Eternals is a 2021 superhero film based on the Marvel Comics race of the same name. The film stars an ensemble cast including Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie and is exclusively available to stream on Disney+.
Having missed the theatrical release of Marvel’s Eternals back in November, I was pleasantly surprised to see it arrive on Disney+ just two months later. Perhaps it was the fact that Eternals was victim to a frankly brutal critical reception that it arrived to streaming so quickly (it’s the first Marvel instalment to be classified as “rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes), but regardless, I went into Eternals openminded and excited to learn about the MCU’s latest superheroes.
The story follows a race of characters named the Eternals, who emerge from hiding after thousands of years to protect Earth from a monstrous race named the Deviants. The opening 30 minutes to the film are actually really enjoyable, and I was a big fan of the film providing plenty of backstory to the Eternals and explaining the characters’ involvement in human history, and how that intertwined with their battles against the Deviants.
Unfortunately, Eternals fails to ever really build on the strong opening to the film and the story soon becomes convoluted as more layers and layers are added. The plot isn’t overly confusing as such, the film just goes in a direction which felt a little disappointing given the promising opening. What starts a simple “protecting Earth against the Deviants”, ends up with the prospect of a cataclysmic world ending event, which in all honesty felt a little cheap given how close the film sits on the Marvel timeline in conjunction with ‘the blip’. I’m not saying cataclysmic world ending events can’t happen in any future Marvel movies, but the execution of it in Eternals really disappointed me.
One of the biggest issues Eternals has, is its huge roster of characters. With ten super-powered eternals leading the line, giving a decent amount of screen time to each character was realistically never going to happen (that’s despite the film having a painfully long runtime!), and this results in some serious character development issues. Whilst the film does attempt to focus on Sersi and Ikaris (played by Gemma Chan and Richard Madden respectively) as the two lead Eternals, their lack of character development over the course of the film barely made me care for their characters, let alone express any kind of fondness towards them. Sersi and Ikaris do actually provide us with the MCU’s first ever sex scene, something which is so unnecessary in a Marvel movie that you question why it was ever included in the first place.
Excluding the quartet of Avenger movies, most MCU iterations solely focus on one superhero and one or two sidekicks, and the journey of the film is usually a voyage of discovery and identity for the lead character. Eternals attempts to encapsulate that nostalgic superhero feel which we’ve come to expect over the years, but its wide line-up of lead characters simply means it spreads itself too thin. As a result, Eternals almost feels out of place in the MCU, feeling much more like a generic superhero film, rather than a key cog in the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The cast for Eternals is one of the best amongst any of the MCU’s films, with the likes of Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Kit Harrington, Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie all starring, amongst many other big names. The casting for each of the Eternals characters does feel pretty much spot on, we just simply don’t see enough of each character for us to create an affinity with them, as we do with the likes of Iron Man or Captain America. Kingo (played by Kumail Nanjiani) and his human valet Karun (played by the hilarious Harish Patel) were two of my favourite characters in the film and Nanjiani and Patel’s performances and rapport between the two characters is reminiscent of Peter Parker and Ned’s relationship in Spider-Man. I hope we see much more of them in the future!
One thing Eternals does do brilliantly, is break various boundaries through its themes and topics. Lauren Ridloff plays Makkari; the MCU’s first ever deaf superhero, Don Lee plays Gilgamesh; the MCU’s first ever Korean superhero, and Brian Tyree Henry plays Phastos; the MCU’s first ever gay superhero. It’s truly brilliant to see so much representation illustrated in the movie, and I hope if anything, the film can serve as a catalyst for further boundaries to be broken in future Marvel titles.
Another thing which I really enjoyed about Eternals is its intense fight scenes and action sequences. Seeing all ten Eternals come together to fight the Deviants, all using their varying superpowers, were truly some of the best moments of the film and at times were reminiscent of the Avengers coming together during the battle of New York in Avengers Assemble. I was a little disappointed with the “final battle” sequence at the end of the film, but this was much more down to the screenplay rather than the action itself.
All in all, Eternals is a bit of a mixed bag. Take away the references to ‘the Blip’ and the Avengers and you’d have a hard time convincing someone that Eternals is a Marvel film altogether. Whilst Eternals undoubtedly has its flaws, its awesome opening act and well choreographed fight sequences mean there’s still plenty to enjoy over the course of the film.
Despite its stellar ensemble cast and promising concept, Eternals suffers from some serious screenplay and character development issues, ultimately leaving it feeling out of place in the wider MCU.