After thirteen years and twenty-five films, it only makes sense that the standard formula for what makes a Marvel movie earns something of a deviation from the expected. The tightly choreographed fight sequences, the amusing quips, the CGI-heavy climactic battle…all ingredients that, to the testament of such an institution, have been recycled in a variety of entertaining and intricate manners. And whilst Eternals, the latest cab off the MCU rank, indulges in these ingredients too, it opts for an emotional, biblical edge that is likely to test the genre puritans who prefer brawl to brains.
Whilst the Eternals themselves, with their specifically coloured garbs and respective super-powers, have an air of “The Avengers” about them, Chloe Zhao‘s ambitious actioner aims for more, presenting the titular crew as ancient-old cosmic beings that have existed since before the dawn of civilisation. Their singular goal was to protect the Earth from a species of deadly creatures known as Deviants, implored by their leader to never interfere in any other destructive source, believing that humanity needs certain chaos in order to thrive and evolve; this being a reason as to why they weren’t on hand to protect mankind in previous films.
The Eternals themselves are born from mythological figures known throughout history, with the likes of Gilgamesh (Don Lee), a Sumerian blessed with super strength, the flying wonder Ikaris (Richard Madden), the closest thing the MCU has to rivalling Superman, and Thena (Angelina Jolie), the Goddess of War, just a slew of the saviours that Zhao’s script unravels over the course of a mammoth 156 minutes.
Though introducing such a large array of characters in one sitting means certain developments feel unrealised, Eternals still manages to forge believable relationships between its ensemble, with their lived-in mentality and romantic inclinations proving one of the film’s strongest assets. It’s all very well and good that The Avengers succeeded at jovial banter, but a lot of their coming together was out of necessity, these Eternals, though initially together as a cosmic requirement, maintain a connection beyond their duty when their wise and spiritual leader Ajak (Salma Hayek) informs them after so many thousands of years that they are free to live their own lives, on their own terms.
It’s when the film gives us a glimpse into their existence of intended normality that it really sets itself apart from the other entrants that came before. Sersi (Gemma Chan), an empath who hones a deep connection to humanity, serves as something of a mother figure to the forever pre-teen Sprite (Lia McHugh), who yearns for the ability to age so she can love and raise a family like all those around her, whilst Druig (Barry Keoghan), a manipulator of minds, and Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), the MCU’s first deaf superhero, transcend their limited screen-time with a scorching chemistry that burns even when they’re relegated to the background. The action on hand may not differ from anything that has come before, but in terms of progression and emotionality (we finally get an openly gay, non clickbait, hero in Brian Tyree Henry‘s weapon and technology innovator Phastos), Zhao’s film accomplishes more in a singular feature than the previous titles combined.
For everything Eternals gets right – which also includes its visually appealing, more muted colour pallet, a stark contrast to the more candy-coated shadings of your Thor’s and your Guardians‘ – it isn’t immune to buckling under its own ambition. The seeming need to please its standard audience is felt in its overly CGI-rendered final battle sequence, with a villain no less that doesn’t feel entirely organic to the plight. Perhaps it ultimately comes down to the fact that, in these early stages of Marvel’s Phase 4, these Eternals don’t feel entirely necessary. We are informed they will return in the obligatory post-credit sequence (and, if it hasn’t already been spoiled for you, there’s one helluva character appearance that looks ripe to set an interesting dynamic going forward) and, indeed, the film’s ending leaves us for wanting more, but they’re existing in their own niche clique for the time being, and their lack of interacting with any recognisable stock could very well work against them for the audiences unwilling to embrace mass change.
THREE AND A HALF (OUT OF FIVE)
Eternals is screening in Australian theatres from November 4th, 2021.