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Review: Eternals (2021)

Eternals (2021)

Directed by: Chloé Zhao

Premise: Part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A group of powerful beings protect humanity from creatures known as Deviants. An evolved strain of Deviants reappears, forcing the Eternals to emerge from hiding.

What Works: The Marvel Cinematic Universe has achieved great success adhering to narrative and stylistic templates that have been more or less consistent across this franchise. Eternals is an interesting addition to the MCU because it is quite different from any of the other films in this series. Its scale is ambitiously broad; the Eternals have been on Earth since the dawn of mankind and the story jumps around the timeline, flashing back to the Eternals reacting to critical moments in history. That grandiose scale is matched by a cerebral pitch. The Eternals experience the world differently than a garden variety superhero and the filmmakers allow that perspective to shape the movie’s style and tone. The story sets the fleeting nature of individual existence against the larger forces at work in the universe and Eternals has a slower and more considered approach to its filmmaking.

What Doesn’t: That slower filmmaking style is right for these characters but the moviemakers are still obligated to provide the audience with characters and stories that are engaging. The film doesn’t do that. Eternals is about a team of intergalactic beings and their relationship to the planet that they’ve adopted. The problem is that no one in this movie is interesting. With the exception of Phastos and Kingo (Brian Tyree Henry and Kumail Nanjiani), the characters don’t have much personality nor do they have personal lives or interests that distinguish them. Most of the first half of Eternals is about “getting the band back together” and this section is flat and repetitive. A lot of screentime passes without anything actually happening. The film is invested in the Eternals’ reunion but it isn’t amusing or even interesting. We’re shown the breakup of the team but their reunification does not resolve any of the conflicts that caused them to go their separate ways. Eternals is yet another fantasy film in which Earth is threatened with destruction. Stakes at that scale only work if the viewer is given empathetic characters who have something personal and tangible at risk. Eternals possesses neither and the climatic fight sequence is a standard digital effects spectacle with no heart. The lack of interesting characters or engaging conflicts results in a film that is dramatically flat and frequently boring.

Bottom Line: Eternals is an ambitious disappointment. It deserves credit for trying to do something different but it never does any of that very well. If this was supposed to be Marvel’s version of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, it’s closer to Joss Whedon’s Justice League.

Episode: #878 (November 14, 2021)