separates DC from Marvel), the Eternals are painted to be such epic, insanely powerful heroes in the promotions that you’d expect just a little more oomph from them compared to your average Avenger or Guardian of the Galaxy. But after unwrapping the film and finding out that the true purpose of these powerful, eternal beings is to protect the planet from space dogs, it feels like we were sold a $200 million bottle of snake oil.

Eternals is what happens what the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets too big

As a diehard MCU fan, it’s been a shock to see the MCU lose some of its luster. Eternals only expands the growing list of narrative plotlines one has to follow in the MCU. And it’s really starting to feel like they’re hitting a ceiling — or rather, fans may begin hitting a ceiling when it comes to the amount of MCU plotlines they can keep up with.

In Marvel’s original incarnation, the comics, it’s natural to have these many threads running because you can pick and choose to read whatever comic book series you want. But in an expanding film franchise that says every TV show and movie is “required viewing,” you can’t help but start to feel overwhelmed by the sheer, massive array of content they are cramming into our lives.

Marvel’s Eternals arrives in theaters only on November 5.

Grade: C-

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