The saga of the Eternals, a race of immortal beings who lived on Earth and shaped its history and civilizations. (from IMDB)
Marvel fans knew life after Avengers: Endgame would be very different, with many of the heroes we’ve come to love over the past decade retiring completely (like RDJ’s Iron Man and Evans’ Captain America), or at least in part (like Hawkeye). Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings kicked off a new cast of characters that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would be debuting over the next several years, with their next big release, Eternals, coming just two months later. Eternals brings a considerably different flavor to the MCU, and something new, but in this case, that’s not a good thing. It’s been the answer to some rabid fans’ calls for more inclusivity (on all fronts), but seems to introduce into this expanded universe a group of heroes that was absent during the universe’s biggest battle… a group we just don’t need.
Eternals may win some over with its flashy and artsy approach from acclaimed director, Chloé Zhao, but it seems to lack just about everything else to make it memorable. Marvel has proven that it can handle large casts of characters with efficient character development with the Avengers films, but they also had other movies to set up those characters preceding the supherhero menagerie. Eternals doesn’t just bite off way more than even the largest Deviant can chew, it changes the game. It rewrites history – for both the Marvel world and our world as we know it. It struts in, chin tilted to the sky in its flashiest costumes, and tries to establish this group of heroes as eternal, god-like beings that have been on our planet since its creation – not by any deity humans believe in, but by their own god, Arishem. (A deleted scene shows one of the Eternals smugly telling a human that she invented all concepts of the gods humans believe in.) Furthermore, we learn that (and this may be a little bit of a mini-spoiler, if you care) planets are used to be the birthing ground of a celestial, which bursts from the planet’s core and obliterates the planet. It’s totally fine for a fantasy universe to have their own belief system – it’s in pretty much every piece of science fiction – but these guys come in 26 movies later with swagger saying, “Nah, hold up. We’ve been here all along, and this is how it really is.”
And that’s another one of the biggest problems that Eternals has – the characters. We have 10 superheroes with extraordinary abilities, and most of them aren’t really likeable. They’re kind of presented as almost a family, but they have plenty of drama amongst themselves (albeit, like a family would), and it’s tough to get close to these characters as we’re getting to know them. They’re all gifted with extraordinary powers, and it’s clearly gotten to the heads of many of them. They walk and conduct themselves with an air of pretentiousness about them, and it only worsens as we’re lead to believe they are responsible for many of man’s achievements. Peace in war time? Probably Druig interfering when he shouldn’t. The wheel and pretty much all modern technology? That was Phastos’ gift to us. Perhaps it’s Marvel’s answer to the Christian belief that God inspires His people and gives gifts of knowledge, protection and peace throughout history. But there’s just something off about the way Eternals presents the idea. Maybe after seeing our favorite scientific heroes like Tony Stark and Bruce Banner solving problems with intelligence, it feels like we’re being robbed by this movie basically saying their knowledge of progress is a gift from the Eternals.
So while Eternals upends the spiritual belief system – and creationism and progress – it also sets out to be the most “2021” a Marvel film can be. For starters, Phastos, the Eternal that has given us what appears to be all major scientific advances, retires to suburban life, settling down in a gay relationship with a husband and son (which, of course, is used as a means to illustrate how his love has renewed his faith in humanity. And, of course, they have the most healthy relationship of any character in the whole movie), the MCU thrusts upon its viewers the first same sex kiss in their films. But they don’t just soft-sell it. Nope. Zhao halts the film to frame the moment as “Hollywood” as possible as the two men stand practically under a spotlight and share a lengthy passionate kiss before Phastos rejoins his Eternals brotherhood. It’s yet another push from Disney, and now Marvel, to continue to normalize the alternative lifestyle. (I understand many who have no faith in Christianity won’t see a problem with this at all and would wonder what all the fuss is about, but that also presents a grander moral issue in our society today.) Furthermore, the movie also offers the first blatant sex scene in an MCU film. Shortly after Ikaris tells Sersi he likes her in an almost schoolboy confession of affection, we see him shirtless on top of her on a beach in a passionate embrace (and definitely in the middle of them having sex). Finally, the climactic showdown of the film drives home a message of unity and everyone needing to work together – friend or foe alike – to save the day. After everything that precedes it, it’s an eyerolling message that feels forced and ingenuine. By the time this overlong movie mercifully comes to a close, the promise that “The Eternals will Return” at the end of the movie feels more like an ominous threat than a welcomed promise.
