Marvel’s Eternals movie deserves some credit for having the most of everything. It has the most characters ever introduced in one MCU picture. It has the most epic of stories with a script that spans centuries.
Marvel’s Eternals has the most ambitious themes of any MCU movie. There are concepts of existentialism, mortality, and utilitarianism that the characters grapple with. The central heroes even question whether or not to fight God, more or less.
All of those elements are great to pursue. Whether they’ll work well in the MCU template, however, is another story. The short answer is that it almost works.
Eternals Were Always There
Eternals are established from the earliest point of the MCU timeline. Going back to the dawn of mankind in 5000 BC, humanoid aliens are tasked by Celestial Arishem to defend Earth. Their mission is to make sure humans are not wiped out by the monsters known as the Deviants.
The ensemble of ten is given powers to keep up this fight. They can battle the Deviants and even make friends with the humans. They cannot, however, interfere with human events, explaining their absence from previous Marvel movies.
The mission carries on for centuries. Romance blooms and fades between the Eternals. There’s also a questioning of just how long their mission will continue before they can return home.
Long Lives of Many
All ten Eternals are given their own character and arcs that fight for screentime. The most compelling among them are Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) for their romance. They fall in love, marry, and fall out of love as the decades continue.
The two of them represent the conflicting nature of their mission. Ikaris, with powers of flight and laser eyes, believes in its mission and that it should continue. Sersi, with the ability to manipulate matter, feels the same but that the mission deserves questioning.
Many of the characters find themselves grappling with the morality of their purpose. Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is an inventor who wants to push technology but fears humanity is doomed to handle it. Druig (Barry Keoghan) uses his mind-manipulation powers sparingly but reconsiders when seeing how humans behave.
The disagreements in the mission leads to their split. They only reassemble when finding that the Deviants are more abundant and stronger than ever. When they learn that the Deviants can also absorb their powers, Eternals are due for a reunion.
There is a unique approach to this regrouping in a nonlinear manner. We catch up with the Eternals post-split and their past comes together in bits and pieces. There’s a lot less downtime for a story that jumpstart early.
The film jumps all around in time to tell this lengthy story of long-living beings. One scene could take place in modern-day England where Sersi is teaching a class. The next could be during World War II or a feud of the 1500s.
So Little Time
The major problem with such a picture is that it just can’t house everything. Though the timeline is diced up accordingly, the characters are packed tightly into this picture. It allows for little time to breathe or grow with them.
Just look at the character of Sprite (Lia McHugh), an Eternal who cannot age past looking like a child. Sprite has qualms about never being viewed as an adult or romantically pursued by Ikaris. Her crush is recognized as obvious to the comical Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) but is inexplicable for the audience.
A romance that is given more time is between Druig and the deaf yet quick Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). Their romance is allowed to blossom well yet it comes off as a surprise to the other Eternals. How could they have been that oblivious for centuries?
Even More Characters
But, wait, there are even more character arcs! Phastos tries to rebuild his trust in humanity by marrying and having a child. Eternal leader Ajak (Salma Hayek) struggles to understand the sinister intent behind their purpose on Earth.
Thena (Angelina Jolie) is a warrior who is crippled with trauma. Gilgamesh (Don Lee) is concerned for her and tries to keep up a stoic dedication towards her. There is so much going on with these characters that the film hardly any time for poor Dane Whitman (Kit Harington), who doesn’t get his Black Knight origin story here.
A Lot of Firsts for the MCU
Marvel’s Eternals is easily the most daring of MCU movies for presenting a lot of new stuff. As you may have guessed, romance plays a big part in this story and it’s treated with maturity. A tame sex scene shows real passion between Sersi and Ikaris.
The biggest first is sure to be Phastos settling down with a husband. His same-sex relationship isn’t just treated like a quick note. We actually get to see the family dynamic and physical display of romance.
There’s a kid character who is treated as a real member of the hero ensemble. There’s a deaf hero who communicates well with others. The diversity among all ten Eternals comes off as the most colorful an MCU team has ever looked.
Too Much To Tackle
So many components of Eternals are so great in theory. That’s why it’s such a gutwrenching shame that it doesn’t work as well as it should. You really have to peer and dissect to truly appreciate it all.
It’s clear that director Chloé Zhao is trying to weave a more somber and contemplative film. While that’s very much her style, the low-key tone runs the risk of coming off bland.
The pacing also hurts the more compelling growth for the characters. Though Kingo is clearly the most hilarious of the bunch, he hardly has a moment to crack a joke. We barely even get to explore his Bollywood exodus that is pretty fascinating.
Similar to the rest of Phase 4, Marvel’s Eternals is light on MCU connections. The events of Avengers: Endgame is addressed a few times. There’s even the occasional reference to Doctor Strange and Captain America.
Thankfully, there’s no homework required for getting this film. Marvel’s Eternals exist in a world all their own. There’s hardly any time to explore any of that with such an epic tale being shoved into 2.5 hours.
Marvel’s Eternals Review Conclusion
I really wanted to like Eternals. It has a lot of great ideas that could make for three great films. When piled altogether, however, it makes for one bloated and messy picture.
There’s great promise for the future of the MCU and Eternals. I greatly forward to where the Marvel Cinematic Universe will go from here. As this film stands, however, it’s a rocky start to what’s hopefully more promising films that can house such ambitions.
Marvel’s Eternals is currently playing in theaters.