It's been a long wait for Marvel's Eternals, and expectations for the film have only grown since Chloé Zhao won Best Director at the Oscars earlier this year for helming Nomadland. Eternals is easily Marvel's biggest undertaking when it comes to introducing characters, taking eleven people from the comics and attempting to give them all moments to shine throughout the film. While Eternals manages to navigate 7,000 years of backstory fairly seamlessly, the film's present-day plot ends up feeling muddled and occasionally confusing. Eternals succeeds in being a visual spectacle, but often falls flat when it comes to story.
The Eternals are a race of immortal beings with superhuman powers who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years. However, they were instructed by powerful cosmic beings called Celestials to only help humans when evil creatures called Deviants are involved. After centuries without incident from the Deviants, the creatures begin to reappear, and the Eternals must reunite to stop them and take on a bigger force known as the "Emergence." There are ten Eternals to keep track of throughout the movie; Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Ajak (Salma Hayek), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Druig (Barry Keoghan), and Gilgamesh (Don Lee). There's also an important human in the mix, Dane Whitman (Kit Harington), who works with Sersi at the Natural History Museum in London.
Surprisingly, the film's writers (Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo) manage to not only flesh out each character but make you care about them and understand their various dynamics with each other. Each Eternal has a unique power and personality, and some get along better than others; some as friends, some as lovers. There has never been a Marvel movie with such a diverse cast and the film does an amazing job of showcasing representation without making it feel forced. Seeing a well-rounded cast of heroes is both invigorating and heartwarming, and it should set a precedent for the future of comic book films. The greatest thing about Eternals is that every Marvel fan is going to come out having a different favorite character. Each actor shines in their own way, giving 100% towards their performance, which is the only way to successfully make a movie about eleven people. Whether or not you like Eternals, you will surely get excited about at least one character's future in the MCU.
If you're not a fan of origin stories, buckle up, because there's a whole lot to learn about the Eternals. The film cuts back and forth between the past and present, which makes for decent pacing, but there's still a lot to be desired from a movie that's 2-hours and 37-minutes long. While the movie features a few cool action sequences with the Deviants and a satisfying final showdown, there's a serious lack of excitement considering the runtime. It's also hard to become invested in the movie's present-day stakes due to how soon it takes place after Avengers: Endgame. The looming Emergence is threatening to destroy the planet, but it's difficult to believe the Earth is truly in danger. How many world-ending threats can humans be expected to endure in such a short period of time? Between the Eternas' history, their internal struggles, their battles with the Deviants, and their fight to stop the Emergence, things become jumbled as the movie progresses.
While the story of Eternals is lacking, the visuals are quite stunning thanks to the work of Zhao, who used practical locations throughout the film. This added some much-needed texture to the movie and helped save it from falling completely flat. With any luck, Zhao will get the chance to come back to this world for a sequel with a more focused plot.
One of Eternals biggest strengths is also a bit of a weakness. The movie stands completely on its own, which means you barely need any knowledge of the MCU to follow along. On one hand, this is one of the more refreshing and intriguing things about Phase Four. Eternals proves the MCU can take big risks and go absolutely anywhere. On the other hand, Eternals' disconnection from the rest of the franchise makes it less rewatchable than most of the movies that came before. Hopefully, the film will become more important to the overall MCU arc down the line, but for now, it feels more like a distant cousin than a part of the family. Of course, there are still delightful mid-credits and post-credits scenes that will hype you up for the future.
Eternals will likely be one of the more divisive films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The strong characters and visuals will be enough for some fans to consider it one of the best of the franchise while others will find its messy plot and extended runtime a hard pill to swallow. No matter how you feel about Eternals, there's no denying Phase Four is off to an exciting start.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Eternals hits theaters on November 5th.