Eternals Review: Great for Conversation
The online discourse around this movie skews negative and while there is room for improvement one of the better aspects of the final product is how much you can talk about. Marvel Entertainment's Eternals has quickly become one of my favorite talking points in the past week as I decided to meditate on all it was trying to say whilst still being a superhero film. A lot of the things I enjoyed in this movie originates in the screenplay so most of the credit has to go to Chloé Zhao, Ryan, and Kaz Firpo. The talking points I'm very much excited about are those that happen between the smaller moments in this epic. So with that in mind, let me talk about the big things first...
Eternals was a big scale movie that felt very small. This is a good thing because not everything can be Avengers: Endgame. In its core, the story is about a family being reunited. Sure, the circumstances are life-threatening, but they are very relatable regardless. The larger-than-life aspect of this story are the Celestials. Don't worry, I won't be spoiling what role they have in the overall plot, but their presence is the most reminiscent of Jack Kirby's work in the comics. They look like modern interpretations of these deity-like beings from the 2-D page renditions and I loved every six-eyed, brightly colored appearance. The other "large" aspect of this movie were how the powers were realized. As far as teams go, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet to release a uniformity in their teams. They're all mostly brightly colored characters that work together but aren't visually in tandem. The closest we got to that were the orange, prison jumpsuits in Guardians of the Galaxy and then the team's Ravenger outfits in the same film. Here, each character is outfitted with their respective marble-like, colored costume. A look that is completed by the homogeneous gold tint around everyone's power set. The visuals from the still locations and the action scenes were mesmerizing and I especially loved how extraordinary all these characters felt. Zhao's direction for all of these actors was well realized as these essentially normal (beautiful) humans felt and acted almost mythical. One in particular was Salma Hayek's Ajak as this very well-known actress (that I personally recognize in more comedic roles) felt like she towered over everyone even though in reality she's much smaller in stature than most of her co-stars.
There are aspects to those bigger parts of the film that I will refrain from writing about because they would veer into spoilers, but while I loved the spectacle it's the smaller pieces that I enjoyed the most. This multi-ethnic/cultural cast truly was perceived as a family. This is something that has been missing from the MCU. The Avengers feel like co-workers that get along, the Guardians feel like circumstantial friends, and even Loki and Thor didn't feel like siblings until their third or fourth movie together. This cast truly felt like a family from the get go. Teetering on the spoilers: There's a scene where they all attend a wedding and a 20-second shot of all of them reacting was enough to let me know where they all fell in the family dynamic. I absolutely love a scene that two of them share where they behave like siblings as they each hold what the other one wants/needs. On top of it all, there are moments when this family fights and bickers and flat out hurt each other over very sensitive matters and sometimes over very petty things. All this reveals long-term relationships that is expected from a team of superheroes that have lived over 7,000 years with each other.
The Firpo cousins and Chloé Zhao do such a good job in making these imposing creatures human and relatable that at times I forgot this was an MCU film. Now, while I know a lot of people's criticism was exactly that this doesn't feel like an MCU film; I think this is a very good thing. The visuals, the powers, and the few references to the overall world all tie it in to the pre-established franchise. It's the rest that allows us to understand that not every journey in this expansive world is the same. Just as it is in real-life. Our world is full of differences, cultures, preferences, and lifestyles. This film celebrates all of those things by simply normalizing variety. One of my favorite things, as a sign language interpreter that has grown up in the Deaf community, was how Lauren Ridloff's Makkari was never outright "the Deaf one". Being Deaf just happened to be part of her character, but it was never ignored as her family all signed to her and treated her as an equal. This applied to every Eternal's lifestyle and I was impressed by how seamless it all was portrayed.
This particular story makes it clear that family disagreeing isn't synonymous for lack of love. It also brings up the idea that relationships aren't as clear-cut the way society might set up for us as there's a lot of "chosen family" dynamics. The narrative also gives way for the characters and the audience to question identity. These characters discover more about themselves and that results in a power struggle, the questioning of ideals, and how their given identities become a choice. These are all very human struggles in such a fantastical presentation. Regarding all of this, Barry Keoghan's Druig has my favorite line in the whole movie in response to the villains for the story.
Unfortunately, there's not much I can say about the villains unless I get into spoilers, but that's the one aspect where the movie falters a lot in. There's no compelling antagonist as they are mostly an inconvenience to the overall plot. There are moments of menace, but never did I consider them more than just present. Overall the movie can get away with this, but it I would've enjoyed a little more development from the Deviants than we got in the released film. There's a video Nando v Movies made where he talks about a change the finale would've benefited from. Warning: This video contains spoilers. I had a similar thought of how Angelina Jolie's Thena's confrontation with Bill Skarsgard's Kro would've been better had there been a sense of compassion shown. At the end of the day, this isn't a perfect movie. I would've enjoyed Gemma Chan's Sersi to express more affinity for humans, I would've loved more time with Don Lee's Gilgamesh, and I would've preferred a better interpretation of the Deviants. Still this movie is excellent if you don't expect it to rehash other MCU films.
Chloé, Ryan and Kaz created a lived history in an easy to digest manner by using fables, myths, and legends. They made these comic book characters make sense in our world using these tools. As a fan of mythology and fairy tales, the talking points this movie brought up appeals to me personally which is why I'd recommend this movie.