ETERNALS is directed by Chloe Zhao. The film stars Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie. It’s the 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Eternals are ageless beings sent to Earth to eliminate the Deviants, deadly creatures unleashed on the planet. These heroes have been living on Earth in secret for over seven millennia, blending in with humanity and living their own lives. The team disbands and everyone goes to live their separate lives when all the Deviants are believed killed, with strict orders not to interfere in human conflict unless the Deviants are involved, but they’re forced to reunite and return to the fray when newer, more powerful Deviants surface in the present day. But is everything what it seems? It seems like, for the most part, the MCU is that “Wonder Franchise” that can do no wrong, with nearly every film being a masterpiece unto itself. Unfortunately, not every media franchise is perfect, and the house that Marvel built is no exception. Fresh off her success with NOMADLAND, ETERNALS is helmed by director Chloe Zhao, but it’s one of the messiest and most inconsistent films in the franchise. It creates decent character-driven relationships and some of the attempts at humor aren’t half bad. But it’s a poorly-written film with plot holes and twists that just make the movie even less interesting as it goes along. Zhao is a talented filmmaker, but seems to have missed out on what makes the MCU so great, even if a handful of sequences fare decently and the movie moves faster than you’d expect. I’ll give the film credit for what it does well. The casting is fantastic; this is commonplace with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s at least something ETERNALS performs well. Each actor and actress does the best with what they’ve been given. Ironically, it’s a non-superhero, a filmmaker character played by Indian actor Harish Patel, who gives the movie’s best performance, and of course the movie doesn’t have enough of him, though his brand of humor is a highlight. There are also several characters with a variety of powers, so the movie manages to provide eye candy throughout its duration, both in the modern world and several ancient civilizations attacked by the Deviants. When it shines, it shines, but those moments are too few and far between. Thankfully, the pacing is quite rapid despite the overlong running time. It didn’t feel like the nearly three hours it ran for, and that’s a good thing. And then, everything comes crashing down. I admire Marvel Studios and its team for taking changes on some lesser-known characters and properties, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and SHANG-CHI, for example, were made into excellent films and catapulted those characters to A-list status. Sadly, lightning doesn’t strike for ETERNALS. The film is dour and overdramatic, with its tone reminiscent of early DC Extended Universe films. Attempts at drama are drowned out by the film defining characters more by their abilities (or in one case, a disability) than their human characteristics. When I walk away from a movie remembering the characters as “the girl who can turn stuff to dust” and “the guy who can control people’s minds,” and tell you very little else about said character, you know something's wrong. As much as I appreciate Marvel’s attempts at inclusion, they ultimately feel more like attempts at tokenism and ways of appeasing the woke crowd; the case in point being a deaf girl featured as a character in the movie. Did I mention everyone in the film has a perfect understanding of modern sign language, millennia before it was developed? Moments like this do more harm to ETERNALS than good. Almost everything this movie does, the former 20th Century Fox/Studios X-MEN franchise did better in one way or another. The movie also continues Marvel’s one most disappointing trend in the MCU, which is the failure to produce compelling villains. The Deviants are literally these CG dog-like monsters who kill humans… and that’s about it. Attempts to add to their backstory and origin in the film, once more, do more harm than good. It doesn’t help that they’re largely absent from the film’s second half despite being billed as the primary villains. The plot twists that follow in the film’s second half come out of left field, feeling forced and inconsistent. It doesn’t help that they’re abruptly resolved, and the film itself ends in the worst possible place. Unlike other MCU movies, attempts at a cliffhanger here didn’t leave me wanting more. I can’t say that for any other film in the franchise.
-MINOR SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH- The plot holes are numerous and make the end results here even less satisfying. One of the biggest offenders in the movie: The Eternals are beings designed by a Celestial being to combat the Deviants, yet the characters find themselves facing identity crises in the movie regarding their bigger mission. If you were designing beings to be the perfect hunters of Deviants, why would you a) grant them free will, and b) make one of them deaf? Wouldn’t it make more sense to make a bunch of physically perfect beings who’d obey no matter what? I won’t get into the other plot holes here, but this is just an example of what makes ETERNALS a weaker-than-average MCU movie. -END SPOILERS- Eternals is a beautiful looking film with a great cast, but it tries to reach too far and wide, doing too much. Its characters are defined by their abilities rather than their personalities, and attempts to build the mythos and introduce plot twists and origin stories actually do more harm than good. I don’t remember the last time an MCU movie didn’t leave me wanting more. Rent or stream ETERNALS when it’s available for home viewing, but don’t rush to the theater.