Over the last few years, it really feels like Marvel Studios are scraping the superhero barrel as they slowly get incorporated and assimilated into The Walt Disney Company money-making machine. Eternals is the 26th film in the slowly deteriorating MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) cog, which now seems to be focussed on increasing Disney+’s subscribers via weaker spin-offs rather than making big-screen blockbusters. If you stay for the Eternals‘ post-credit sequences (and because this is a Marvel movie, you kinda have to) we have the introduction of Eros aka Starfox and the Black Knight, but for me and a lot of the public, these names mean nothing. Star Fox is a Nintendo game and The Black Knight will always remind me of Martin Lawrence. In all honesty, I hadn’t even heard of The Eternals until the trailers and posters came out. I mean think about it. Back when there was a Thor post-credit scene in one of the Iron Man movies, it worked because Thor, either via Norse mythology or Adventures Is Babysitting, is familiar to us. The likes of Hulk and Spider-Man have also been part of popular culture for decades – you don’t need to be a comic book fan to know who these characters are – but unless you’re a superhero nerd, “The Eternals” or even the word “eternal” conjures-up the shite 90’s R&B group before the comic book. Like the upcoming Hawkeye series and the overrated movie Black Widow, this latest offering feels like a lesser part of the franchise, and the largely drab acting and bargain-basement effects doesn’t help matters. With the baddies (the Deviants) looking like reject creatures from James Cameron’s Avatar that have been gold plated, and a cast that include way too many dull and forgettable actors, not to mention the really, really long runtime, this largely boring movie isn’t exactly gonna set the cinema screen alight.
The Eternals‘ plot mentions the events of Avengers: Endgame but this storyline feels like it’s been tacked-on at a later date. The “Eternals” are an immortal creation of the “Celestials”, protecting humanity from the “Deviants” but this is just comic-book mumbo-jumbo. At its core, Eternals involves a bigger and potentially weightier concept than any of the previous Marvel movies; human civilisation, evolution, intelligence, our role in the universe, historical truths to myths and legends, and for all intents and purposes, God. The central premise which is part Stargate part Pinocchio and part Interview With The Vampire, could have, under the right circumstances, been a much deeper and epic story. This could have also been an episodic television show told chronologically from 5000 B.C. to the present day. Ironically, Eternals has all the aesthetics of a TV show including the aforementioned mediocre actors and acting.
I don’t care how many middle-aged women get moist at the sight of Richard Madden, he doesn’t have that silver-screen-charisma. This also applies to Kit Harington and Gemma Chan who both look like they’re performing on a crappy television series. And for fuck’s sake can Harry Styles please quit acting and bugger-off to some vintage dress shop? To show how acting’s supposed to be done, we thankfully have Barry Keoghan who at least brings some meaning to some of his lines but he’s not in this flick enough to matter. Instead we have oodles of screen-time for Angelina Jolie as her character suffers from some kind of cosmic equivalent of schizophrenia, but as in the overrated Girl, Interrupted, she fails to make it believable (along with whatever accent she’s doing).
With a screenplay by Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo, and with Zhao directing, the script clearly has aspirations of being akin to Cloud Atlas but instead comes across as a TV melodrama or a Harry Potter spin-off. People may say a director who works predominately in drama shouldn’t direct an action movie, but the problem here isn’t the action. This film is arguably more of a drama anyway, and the fact that it doesn’t move you, it fails at the very thing it should succeed in. While I’m mentioning writing, you know it isn’t up to par when Kumail Nanjiani doesn’t have anything funny to say. And on a side note, why did Kumail even bother getting a six-pack when he’s in scenes with a few beer-bellies? But I digress.
As a story, we have a couple of muddled ideas. Given that the Eternals have intervened in human history, we’re told that all our inventions (or at least the ones that really matter) are thanks to an alien android, and some of our best stories from classic Mesopotamian poetry (Epic Of Gilgamesh) to Greek myths (Icarus) have been penned by an off-world Tinker Bell. Given that we can’t invent anything or write anything, humans are reduced to violent killers and over-populators. What a great message 🧐. At the same time however, we have the cliched idea of a god pondering whether the human race is worth saving – but they love as well as kill each other! – we haven’t heard that in any of the Wonder Woman, Superman, or X-Men films have we? Of course, creator Chloé Zhao, who failed to denounce Amazon’s slave-like work practices in Nomadland isn’t averse to giving her audience mixed messages.
If you consider that Hollywood narratives either mirror or reinforce society, we’ve gone from “clever or rich people are better than regular folk” (Iron Man, Batman etc.) to “humans are generally backward and inventors and scientists are almost akin to gods”. And you wonder why morons deify the Elon Musks and Bill Gates of the world.
The one positive here is the inclusivity. The film includes actors of all shades of brown and peach (black and white don’t really exist in human pigment) plus there’s a gay character (unfortunately played by a straight actor Brian Tyree Henry) and a deaf character (thankfully played by deaf actor Lauren Ridloff). Whilst on this topic, there are of course, a certain section of society that see this as some sort of negative. The recent “too woke” crowd who have been busy denouncing the latest John Lewis advert because it stars a black boy, may point to the diversity of the cast or the Asian female director as some kind of reason to stick to the hackneyed Marvel formula. May I remind them that Thor, The Fantastic Four (and even DC’s Superman and Justice League) have had bad installments thanks to white male directors and Black Panther and Shang-Chi have been better movies, so quit with your bigoted shite.
Eternals could be viewed as a break from the tried-and-tested Marvel shtick and in some ways it is. For me, this could have been a film that truly bucked the trend. Had this movie been pure drama with more pathos and absolutely no one-liners, it could have been a welcome change of pace like DC’s Joker. But alas, nobody involved in its creation had the chutzpah to break from the now hackneyed “good guys defeat bad guys with one back-stabber who learns their lesson”. Along with the overdone flying, laser eyes, fast running, self-healing, conjuring-up energy balls, yada yada, we’ve all become tired of these super-powers. What we need, since Marvel is clearly delving into the depths of their vaults, is powers never before seen or stories never before told. You can’t just whip-out a dusty old comic book, hand it to a recent Oscar winner and expect magic. You’re not an…