Written by Chloe Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo ad Kaz Firpo
Directed by Chloe Zhao
Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harrington, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok and Harish Patel
The saga of the Eternals, a race of immortal beings who lived on Earth and shaped its history and civilizations.
To preface this review I have to admit that I didn’t come into this film cold like a lot of the audience who may have heard of the characters but didn’t have any experience with them. I read the Eternals limited series when I was a kid and didn’t get back into them again until Neil Gaiman’s Eternals run on the series in 2006. I’m currently reading Kieron Gillen’s run on Eternals which tries to contextualize the long history of the characters created by Jack Kirby in the late 70’s.
With that being said, Eternals has always been a big story full of big ideas, characters and concepts that sometimes is too big for a reader to grasp without help. The film is kind of the same in the regard.
Chloe Zhao’s Eternals is a big film filled with big ideas and characters (especially the giant Celestials that make up a big part of the character conflict and plot). It follows this group of immortal warriors as their experiences on Earth through the centuries have changed them in different ways both good and bad. With the amount of characters in the film and the unique and varying perspectives that they have, Eternals is not your run of the mill superhero origin story. Something that both works in its favor and can be a detriment to the audience.
The story is very character driven as their actions both move the plot forward and determine where their ultimate loyalties lie. The cast assembled for the film brilliantly bring those moments to life in ways that get you to care about them and their internal and interpersonal struggles. Zhao is given the time to develop those relationships and character personalities and the film is better for it. I loved seeing how many of these characters grew and changed over time. One of the best character moments is in the third act when Sprite reveals the reason behind her actions and how it ties into her time with humans.
Unfortunately, the threat they face in the film with the Deviants felt hollow. They’re mindless, CGI monsters that serve no purpose other than to have cool fight scenes and that’s a shame because the one Deviant that does evolve and change is short changed in the story in the third act.
Eternals is an ambitious move for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With its character driven plot and emotional core, it doesn’t fall in with the rest of the MCU and that makes it an outlier when you’re expecting standard superhero flair. Zhao crafts a beautiful looking film with heart, humanity and pathos throughout. There is a seriousness to the tone that is actually really engaging. The movie isn’t perfect, but its uniqueness cannot be denied. Zhao does something visually stunning and thematically different with Eternals by making it about the characters and not their external threat.
It will be interesting to see if her ambition is rewarded with a sequel or not.