Eternals should feel eternally long. The decision makers at Marvel felt that fans are willing to invest almost three hours getting acquainted with the new cast of characters they hope will carry their superheroes into countless individual and team mega-hits, a new franchise within a franchise. I’m not feeling it.
Before seeing this movie, you should know a few things. It takes a while to explain the comic universe created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. It would take a college course to trace their history as collaborators and their creations. Maybe this will help you with this latest film.
Beings known as Celestials, who pre-date the Big Bang, are led by Arishem. They brought light to the cosmos, created the stars and planets, and spread life throughout the universe. In order to create more of their kind, they seeded planets upon which a critical mass of sentient life is required to initiate the “Emergence” of a new Celestial from its embryonic state. To ensure that no apex predators suppressed the sentient population, they created Deviants, so named because they betrayed their creator and began killing everything. That’s bad for an emergence, so the Eternals were created to battle the Deviants.
But wait, aren’t the Eternals then helping the Celestials destroy worlds and all beings who live there? Yup, and several of the Eternals have taken a liking to Earth. Not only that, but in a previous Marvel story line, Thanos destroyed half of all life on Earth (The Snap) and then they came back (The Blip) at the end of Avengers Endgame. Bringing back half the human population after an absence of five years left survivors reeling, along with the global economy and geopolitics. It also restored the sentient critical mass necessary to birth a Celestial. Therein lie the conflicts and the reason for a whole bunch of battles throughout this film. No good deed goes unpunished.
If I have any of this wrong, Marvel fans, forgive me. Yours is a deep and complicated obsession with superheroes, superpowers, good and evil. Now, on to the problems I had with this film.
The Eternals showed up on Earth in a Lego, a chunk of green granite countertop shaped like a piece of pizza. They arrived in Mesopotamia during 5000 BC. They buried their ship (the Domo) under the sands of what later became Iraq and embedded themselves in a variety of human cultures. I guess that explains why they all have different accents, but are essentially mythic gods from the past. Angelina Jolie does a lot of standing around looking cheeky and blonde in an outfit that both accentuates and hides her now almost fifty-year-old body. She plays Thena (“Drop the A," she says.) In fact, all of the Eternals are sporting form fitting gear of different colors and designs, and they do a lot of standing side by side in a row to impress upon us that they are…The Eternals.
The movie flips between current day and various points in history to explain how The Eternals protected and advanced human cultures. A character named Phastos spends much of his time inventing game changing technology for the humans to embrace. At one point he shows off his new steam engine and is forced instead to only introduce the plow. The humans aren’t ready for steam power. But the pride with which he shows off his steam engine leaves you wondering how he arrived on a flying granite pizza. A steam engine?
A redeeming character is Kingo, played by the always funny Kamail Nanjiani. The producers allowed his humor to be a highlight of the show. Most of the other characters were rather lackluster. Gemma Chan as Sersi seems to invoke her robotic Mia character from the show Humans. And why did Salma Hayek take the role of Ajak? Her appearance was mercifully short.
Deviants are the usual dragon/dinosaur sinewy, snarling, hungry monsters. Nothing new there.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, we find out that Harry Styles will be playing Eros in a future film. Having turned down the role of Prince Eric in the live action Little Mermaid, I guess he had his heart set on being a superhero.
Some effects in Eternals are spectacular. Others are rather clumsy. Early battle scenes between a Deviant and Thena look cartoon-like. And Arishem is big, red, scary and has a voice like Barry White, but really comes across kind of flat.
Possibly the most intriguing thing in Eternals came during the closing credits. A series of images, artifacts from a variety of cultures, beautifully photographed and highlighted in gold light strands, suggest a connection between the “gods” in the Marvel universe and the subjects within human artwork through the ages. They were obvious inspirations.
There were several references to the Avengers and a couple to Thanos. That was the extent of the continuity between series. This movie is all new. I miss Ironman.
Eternals (2021) runs 2 hours, 36 minutes and is rated PG-13
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