[Nightmarish Detour Review] ETERNALS
Courtesy Marvel Studios
With over twenty films currently making up the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel finds itself at a pivotal moment in its development as a franchise. The studio has access to a rich back catalogue of exciting heroes and stories and an audience that is willing to follow them anywhere. ETERNALS emerges as an ambassador for the next generation of Marvel, boldly endeavoring to move the fan base beyond its comfort zone and pull us into new adventures. It’s an experiment that is sure to pay off, as ETERNALS offers a totally unique Marvel experience saturated in emotion and delivered on a grand, stunning scale.

ETERNALS brings forth the combined powers of a dynamic dream ensemble with performances from Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, and Don Lee, with Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie. The star-studded 25th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is helmed by Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), who brings every ounce of her talent to the rich screenplay.

In ETERNALS, at the birth of humanity, mankind is besieged by monstrous creatures called Deviants. The Eternals are a band of heroic immortals from the stars that are charged with the task of protecting humanity. The Eternals do battle with the Deviants, guide mankind in their development, and serve as righteous observers to human history. The Eternals passively witness millennia of humanity’s conflicts and triumphs, never interfering but always on guard. One day, when the Deviants return, the Eternals must reunite in order to defend Earth and humanity once again.

As mentioned at the outset, ETERNALS is poised at the threshold of unfamiliar terrain in the MCU. Up to this point, all of the other Marvel films have been gearing up for the events of Avengers: Endgame. Even the films that followed the franchise climax had a terrible habit of looking over their shoulders and calling back to the “glory days” of the Endgame storyline. ETERNALS instantly distinguishes itself by operating as something fully separate from the previous MCU films. The characters have a totally unique origin, a unique set of motivations and conflicts, and remain blissfully and intentionally distant from anything that Marvel devotees would consider familiar. This gives the film an instantly refreshing feel, breathing invigorating new life into a formulaic franchise (as effective as that formula may be). Add breathtaking visuals into the mix and ETERNALS solidifies itself as a Marvel film unlike anything we’ve seen before.

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

ETERNALS takes the notion of franchise expansion to its most literal and grand meaning. The film pushes the boundaries of the world of the MCU, revealing beautiful and vast universes and mythos. The vastness of the film isn’t just limited to its setting, but to the greater themes and philosophies of the ETERNALS. Befitting its immortal heroes, the film grapples with larger-than-life philosophies on good, evil, and the grey area in between, the flawed nature of humanity, and definitions of “the greater good” that far exceed anything previous MCU heroes have faced. This distinction alone instantly ups the stakes and adds a weight to the challenges and revelations that the Eternals are facing.

Where ETERNALS is most likely to garner some criticism is in terms of its scope and how effectively (or not) it handles that scope. The most obvious place to start is with the ensemble cast. It’s a tall order, with ten unique characters vying for attention. By and large, ETERNALS does phenomenal work in establishing each of these heroes as whole and unique individuals – each with their own differing perspectives, belief systems, and personalities. The strength of each hero only amplifies their work as a team. Regrettably, there are some characters that become casualties of plot necessity or limitations on time. This is not a negative that outweighs the positives, but some fans will be disappointed.

ETERNALS definitely has a problem with too many baddies… and too many philosophies. The conflict in ETERNALS splinters off into two factions – one battle is more systemic in nature and the other takes the form of a traditional villain. This is where philosophy comes in. ETERNALS is relentlessly ambitious in its mission to dive into topics that are deeper and much more complex than anything previously seen in the MCU. The Eternals godlike heroes with very human flaws, but that doesn’t make them any less influenced by their in-human role in the universe. Each character has their moment where they choose a path and either break with or bond closer to the elements that separate them from the humans. It’s a decision that makes sense, as the characters have the span of one film to establish centuries of challenges and reflection, but the unfortunate result is splintering. At times, the messaging of ETERNALS feels forced.

All of that being said, ETERNALS is the perfect film to usher in the next phase of Marvel. Absolutely saturated in beauty, heart, and epic action – this is the first MCU film, post-Endgame that has given this critic that flutter of anticipation. Earth-shattering and awesome, I can’t wait to see what comes next. I’m all in on ETERNALS!

ETERNALS surges into theaters on November 5, 2021.

Caitlin Kennedy
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