While Eternals owns most of the credentials of a Marvel movie, Zhao’s sprawling superhero epic is unlike anything the MCU has produced before.
The 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the third in Phase 4, Eternals introduces a whole new team of superheroes to the world of the Marvel Studios franchise. The film is directed by Chloé Zhao (Nomadic country) from a screenplay she co-wrote with Patrick Burleigh (Ant-Man and the Wasp), Ryan Firpo (Bet Increase Fold) and Kaz Firpo (Refuge), and based on a story of the Firpos. Eternals adapts the Marvel Comics characters of the same name, created by Jack Kirby in 1976, bringing alien heroes into the world of the MCU. While Eternals has most of the credentials of a Marvel movie, Zhao’s sprawling superhero epic is unlike anything the MCU has produced before.
The story of the film begins in 5000 BC, showing how the Eternals are sent to Earth to protect the planet and the humans who live there from evil aliens called Deviants. Over time, the team fights the Deviants until they are all but extinct, although the Eternals are prohibited from engaging in human conflict. The film resumes nowadays with the separation of the team. Sersi (Gemma Chan) lives in London with Sprite (Lia McHugh) and is dating human Dane Whitman (Kit Harington). When a Deviant attacks, Ikaris (Richard Madden) arrives and the Eternals realize they need to get their team together. The three of them travel the world to visit their former team members: Ajak (Salma Hayek), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Druig (Barry Keoghan) , Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). Together, they must understand why the Deviants are back and come up with a plan to protect Earth.
Despite the number of characters included in Eternals, Zhao’s movie does a great job of weaving their stories together and showing the different ways each hero is affected by their time on Earth. However, a central thematic storyline is achieved by focusing much of the plot around Sersi and Ikaris. Their romantic relationship ended by the time the movie picks up these days, but it works as an emotional core for Eternals. Their romance is really sweet, if rushed, with a montage – which includes a wedding scene that’s shortly followed by the MCU’s very first sex scene – doing most of the work to establish Sersi’s relationship and Ikaris. Their dynamics are much more complicated in today’s storyline, and the tragedy of their failed romance gives Eternals much of his heart, providing depth to the story.
While Sersi and Ikaris receive much of the film’s attention, Eternals also gives other characters their due. Sprite has her own tragic story as she struggles to fit into a world that sees her as a child, and McHugh does a great job of achieving the delicate balance such a character arc needs. Nanjiani’s Kingo often acts as comic relief in Eternals, for which the actor is well suited, although the third act seems not to know what to do with him. Thena and Gilgamesh have their own deep bond that isn’t as explored as Sersi and Ikaris’s, but Jolie and Lee are an extremely fun duo to watch. Keoghan, Henry, Ridloff, and Hayek all have a lot to work for, though their characters are a bit more monotonous. Still, there is a surprising amount of depth to Druig, Phastos, Makkari, and Ajak that is either explicitly presented to viewers or hinted at through the characters’ actions and interactions with the other Eternals. Overall, the film was given the monumental task of introducing ten completely new characters to the MCU and developing them enough for audiences to support them all – and Zhao skillfully pulls it off.
Although Eternals is essentially a character drama, Zhao still manages to include most of the main features of a Marvel movie, especially the action and humor – for better or for worse. The action of Eternals is, for the most part, grounded in reality in large part because Zhao films the fight scenes in daylight and on location. There are few grayish or CGI backgrounds. This makes the movie more immersive and the action more exciting as a result, with the exception of some shots of Ikaris flying and fighting deviants. As for comedy, Eternals humor in spades thanks to Kingo and Sprite. While much of the comedy is fun and entertaining like most Marvel movies, there are other times when a joke undermines an important emotional moment (although Eternals is it less than Thor: Ragnarok). For everyone Eternals tries to set itself apart from other MCU entries – and it does, most of the time – it’s still a Marvel movie. It could be heartwarming for those who truly love the Marvel formula, and disheartening for others who are hoping to finally get a truly different MCU movie.
Ultimately, Eternals worth a visit for all MCU fans, from the most casual to the hard-core. Zhao is able to provide enough different Marvel movie experience to Eternals feel fresh (at least compared to previous phases). Phase 4 turns out to be one of Marvel’s most experimental, with Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the ten rings and now Eternals to bring something new and unheard of to the MCU, which is exciting both for each individual viewing experience and for the franchise as a whole. The 26th film in the franchise may set for an exciting future for the MCU (although it should be noted that the post-credits scenes were not shown during this review’s press screening), but Eternals is an epic and thrilling superhero adventure, with a captivating emotional heart beautifully animated by the direction of Zhao. It’s a Marvel movie unlike anything the MCU has seen so far.
Next: Eternals Movie Trailer
Eternals hits theaters on Thursday evening November 4. It is 157 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for fantastic violence and action, some language, and brief sexuality.
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