Eternals (2021)

I have to first confess something before I do my first movie review since… 2017? (Wait really??)

I have not been as interested in Marvel since Avengers: Endgame, which gave me an unreal amount of closure and finality.

You may be wondering if I have watched anything from the MCU since Endgame and the answer is yes, I’ve watched all the things since Endgame but Phase 4 hasn’t held much of my interest. I enjoyed WandaVision and The Falcoln and Winter Soldier and Loki and Shang-Chi (not so much Black Widow) but I’m not invested in this cinematic universe anymore.

So I’ll admit that I thought I was detached enough to not really need to see Eternals.
Until it seemed it would get spoiled for me, and I realized I wanted to see it enough to not want it to be spoiled. Whodathunk, this MCU sucker is still a sucker after all.

Before Eternals‘s release, there was a LOT of buzz. The auteur director fresh off her Oscar win! A star-studded and diverse cast! Including not one but two Stark brothers from Game of Thrones! It’s Phase 4 and we’re working in more comics material, aka things are getting weird! As soon as the hype started, the critiques started coming in, too. Before I bought a ticket, I was hearing a lot about how this movie got the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of any MCU film ever, how the movie was just being review bombed by people who hate women directors and a diverse cast.

Well. I went to go see for myself. (No spoilers until after the trailer.)

Eternals (2021) movie poster

I went in with quite low expectations, given all that I had heard, and came out of the theater thinking it was a decent Marvel movie. My main issue was that it was a bit too ambitious. Eternals is hardly connected to any previous MCU movie. Basically every mention of other Marvel characters or events is in a trailer: Thanos obliterating half of the universe and everyone being brought back, Captain America and Iron Man and the future leadership of the Avengers.

But otherwise, this movie felt like the start of something brand new, with many possibilities for sequels and spin-offs but little tying it to the pre-existing MCU. I don’t think seeing any of the past 12 years of Marvel movies will help you understand this one more. We are introduced to a lot of new characters, including 10 Eternals.

I mention this because with us being 13 years deep into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, building towards bigger and more integrated stories, Eternals felt unusual in that it focused on completely new-to-movie-audience characters, teased even more new characters by the end of the movie (including their infamous mid- and post-credit scenes), and focused on powers and stakes and settings that we have not really touched in any of the past movies or shows.

That being said, this movie had a strong emotional core. I think I cried… 3? times over the course of the film. (True, I cry very easily, but still! I usually don’t cry more than once or twice a movie.) Some early reviews said that this was the first Marvel movie to feature a romance as a primary plotline (versus the many… mediocre at best romances we’ve seen in the MCU) but I actually found the romance in Eternals underwhelming, especially when compared to the much more compelling family relationships between the 10 Eternals. 10 superpowered beings brought together on this messy planet of ours for millennia leads to some interesting dynamics that I enjoyed seeing play out.

My main critique of the movie is that it was too ambitious in what it tried to achieve in a single feature-length film. I’m still not too sure what each of the Eternals’ powers are? The plot was simple but not straightforward and could have used a lot more time to flesh out the stakes, the context, all of these brand new characters.

Speaking of these characters, I really did love how diverse this cast is! Lauren Ridoff, the deaf actor who plays the first deaf MCU superhero, and her standout performance as speedster Makarri have led to an increased interest in learning American Sign Language. Brian Tyree Henry and his character, Phastos, represent many things to many people, not least of all as a man who didn’t have to lose weight to be a superhero. Salma Hayek was moved to tears upon her own realization that her Ajak is a brown face in superhero suit on the screen. Gemma Chan and Kumail Nanjiani and Don Lee are representing Asian actors in ways that are still not yet often seen in Hollywood.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how stunning this movie is. Marvel has cast many different directors with distinctive styles to helm their movies, and although I haven’t seen any of Chloé Zhao’s movies before, it had an immediately recognizable visual style that sets it apart from the rest of the MCU. To be honest, sometimes the visuals felt too grandiose, so as to almost feel unreal, almost fake, even though Zhao opted to shoot on location in lieu of green screen. At times, these beautiful visuals were distracting in how long the camera lingered on them. In a movie where time is scarce and we didn’t have enough time to get properly situated in the world of Eternals, some of the scenes felt too indulgent. Sure, the scenes are gorgeous, every frame a painting, but some of them don’t have enough substance to support them, in a film where we really needed a bit more support to this story.