The rest of the content for Eternals also pushes that PG-13 rating. For a movie that is promoting action figures to kids, there’s quite a bit of violence – some a bit graphic – and a dark nature to the movie (and, of course, the aforementioned other red flags). Granted, to be fair, many of the other Marvel movies cross that line for sure, but this one feels different in how it’s done. (And the following month’s Spider-Man: No Way Home proves that it’s possible to make a great movie while being a bit more family friendly.) There’s some language, too, including 5 uses of the “S” word, 4 uses of “h*ll,” 1 of “*ss,” and a couple uses of “God” as an exclamation. Also already mentioned, there’s a lot of rewriting of how the Earth was created, yet there’s a moment still where we see Sersi pay respect to a statue of Darwin (which is odd, considering, right? But I guess that could just be the filmmakers showing their hand). We do see a few of the Eternals die during the movie, and when they do, they’re often impaled with tentacles from a Deviant and have their powers and life force sucked out (The Mummy style). All in all, this movie has a more adult, mature feel to it.
Regarding the characters likeability, Gemma Chan’s Sersi may be the main character of the film, and she’s fine in the role and as the character, but the character suffers from blandness. Honestly, the most endearing character is probably Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari, a deaf speedster who actually exhibits some charm. Ma Dong-seok is also fairly good as Gilgamesh, but he really doesn’t get much to do in the film. Kumail Nanjiani is only sometimes enjoyable as Kingo, but with his self-centered front as a famous Bollywood actor, he can seem too arrogant (in a movie where most of the heroes are), while other times he lightens the mood when needed. Angelina Jolie’s Thena may be my favorite character of the bunch, though, but that’s probably just because I like Jolie and she knows how to make her presence stand out… but even her character lacks warmth.
There’s a very good reason why Eternals is the first Marvel movie out of 26 movies (think about that; TWENTY SIX movies) that was certified “Rotten.” Sure, pit against really, really “bad” movies, it’s probably a good movie, but there’s so much about Eternals that just falls flat. And, let’s face it, we expect a lot more from this studio’s efforts. Even if you ignore moral things that may ruffle feathers, and even if you ignore the fact that it’s trying to establish itself as a big part of the next “phase” of Marvel’s cinematic storytelling, it’s still a bland story with a ho-hum plot. The characters, as a whole, lack impact, even though the acting is just fine. For a movie trying so hard to say something, it lacks heart and soul. It’s easily my least-favorite of the entire MCU (yes, below The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World, by far), and one I have no real desire to revisit. (Marvel, can we just forget this movie ever happened?)
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 1/15/22)
iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features Review
Eternals is now available via digital retailers and will be coming out on disc at a later date. Along with the feature film, the iTunes digital copy of Eternals includes the following extras:
Immortalized (10:46) – The first featurette (which is also the longest one) explores the creation of the MCU as established in Eternals. Producer and MCU mastermind Kevin Feige describes the MCU after Endgame as the start of something new. He explains that Eternals is an effort to start something fresh and new for the Marvel Cinematic Universe by starting over from the beginning. They discuss the origins of the Eternals comic, which was back in 1976 from creator Jack Kirby. They also talk about shooting on location as much as possible, which is unusual for these films, and how this movie tried to honor Kirby’s work. They then cover the costume design for the superheroes, and the actors reflect on how it felt to don them for the first time. Director Chloe Zhao calls the movie a celebration of humanity and a celebration of planet Earth. Lia McHugh, who played Sprite, and Salma Hayek (Ajak) mention that the movie illustrates how we might have strengths on our own, but we’re stronger when we come together.
Walks of Life (5:01) is all about how Eternals goes to great lengths to represent everyone and how it’s the most diverse group of superheroes anywhere. They hope that this movie can teach people that anyone can be a superhero. Sadly, I think the movie tries way too hard and loses the plot and the quality of the story and characters in the process. (2 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “G-d”)
Gag Reel (2:29) – The blooper real is a standard collection of line mess-ups and the cast having fun on set, with quite a bit of language bleeped out (especially the “F” word). There are at least 7 bleeps with it being pretty obvious as to what they’re saying from just looking at their lips.
Deleted Scenes (6:02) – There are four deleted scenes with a Play All option. “Gravity” (1:16) shows Phastos on a video call with his son who shows him a drawing he made and asks why planets are round in shape. Phastos then launches into an overly technical explanation which sparks an idea for what the Eternals can do next. In “Nostalgia” (1:06), while Makkari is sitting with Sprite, the little Eternal makes a vision of the old Babylon reappear where the ruins stand now. Makkari gives her reasons for why she believes humans are worth saving despite their violent history. “Movies” (0:43) shows Gil and Kingo talking about movies they’ve seen and Kingo asks if Gil has seen his movies. Finally, the longest deleted scene, “Small Talk” (2:37), takes place earlier in the movie where Sprite and Dane chit-chat in a museum. She tells him gods are illusions that she created.
Lastly, there is a feature-length Movie Commentary (2:35:51).
