Eternals (2021)… better than the internet says it is

The title of this review is possibly a weird way to begin, but we must set the scene. In this case, it’s the fact that before this movie even came out, critics and incel man babies decided to review bomb it, in order to get the Rotten Tomatoes rating score down. And they succeeded. Eternals is currently 47% at the time of writing. An abject failure by Marvel’s standards. The next lowest is Thor: The Dark World (2013) at 66%, which many consider to be one of the worst.

Yet it’s doesn’t paint an accurate picture. Most Marvel movies don’t dip below the high 70 per cents, and most are in the 80-95 per cent range. So what went wrong? Well… nothing. It was more the subject matter (see: a gay character) and the fact that this movie did a few things differently. This seemed to be enough for the man babies (and a few critics) to throw their toys out the pram.

That aside, my thoughts on the movie are this: it’s ambitious and epic in its scope, in that it tries to deal with the entire course of human history. It also moves a notable distance away from the standard Marvel template.

The Eternals themselves are immortal beings and sworn protectors of earth. They all have godlike powers. First, there’s Thena (Angelina Jolie), who’s strong and fast and can create and manipulate weapons out of nothing – a bit like Hela in Thor: Ragnarok. There’s Ikaris (Richard Madden), who is more or less Superman, there’s Sersi (Gemma Chan), who can manipulate matter a bit like Jean Grey in X-Men or possibly Wanda Maximoff. There’s Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), whose hands shoot little power shots, like a kid playing at being a quick draw cowboy, PEW, PEW!

There’s Gilgamesh (Don Lee), who seems to be One-Punch Man. Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is an engineer or builder much like Shuri or Tony Stark, but more knowledgeable. We have Sprite (Lia McHugh) who can create illusions like Loki, and Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) who can run fast like Quicksilver or The Flash (if we’re going DC). Druig (Barry Keoghan) is an advanced telepath who can control the minds of humans – like Professor X. And finally, Ajak (Salma Hayek), the healer and leader.

There’s also a regular old human called Dane Whitman (Kit Harington), boyfriend of Sersi. A man who turns out to not be as regular as he first appears.

If I’ve got my maths right, that’s eleven new characters to get to know. It’s a lot, and this results in many of them not getting much screentime or character development. Some shine with the time they have (Druig and Makkari’s relationship had genuine chemistry) whilst others struggle to make an impression.

It’s worth noting that up until this point Marvel had mostly introduced characters in solo movies, with the exception being Guardians of the Galaxy; although that team was half the size of the Eternals. Plus audiences warmed to Guardians because it was one of the funniest movies in the MCU. Eternals takes itself more seriously. Although that’s not to say there aren’t jokes, but comedy is not the focus, nor would it be appropriate for this sort of story.

Because if we’re speaking about focus… Eternals does try to tackle some big questions around identity, belonging, power and manipulation. It looks at the creation and preservation of life and the nature of creation, control and destruction. Epic questions for any movie, let alone a superhero one. It’s also one of the longest MCU films, and all these things are considered risks, particularly with audiences wary of returning to cinemas during a pandemic.

In my mind, this sort of story would have been better suited to a 10-part limited TV series on Disney+. That would give you around 10 hours to play with, as opposed to 2.5 at the cinema. We’d have more time to get to know each of the characters and dig into what makes them tick. We’d also have more time to explore the themes director Chloe Zhao was trying to introduce.

But it is what it is. Maybe Eternals will find new fans when it turns up on Disney+ in the coming weeks. I genuinely think it’ll be reappraised after a time; as a movie setting up bigger themes and questions. Which could subsequently mean that Marvel are now playing on a much bigger field than they’ve done to date. As long as they keep their characters grounded and human (even the godlike ones), then fans will find ways to connect to the stories.

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