Marvel once again takes its gargantuan cinematic universe beyond the reaches of planet earth in this year’s Eternals. We’ve had alien planets, super-humans, super-human alien planets and more. Now, director Chloe Zhao introduces us to beings created by an ancient Celestial alien race intent on protecting humans from more CGI monsters. All in a day’s work for the Marvel executives.
Eternals takes on some pretty significant questions in relation to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The biggest question I had when coming out of the cinema was whether these comic book adaptions have the depth and complexity to question and challenge the very creation of the universe. Questions over the practical workings and implications of these existential beings rather fall away when the execution is so sloppy. Endgame and Doctor Strange had previously set the tone by featuring time travel and space exploration, already trying to bring more of that cosmic side into the MCU. This new movie takes it to the next level. With flawed backstories and contrived diversity, but good graphics and reconstructions, it has polarised audiences.
From the outset, we meet 11 protagonists, each being capable of immense power. Whilst being uneven, these powers are clearly sufficient when fighting Deviants, the identityless and bland creatures who have apparently been attacking the Earth since the beginning of creation. Though supposedly exterminated, it is no real surprise when these beasts make their return.
As is the Marvel way, the heroes will eventually discover that their whole existence has been a lie, the Celestials are in fact more powerful and that – in the most convoluted manner – they must fight back using teamwork. The movie features astonishing historical reconstructions such as the city of Babylon, Ancient Egypt, and the Aztec empire. The amount of work spent on the appearance of the Deviants and the fighting scenes is definitely at the expected MCU level. However, inconsistencies, the standard Marvel plot blandness and overacted, one-dimensional characters make you forget anything positive.
The most positive thing about the film is its show of ethnic diversity. Featuring Marvel’s first deaf character, Makkari, the film’s gender and race bending work a treat to modernise the original white-washed comics. But choosing an American-Pakistani actor to play Kingo (Kumail Nanjianito), only to make him star in Bollywood movies whilst pretending that he, his father and grandfather are all the same person – because they look alike due to his eternal youth- is one step too far.
Similarly, given their god-like powers and presence on Earth for a million years, we would expect to see slightly better fashion – and ultimately combat costumes- than just their standard colourful metallic jumpsuits. The original designs from the seventies featured a more vibrant choice of outfits with very personalised details for every Eternal.
Their backstories are flawed as well. Chloe Zhao didn’t have an easy task when trying to fit such a big storyline into 2 hours and 37 minutes, but unfortunately, this leads to problems such as Sersi’s and Ikaris 5,000 year romantic relationship and sudden unexplained breakup. It gets sillier from there as Sersi moves to London, works as a teacher and dates a normal human in his thirties. Similarly, when Phastos – the technological specialist of the group- cries over Hiroshima’s disaster, claiming that his technology led to the invention of the Atomic Bomb, the film seems both ridiculous and in poor taste. It seems symptomatic of the whole film to provide very simple explanations for infinitely complicated disasters in an attempt to appear profound and philosophical.
Despite its overwhelmingly negative aspects, there is still value in seeing this new addition to the Marvel canon simply to keep up with the MCU. The picture design and push for diversity is undeniably commendable. However, if you are expecting to use it as food for existential thought, or even to enjoy one of Marvel’s better films, you would be wasting your time.