Let’s get right down to it – this movie is far better than the critics would have you believe. Is it a touch too long? For sure. Is it a tad melodramatic at times? Most definitely. However, knowing what I know about Eternals from the comic books, I told people not to expect Avengers or Spider-Man. I told them to expect a cosmic think-piece, and I stand by that prediction. A cosmic think-piece is exactly what we got.
I’ll try to boil the plot down without spoiling any of it. The Eternals are a group of powered entities sent to protect humanity specifically against an otherworldly race of predators. Once they rid Earth of these creatures, their mission will be complete. However, they are banned from interfering in any way that does not involve the predators. We span thousands and thousands of years in Eternals, with many cuts back and forth throughout time. Eventually, the Eternals believe the time to go home has finally arrived. And they are right, but for reasons they never could have imagined.
Eternals hired very good actors for a purpose – it needed them to bring these unknown characters to life and to make us care about them. (I mean, come on! Who doesn’t love seeing Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, and Richard Madden in the same movie!) Again, yes, the movie is too long – no one is arguing that. But, that long runtime allows us to really get to know each and every member of the Eternals – all ten of them. They each have distinct personalities and philosophies, and the respective actors playing each character do a nice job with showcasing these unique attributes. This is a family of sorts, and we’re meant to believe that they’ve been together for thousands of years. As a result, their relationships are complicated. For the most part, I believe Eternals delivered a smart plot with fully developed characters. In fact, there were a few twists in this movie that I didn’t even see coming. I quite enjoyed that.
It’s important that Marvel begins to recondition their audience with a film like Eternals. I imagine Marvel wants to allow a bit more room for its characters to breathe. It wants to explore the deep, sometimes even trippy, imaginings of luminaries like Jack Kirby. It wants to present morally complex tales that exist beyond “good guys” and “bad guys.” It’s hard to do this with established characters or properties. We know we’re getting weird from Dr. Strange, but not necessarily deep characterization. We know we’re getting funny from Guardians Of the Galaxy, but maybe not cosmic philosophy. Eternals attempts to tackle this endeavor while still remaining part of the MCU. But think about how hard it is to break the mold with largely unknown characters! The audience isn’t familiar with any of them, nor do they have a preexisting affinity for them. Studios keep remaking movies from the past with well-known characters because that guarantees a certain audience draw. Marvel rolled the dice on a largely dramatic movie like Eternals, and they did so with a director not known for these kinds of films.
By the way, I love that Marvel took a chance on Chloé Zhao. Getting fresh perspectives, styles, and voices is important if you want to keep leviathans like the MCU feeling new. On first view, though, I didn’t get a huge sense of where Zhao’s sensibilities shook things up. She’s also the writer, so perhaps her macro level influence is exactly what I’m talking about. Slower pace. Deeper characterization. More complex plot elements.
Consequently, Eternals is not a total departure from established Marvel trends. It’s still funny at times, though there are far more tears than we’re accustomed to seeing. There are still great action sequences, though they are spread out further than what we’re used to. The special effects are fantastic, and the costumes are magnificent. Eternals also opened up a lot of potential storylines, both within the movie itself and with its credit stingers. (There’s two, so stay all the way through the credits.)
This film is honestly a big swing for Marvel. Eternals is an epic story involving ten main characters while spanning millennia. It’s addressing what has come before, the present, and setting up stories to come. No, it does not provide pulse-pounding excitement, but it does present an interesting story with fully realized characters that I came to care about. Too long? Yes. Too much crying? I think so. Worth seeing? Absolutely.