Emo immortal gods save the world again in Marvel’s very long ‘Eternals’
Both grandiloquent and deeply silly, Eternals posits that the mammoth designs of intergalactic beings determine whether or not earthlings live in harmony or descend into chaos. Ergo a gaggle of godlike humanoids have quietly watched over the planet like guardian angels since the dawn of civilization. They’re on the lookout for creatures called deviants, who want to ravage humanity. Why exactly? Not sure, except that they’re a glitch in the matrix of master builders called Celestials who commanded the Eternals to be Earth’s sentinels while they seed the universe so that future Celestials can be born. One assumes that a different set of Eternals are watching over similar planets menaced by other deviants? Maybe that’s another movie.
ETERNALS★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Chloé Zhao
Written by: Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo
Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie
Running time: 156 mins
Does any of this make sense? Not really, nor does it make for zingy action-packed fun. There’s action, to be sure, but it’s not fun, and it doesn’t have much zing. Eternals is the first Marvel movie to open with literally four paragraphs of exposition, which it presents soberly in white text on black. It feels like homework, and over the course of 156 minutes, the film regurgitates more information that seems important but really isn’t. Basically, mighty powers beyond their control have double-crossed our heroes, and there are only seven days left before Earth is torn asunder.
Never have the stakes been higher or as instantly forgettable in a Marvel movie as this. Same goes for these immortal beings, ten souls with marginally interesting superpowers. She runs fast! He shoots fireballs! She…manipulates inanimate matter? He…designs technology? They also have pompous, stumble-off-the-tongue names like Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ajak (Salma Hayek), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari, and Druig. Catchy, right? One is a wise woman warrior whose name sounds a lot like Athena, even though it’s actually spelled Thena (Angelina Jolie). How do I know? She literally says so, correcting a well-intentioned person who had basic exposure to Greek myths. Speaking of which, Classics majors will fume that the Eternals come from an ostensible home planet called Olympia. And that Marvel has named another character Icarus, except it’s spelled Ikaris (Richard Madden). At least that dude does fly, albeit without any feathers or wax.
No matter. They’ve all been on earth for 7,000 years even though they act like emo millennials. So much for cumulative sagacity or any weighted sense of zen enlightenment that might have come from such time-worn consciousness. They’d rather wise-crack than actually be wise. Plus, ex-lovers Sersi and Ikaris smashed a few thousand years ago, but they’re cool about it, except she now has a new boyfriend (Kit Harrington) and the dynamic is awkward. And Kingo is a Bollywood superstar whose manservant follows them around making a documentary about the group’s exploits. Huh?
The Avengers, this is not. At least that supergroup had the decency to let audiences get to know each member individually before they assembled to fend off a different intergalactic threat. Eternals throws you stone-cold right into the melee, giving you more people to keep track of and less emotional investment overall. Multiculturalism and representation get big boosts, though: the first Indian superhero, the first deaf superhero, the first Korean superhero, the first Mexican superhero, the first black gay superhero.
Having comic-book movies reflect the world’s demographics is significant, and probably gives a nice little boost to the global box office as well. It’s just a pity that such an overstuffed cast doesn’t give anyone a chance to really shine. And that’s what makes Eternals, despite its prog-rock psychedelic visuals and astronomically high stakes, ultimately kind of dull.
Did I mention that the director is Chloé Zhao? Yes, the same person who won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture last Spring. Which goes to show how little that really matters when it comes to mega-budgeted factory product like a new Marvel movie.
Oh, also, Thanos has a horny kid brother.