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The Eternals

“We have loved these people since the day we arrived. When you love something, you protect it.”

As far as long shots go, this is at the other end of the spectrum from Guardians of the Galaxy. While that is both good and bad, despite noise around the interwebs this is nowhere near the worst MCU entry.

I can imagine this is a divisive movie, because it is kind of hard to like (although I kind of loved it). It is slightly overstuffed delving into deep drama and espousing grand ideas with mind bending revelations about the entire MCU. There are some trademark quips and goofiness, some bombastic action scenes and pew pew laser fights and punching things across rooms, set against a universe-spanning backdrop of moral ambiguity and a character study that questions the cost of immortality, the nature of free will, and the worth of humanity. If you close your eyes and maybe remove some of the superhero aspects to the story, it would be a very hardcore science fiction drama. But perhaps that is the problem. This isn’t a straight drama but the scope and stakes of the situation almost call for it.

The film is also not nearly weird enough to be one of Jack Kirby’s fever dream-esque new gods insanity stories, either. That leaves it to fall in a somewhat murky area of ill defined tone that would be a detriment if it wasn’t well written, directed and acted. While a bit too long, it is paced well and Chloe Zhao (recent two time Academy Award-winning director) crafts a thoughtful and interesting journey. It focuses on ten immortal beings known as Eternals. Sent by god-like beings called Celestials, they are dispatched to earth in 5000 BC to protect humanity from monstrous beings called the Deviants. Each of them have powers, and names that are eerily similar to those that pop up throughout our history.


Starting with Ajak, the leader. She possesses the ability to instantly heal almost any wound. She is also the only one who can communicate with the primary celestial that is in control of Earth (Arishem). She is played by Selma Hayek, who does a fabulous job of conveying leadership with mostly just her voice and presence.

Ikaris, played by Richard Madden, is almost a Superman analog who can fly and shoot laser beams from his eyes. He is the most overtly heroic, throwing himself into battle with the Deviants and generally acting like a big boy-scout most of the time. Madden is a good choice for the part, giving a specific performance that felt a bit off at first but makes total sense by the end of the story.

Next is Sersi, played by Gemma Chan, who is arguably the main protagonist of the film. She is by far the most human of the group, and her arc works really well against her personality type. Her powers are material transmutation (turning something like stone into water) and the story follows her through most of the runtime. I probably liked her the most out of all the characters, and I bet she'll transition into the greater MCU more completely than some of the other Eternals.

Angelina Jolie plays Thena (think Athena from Greek mythology) who can manifest energy as physical weapons at will and is the primary warrior beyond Ikaris. She doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but when she is around she is a powerful presence as only Angelina Jolie can be. She is also the most enigmatic of the characters, whose motivations are not entirely explained. But it is very clear that Jolie spent a good deal of time creating a specific type of unique physical movement for Thena's combat prowess and it is absolutely gorgeous to look at.

Kumail Nanjiani plays Kingo; he is the one that can shoot pew pew lasers from his fingers and is probably the funniest character in the film. He is the primary source for the quips and one-liners, but also has a lovely screen presence. He also has a human sidekick named Karun who has way more screen time than I would've expected. He is also not like similar characters in other movies, not played entirely for comic relief, and he actually has one of the best lines in the film.

Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos is one of those characters who doesn’t seem to be interesting on the surface, but the limited screen time he gets is pretty much all great. Lauren Ridloff as Makkari has perhaps the least screen time of the entire bunch, but she has arguably the best realized power in the entire movie. Barry Keoghan is Druig; he can control minds and is a lot more interesting than I originally thought he would be. Ma Dong-seok is Gilgamesh, the strong man of the group, but he also cooks and watches over one of the other Eternals who suffers from an unexplained illness (which is kind of left unresolved).

Last is Lia McHugh as Sprite. She is cursed to live forever in the body of a child. She has the meatiest personal drama of the group, and one of the interesting powers (she can create illusions at will, including invisibility). It is a difficult part, with a lot of emotional highs and lows to navigate through. I personally think she was fabulous, but there were some character beats that didn’t fully land.

The special effects in this film are almost seamless, and it has such a massive scope that it kind of blew me away in places. Not to mention all the powers were very easy to understand and incredibly well realized. Even Druig’s mind control had a visual gimmick that made it easy to follow. That scope, however, is where the story may have compromised the enjoyment of some viewers. Plotwise, everything fits; there aren’t really any major plot holes that I can think of and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Motivations make sense, and they are always played with emotions.

The problem is this is not Captain America, or even Captain Marvel. These people are not human, and as such their drama is a bit set apart from the usual superhero journey. It has similar beats to your standard origin story, but in the details this is a very different beast. That’s why Guardians of the Galaxy hit so big, because while it was weird, it was also familiar. The alien aspect to each character was really just visual, because each character had very human personality traits. All the characters in The Eternals feel alien, despite the story being set on Earth and each looking relatively normal. Because they are very alien, kind of how I would imagine immortal aliens acting, they are detached from the world they clearly love, but do not know how to fully function within it, which means I really only end up caring for a few of the main characters.

This becomes a bit of a problem in the third act when most of the drama hinges on some important character moments which don't entirely work. I loved the ideas that went into the story but perhaps this should've been given even more breathing room as a Disney+ show or perhaps it should've been split into two films. There was also a bit of a disconnect between the world and the events happening in the film. Some very major things happen, and we really don't see the aftermath. I imagine they will be followed up in future movies, but it is a bit strange that it isn't mentioned within the film itself.

Bits:

Gemma Chan had a part as a Kree warrior Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel and she didn’t expect to come back to the MCU.

Ajak is male in the comics and isn’t usually the leader. The leader is usually a character called Zuras, which is almost always confused with Zeus. Zeus is going to be in the new Thor: Love and Thunder so to prevent confusion, Zuras was removed from this film.

Makkari was also usually depicted as male in the comics. Also in the film the character is Deaf, and is played by a Deaf actress (go representation). Sprite is also male in the comics.

This film has a bunch of MCU firsts, including the first non-heterosexual kiss, and the first sex scene. Don’t worry, it is still only PG-13. Russia gave this film a freaking NC-17 rating because it has a same-sex couple.

This is the lowest rated MCU film to date (save for Thor: The Dark World) and has the second longest running time (2 hours 37 minutes).

Kit Harington plays Dane Whitman (a long-time Marvel comics staple who should eventually get his own spin-off). This is the second time he has acted opposite Madden, last seen together in season one of Game of Thrones.

The film references both Superman (directly) and Batman (indirectly), making DC Comics a real thing in this superhero universe.

Quotes:

Sprite: “If this is what the end of the world looks like, at least we'll have front-row seats."
Phastos: “You know what has never saved the world? Your sarcasm.”

Druig: “I've watched humans destroy each other when I could stop it all in a heartbeat. Do you know what that does to someone after centuries? Could our mission have been a mistake? Are we really helping these people build a better world?”

Jack: “Dad, that's Superman! With the cape and shooting laser beams out of your eyes!”
Ikaris: “I don't wear a cape.”

All in all this was a solid movie, and important to the grand storytelling structure of the MCU (at least as important as Loki). Also be on the lookout for two after-credits scenes (one mid, one at the end).

3 out of 4 Eternal Alien Superheroes

Samantha M. Quinn spends most of her time in front of a computer typing away at one thing or another; when she has free time, she enjoys pretty much anything science fiction or fantasy-related.

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