Chloé Zhao deserves credit for experimenting with the Marvel formula even if it doesn’t connect.
By Craig Allan, Business Manager
The Eternals, was an interesting turn because it felt different than the standard Marvel fare. But different can often be a challenge.
For 13 years now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been chugging along, making film after film with its style of heavy action with a liberal amount of comedy throughout. This has served the franchise well, with every film in its run getting at least a fresh rating on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. Plus the MCU has continued without a single box office bomb to its name.
However, for me, the MCU has been getting a little stale. This was evident to me in their recent film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, released only two months ago. I thought the film was okay, but it felt very cookie cutter. Something produced by the Marvel machine that didn’t feel like it was taking chances. That’s one reason why, The Eternals, was an interesting turn because it felt different than the standard Marvel fare. But different can often be a challenge, and while recent Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao does deserve credit for making something different, it does not hit the mark every time.
The Eternals are a team of 10 heroes, each with a different skill set. They were sent to Earth 7000 years ago to protect the people of the planet against a race of monsters called The Deviants, at the behest of a large mythical figure called The Celestial. After 500 years without a Deviant sighting, newer, more powerful Deviants begin to appear, along with earthquakes and other natural disasters. With the Deviants back and the Eternals scattered around the world, they must get back together to defeat the Deviants. Little do they know, The Deviants are the harbinger of a much greater threat to the Eternals, and the people of Earth.
The highlight of Zhao’s film is the third act. The action is big, the characters dynamic, and the emotion at its height. The fact that you can see it all, as the setting is on a deserted volcanic island is also appreciated, as action scenes with CGI are often done in a shroud of darkness so as not to expose the rough elements of the CGI. There are also a few twists and the introduction of Marvel’s first gay character, with the relationship actually shown on screen and not merely mentioned in passing like in other Disney films.
However, getting to the third act can be quite the slog. I personally have never been a fan of the “getting the band back together” style of movie storytelling, and this film spends about 66 percent of its runtime on this aspect of storytelling. These parts also highlight how focusing The Eternals as a film may not have been the best idea. With a story as expansive as The Eternals with each character having a different skillset, and the storylines they are trying to tell, it can be quite hard to understand what is going on in the movie if you have not read the comic. Considering The Eternals is one of the least successful comics in Marvel’s library, this is a problem. With as detailed a story as this is, Eternals feels like the kind of adventure that maybe would have been better served as a Disney+ show.
The movie also suffers from a long-running MCU problem. The villains in this movie are once again poorly put to screen. The Deviants seemed to be there only as a manufactured conflict and diversion. You never get to understand The Deviants, and when you do, you don’t understand why the movie keeps going in the same direction after learning it. The movie also suffers from the fact that it is telling this story in the already established MCU. With so many stories established in this world, Eternals kind of breaks the world and makes it a little more insignificant.
I would give this film a soft recommendation just for the fact that it was ambitious and Zhao deserves credit for at least shooting for the stars. However, I am not that interested in seeing more stories from these characters. I know Marvel loves to interconnect and continue on their characters but this feels like a case where this one film experiment should just stay as one film. I just hope that Marvel does not feel that it needs to give up trying to make films that do not conform to their already established brand in the future, even with Eternals being the first MCU film to not fully succeed with critics.