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REVIEW – Marvel Studios ‘Eternals’ is a Character Driven Epic with Cosmic Implications

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Marvel Studios’ Eternals is a film that’s epic in scope, yet driven by its characters and their relationships. It’s almost hard to believe that over a decade into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s still so much room to tell fresh and unique stories, but Eternals is the latest example of how much more there is to explore.

Directed by Chloé Zhao, the first woman of color and the first Academy Award winning director to helm a Marvel film, Eternals stands apart from other MCU projects on a variety of levels. First, this isn’t a superhero origin film. Second, it’s the first MCU film to introduce a fully formed team. Finally, it features a diverse cast with a global focus.

The result is a film that both tells a story that will reverberate throughout the MCU going forward and one that focuses on the relational dynamics of its robust cast. There are moments in the film where juggling those two goals becomes too much and the logic of the plot stumbles. But overall, Eternals somehow makes the audience care about ten brand new characters while expanding the potential of future stories in the MCU.

Marvel Studios’ Eternals premieres November 5th only in theaters! Light spoilers below!

Eternals Poster by Salvador Anguiano
Eternals Poster by Salvador Anguiano

Official Synopsis

Marvel Studios’ “Eternals” follows a group of heroes from beyond the stars who had protected the Earth since the dawn of man. When monstrous creatures called the Deviants, long thought lost to history, mysteriously return, the Eternals are forced to reunite in order to defend humanity once again.

The outstanding ensemble cast includes Gemma Chan as humankind-loving Sersi, Richard Madden as the all-powerful Ikaris, Kumail Nanjiani as cosmic-powered Kingo, Lia McHugh as the eternally young, old-soul Sprite, Brian Tyree Henry as the intelligent inventor Phastos, Lauren Ridloff as the super-fast Makkari, Barry Keoghan as aloof loner Druig, Don Lee as the powerful Gilgamesh, with Kit Harington as Dane Whitman, with Salma Hayek as the wise and spiritual leader Ajak, and Angelina Jolie as the fierce warrior Thena.

Chloé Zhao directs the film, and Kevin Feige and Nate Moore are the producers, with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso and Kevin de la Noy serving as executive producers. The screen story is by Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo, and the screenplay is by Chloé Zhao and Chloé Zhao & Patrick Burleigh and Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo.

(L-R): Sprite (Lia McHugh), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Karun (Harish Patel), Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) in Marvel Studios' ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Sprite (Lia McHugh), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Karun (Harish Patel), Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

THE GOOD

Introducing one of the largest and most diverse casts of any film, director Chloé Zhao had the considerable task of making audiences emotionally invested in each new character. This is the first true team film in the MCU, and the heroes are fully formed when we meet them. Without having to explain how the heroes got their powers, the story dives right into how the various characters relate to one another and the rest of the world.

The film is primarily driven by the relationship between Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikarus (Richard Madden), who share a love that spans 5,000 years. Sersi also has a sibling-like dynamic with Sprite (Lia McHugh), who in turn is secretly in love with Ikarus. Family is messy. Druig (Barry Keoghan) is dark and brooding but has a special connection with Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). Kingo (Kumail Najiani) brings levity and a strong admiration for Ikarus. Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok aka Don Lee) and Thena (Angelina Jolie) are fiercely loyal to each other. Ajak (Salma Hayek) is the team’s sage leader with a maternal affection for the group. Phantos (Bryan Tyree Henry), the team genius, is the only Eternal who found a human family.

Simply establishing all the various dynamics is a lot of work, let alone developing them in a way that makes the audience care. That’s where Zhao’s deft storytelling shines, as she gives each character time to breathe and focuses on their emotions. This isn’t a case of every character having a cool moment, though there are those as well. Instead, each of the heroes struggle with their own conflicts, internally and with each other, and as the team fractures, we better understand their varying motivations. Eternals is more a family drama than anything else, and it just so happens that this is a cosmic family with god-like powers.