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/16/22)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Sersi and Dane talk about moving in together (they’re just dating). Someone shouts to them “Get a room you two!”; Ikaris and Sersi make out passionately, then we see his bare back as he’s on top of her having sex on a beach, with some movement; When the Eternals find Phastos in present day, he’s married to another man and they have a son together. Before Phastos leaves to rejoin the Eternals, he shares a long, passionate kiss with his husband.
Vulgarity/Language: 5 “S” words, 4 “h*ll,” 1 “a” word, 1 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “Oh G-d,” 1 “My G-d,” 1 “sucks,” Sprite gives Kingo “the finger.”
Alcohol/Drugs: We see Sersi drinking in a bar; Characters drink and party in Babylon; In the mid-credits scene, a drunken dwarf named Pip is seen stumbling around and remarks that you shouldn’t teleport drunk.
Blood/Gore: We see a young boy cutting open a fish, with some blood; We see some green blood as Thena slashes a monster with her sword and impales its head; Ikaris burns another Deviant with heat vision and punches the creature till it splatters a little blood; Ajak heals a wound on Ikaris’s shoulder; We see a person’s blade go through Ajak’s hand and some blood trickle down her palm; Sersi has blood on her; Ajak is impaled and heals herself; We see blood on Gilgamesh’s face; As he goes about his day in a village, we see a bloody slice and marks/scars on Gilgamesh’s arms; Kingo blows the head off a Deviant and blood pours down on him; Ikaris burns down the neck of a Defiant with his heat vision and tears off its head; We see blood on a character’s neck and shoulder. A Deviant impales him and his neck; Ikaris has some blood on his back and clothes and side of his face; Deviants attack a woman. Tentacles go into her and we see blood on the entry wounds on her neck. We see the dead body, all gray with marks on her neck; A person is impaled with a blade with some blood; Druig has some blood on his face; We see a Deviant sliced and then the pieces of it slowly fall away.
Violence: We see a young boy cutting open a fish, with some blood; A monster, called a Deviant, eats a man in a quick motion in the foreground; The Eternals fight a big Deviant; We see some green blood as Thena slashes a monster with her sword and impales its head; Ikaris burns another Deviant with heat vision and punches the creature till it splatters a little blood; An earthquake shakes a classroom as kids huddle under desks; A Deviant attacks some people and Sprite is knocked down. Suddenly, Ikaris shows up and hits it with his laser vision. The monster hits him into a bus. Sersi then turns the bus into flowers as it soars towards them. Ikaris burns the Deviant again a couple times till it falls into the water nearby; We see the Eternals fighting Deviants in Babylon 575 BC; Druig breaks up a fight while in a pub in Babylon. The men, under his spell, slap themselves and then are friendly to each other; They find a dead body in the dark with marks on their face; Back in Tenochtitlan, we see lots of fires throughout the city, with soldiers on horses slashing people with swords as they pillage. We then see them chasing the villagers into the forest where they shoot at them; An Eternal goes crazy and attacks the other Eternals. They stab a couple of them. Then we see this person’s blade go through Ajak’s hand and some blood trickle down her palm; Ajak is impaled and heals herself; This person attacks the group more. We see blood on Gilgamesh’s face. He punches the out-of-control Eternal and knocks them out; We see a burning city with everyone attacking each other; We see a dead Deviant on the ground; Sersi sees a vision. She sees Deviants attacking creatures and eating them. A huge hand then rips through the Earth; Druig uses his powers to make a man smash his video camera; Sprite grabs Karun’s camera and smashes it; Deviants attack a camp and kill some people while the Eternals fight back. One grabs Ikaris and flies him away; An Eternal fights Ikaris; Druig makes the villagers shoot at the Deviant. It whips some of them with its tail. Sersi makes a tree fall on it; Kingo blows the head off a Deviant and blood pours down on him; Ikaris burns down the neck of a Defiant with his heat vision and tears off its head. One attacks him and holds him down. Sersi fights it and is knocked underwater, and then makes a tree rise out of water and encompass it; We see blood on a character’s neck and shoulder. A Deviant impales him and his neck; A body is burned unseen at a funeral; We see the devastation of Hiroshima; A man pushes a woman off a cliff. Deviants attack her. Tentacles go into her and we see blood on the entry wounds on her neck. We see the dead body, all gray with marks on her neck; A man blows up Phastos’ work and the blast throws him backwards; A man grabs another man and throws him down and pushes him into the ground. He then attacks a ship and it crashes. Makkari slams him through rocks. A volcano erupts and they block the rocks as they rain down on them. Makkari fights him and smashes him repeatedly. The Eternals all fight their attacker. A Deviant then joins in fight; A person is impaled with a blade with some blood; Thena fights the alpha Deviant; We see a Deviant sliced and then the pieces of it slowly fall away; In Phastos’ kitchen, Thena spears an orange to give to his son, which upsets him.