Phase 4 is getting weird, folks. As we drift farther from the watered down, more palatable comic storylines of Phase 1 and into the cosmic, multiversal narratives, I’m curious to see how the next years of Marvel movies play out. I’m not sure I feel as invested as I was a few years ago before Thanos snapped half of the universe away, but it’ll be a fun ride.

Marvel Studios’ trailer for Eternals

Hooooooo boy, okay where can I start with the spoiler-y part of the review??

Can I be candid? I was not that surprised that Ikaris was a secondary secret villain because I’ve always found Richard Madden’s performances to have a slightly sinister vibe. When he was cast in live-action Cinderella as Prince Charming, I remember wondering if Disney was going to go the edgy twist route by making him a secret villain? His performance and scenes were inspired by Zac Snyder’s Man of Steel and it REALLY showed visually. To me, Ikaris (and, similarly, Sersi) fell short in the same way that Man of Steel did, which is to say that there was too much stoicism that made it difficult for the audience to really emotionally connect to these characters despite an attempt to do so being present.

I really was not convinced by the “epic” love story between Sersi and Ikaris, not least of all because of the choice to have Sersi play such an introspective, quietly vulnerable, and not particularly expressive. While we do get Marvel’s first sex scene in a franchise that has so far been fairly sexless, it didn’t feel earned or emotionally gratifying. In fact, I was straight-up creeped out by how Ikaris crept up on Sersi to confess his love to her, he was extremely creepy. There is more chemistry between other Eternals than between Ikaris and Sersi, and the weird thing where he leaves her because he knew the truth doesn’t… make much sense? I don’t know, but this is not the first Marvel movie to focus on a love story, in my opinion.

One performance I was particularly impressed with was Angelina Jolie as Thena. It’s not important whether her bond with Gilgamesh (Don Lee) is platonic or romantic, but watching Thena struggle with Mahd Wy’ry (truly thought this was spelled “mad weary” but okay) was one of the strongest emotional ties to this movie I felt. Losing trust in yourself to not hurt your loved ones? Placing trust instead in someone else to keep you safe and keep everyone safe from you? Watching that man die protecting you? Learning that your delusions have been real all along? I’ll admit that I didn’t fully understand Angelina Jolie’s talent as an actress but now, after Eternals, I do. I also really loved her costume and her powers, they were just soooo gorgeous.

Let’s take a quick moment to talk mid- and post-credits scenes, yeah?
So I knew going into this movie that Harry Styles appears during the mid-credits scene as Eros, and it’s fun but just a little tease for future Marvel things, more of the fantastical and cosmic strangeness to come.
But the post-credits scene, that many people skipped?
Similarly a tease, but here is where I learned that Dane Whitman (Kit Harington) was not making a Game of Thrones joke when he mentioned his “complicated family history” but was referring to his comic book character — Black Knight — because he was standing before the Ebony Blade. And then, at the very end, a “Are you sure you want to do that?” that I somehow was able to immediately recognize as Mahershala Ali, who will be playing Blade in an upcoming MCU release.

tl;dr from these scenes? The MCU is certainly going to be venturing into the arcane, the cosmic, and the supernatural.

To be honest, I’m still processing some of the implications of this movie and trying to figure out what… some of it meant. But I’m curious to see if we’ll see Tiamut’s petrified body in future movies, if we’ll see a human Sprite make cameos in the future (maybe interacting with Peter Parker??), and if Arishem will appear in any non-Eternals films.

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