Gilgamesh and Thena are the most pleasantly unexpected and emotionally resonant pairing. Lee and Jolie don’t seem like they would be a natural duo, but because Thena is a character who is both unpredictable and vulnerable while Gilgamesh is warm and loyal, the two form a wonderfully heart-wrenching match.

(L-R): Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Druig (Barry Keoghan) in Marvel Studios' ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Druig (Barry Keoghan) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

If there are leads for this film, it’s Chan and Madden, whose relationship drives the plot from beginning to end. This is Chan’s second role in the MCU, first appearing as Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel, where she was largely underutilized. Bringing her back as the lead in Eternals was one of the best decisions in an already impressive list of A+ casting choices. Sersi is strangely both relatable and ethereal. At times she seems like she could easily be a fun friend to share drinks with, and at others she feels like a deity who can’t be touched. Madden is simply heroic, looking every bit the archetype of a superhero. And yet, as the story progresses, the conflict within Ikarus is compelling and sad.

At a macro level, Eternals expands the cosmic boundaries of the MCU in ways that are sure to impact countless films going forward. We learn what it really means to be Eternals, Deviants, Celestials and even humans in this universe. The plot has twists and turns that are entertaining and intriguing even at times when you see them coming.

Ultimately, what makes Eternals particularly enjoyable is that it’s a film that fans can go into without much, if any, preexisting knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, while still offering juicy morsels for the hardcore enthusiasts.

(L-R): Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) in Marvel Studios' ETERNALS. Photo: Sophie Mutevelian ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo: Sophie Mutevelian ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

THE BAD

Many blockbuster films are intent on telling the larger story and getting the characters from point A to point B for story purposes. How the characters feel in the process is often an afterthought, only explored when there’s a spare moment. Eternals is the opposite. Here, the characters and the emotional impact of their experiences are the focus, and while that’s a great thing for the characters, sometimes the ambitious cosmic storyline suffers as a result. There are certainly seismic revelations in the film, but how those revelations will hold up logically remain to be seen. There are other moments where the logic within the story fail in favor of delivering an emotionally powerful moment. It’s almost forgivable because the dramatic beats are so satisfying, but when you step back and think about some of the story choices, they seem questionable at best.

In juggling a massive storyline and a massive cast, sometimes it feels overwhelming as a viewer. There’s a lot of information being thrown at the audience in a short period, all while the settings and time periods change constantly. At one point the story is in present day London, then it’s in ancient Babylon, then it’s in the Amazon forest. It’s a lot of story to manage.

While most of the cast gets enough time, I wish Ridloff’s Makkari was given more to do. Her character is excellent and her powers are used in innovative and exciting ways, but relationally she had the weakest tie to the rest of the group and thus her character development and plot impact are not as substantial as I had hoped.

Finally, fans should prepare for much less superhero action than they might expect from Marvel. As mentioned above, this is essentially a family drama, and while the action is top notch when we get it, it’s a dialogue heavy film.

(L-R): Richard Madden and director Chloé Zhao on the set of Marvel Studios' ETERNALS. Photo by Sophie Mutevelian. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Richard Madden and director Chloé Zhao on the set of Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo by Sophie Mutevelian. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

THE POC-Y

Eternals touts an exceptional cast from all over the world. It’s the most diverse film in the MCU and simply one of the most multicultural films ever made and it’s beautiful to see on screen. The film also features the MCU’s first openly gay hero in Phastos and the first disabled hero in Makkari, who is deaf. The trailers already showed a scene where Makkari signs with Kingo and it’s wonderful to see that from a Marvel superhero. Ridloff is magnetic and I look forward to seeing more of her in future projects.

It’s worth noting that while Phastos’ family is vital to establishing him as a character, they don’t play a large part in the film. For those who have been championing LGBTQ+ representation, Phastos is undeniably gay and it isn’t at all hidden or glossed over. He is in a loving and committed relationship with a human man and they have a child, and seeing their dynamic helps us better understand Phastos as a character. At the same time, his family is not a major plot point.

THE RATING – 4/5

Pocky Rating 4
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Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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