So, what do we have here? A 2 hour 36 minute MCU origin story that spans over thousands of years which consists of 10 major characters. Sounds impossible to pull off but Marvel Studios brought in the Academy Award winning director Chloe Zhao to helm this ship. The results? A clunky and low-energy film with, at times, sluggish pacing. Spanning over thousands of years on Earth never allows the film to find its rhythm nor establish a consistent flow. However, that doesn’t mean there are no bright spots for Eternals.
Let’s knock the obvious out of the way – this does not feel like an MCU film at all. It feels more Chloe Zhao than anything else. Having MCU movies break away from the traditional formulaic nature of their past 25 films to the others has been a popular desire from people. This film answers that call by making this feel completely different, whether that be the narrative structure, the grim tone or the offbeat pacing. This has been received with a fair amount of pessimism and it is pretty clear as to why that negativity has validity. It truly is Marvel’s riskiest film in the MCU yet and perhaps there is more value in the lessons learned from producing this project rather than the project itself. For a franchise so deep in its universe with a mammoth of upcoming projects announced, we all want to see this franchise stretch its limits with that. Is that truly the best direction to go in? I am not alluding to a particular answer, just proposing the question as the saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ has truth in it here. Do directors really need complete creative freedom in the same way Chloe Zhao got? I don’t think so, with Feige it’s more of a collaborative partnership.
Eternals aims to be a more philosophical film than any MCU film to date but it struggles to truly balance those heavy thematic elements. It proposes less questions about its themes and more questions about whether departing from the MCU formula is a good idea. In terms of narrative quality, there are some brilliant pieces that would truly work but are handcuffed to such magnificent scope that nothing gets its moment. Eternals is heavily influenced by Prometheus and that film DNA is absolutely present in this film except it’s shown from the perspective of the engineers – so if you are curious about the magnitude of its scope, there it is. Attached to this film is a talented and diverse cast, few of them share much chemistry with each other. You can consider Gemma Chan as the lead here and is a factor in making this film as low-energy as it is. Chan’s portrayal of Sersi is expressionless, dull and doesn’t come across as if she is having any fun with the character or film at all (A rarity for actors in their MCU origin film). Lauren Ridloff as Makkari and Barry Keoghan as Druid are the stand-outs in this with Kumail Nanjani as Kingo being a lot of fun as well.
The Chloe Zhao effect is in all its glory when it comes to the visual aesthetic of the film. The seamless marriage between practical elements mixed in with computer-generated imagery. The visual effects designs are intricate and give off that otherworldly feel to them, it feels truly unique to only the Eternals as they are cosmic beings. The film is mainly darkened greys with slivers of gold streak emphasising the grandiose nature of these characters. Zhao brings her signature visual style to this film as there are plenty of moments where we slow down and absorb in the naturalistic environments with a sundrenched backdrop – similar to those moments in Nomadland. Another impressive moment of the film is capturing the sheer scope of the celestials demonstrating the ethereal and majestic essence of those beings.
You mix in these excellent visual components with practical locations truly grounds the film and elevates the enjoyment of the globetrotting adventure. These practical locations center these cosmic beings in naturalistic locations which makes certain pieces of the script far more effective. There is a real sense of authenticity and the film’s visual aesthetic truly feels organic – a refreshing and well-needed boost to an MCU film. Ramin Djawadi composes the score for Eternals and while none of it truly feels effective, it does fit nicely in the film. Djawadi composed the entire Game of Thrones series and that is felt across the main theme of Eternals but it has been injected with a cosmic feel to it.
The ambition in the scope of the film that Eternals wants to achieve ends up being more damaging to the quality of the film rather than as mythological and complex as it wants to be. If you were to remove the MCU branding off this film then it would give it space to be much better than what Eternals is.