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The Eternals: A Deaf-centered Review

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

So now that The Eternals is streaming, I've had a chance to take a look. I wanted to share my perspective on the film as a Deaf person, especially with the film casting a Deaf individual as a lead character – indeed the first Deaf superhero in the Marvel Universe, which now includes a few more.

Note: there's a few mild spoilers in this review, so proceed with caution.

I read the 2006 Eternals Neil Gaiman run. It was, to me, a tight and powerful story. It made a lot of sense with the current Marvel film lineup. And it focused pretty tightly on the story of Mark Curry, or Makkari.

When they cast Lauren Ridloff in the role my heart focused on that story. A well-forged tale which spun on a specific character, now written as a Deaf superpowered being, combined with an actress of her ability, and hey she’s Deaf and known for creative, intelligent use of language? To me this was a potential triumph of diversity and representation. There were other firsts too – it was all adding up.

I wanted every moment to be a surprise.

The Eternals was released in theaters during COVID, so I waited eagerly for release online and was ready to pay. I avoided every review and video. When it was available to stream for free so quickly I was surprised! And very excited.

I felt a sense of dread when I saw the opening text. It was long and its content was extremely dense. In retrospect, most of it was explained during the movie and little about it impacted the experience, unlike the text scrolls typical of Star Wars. It could have been eliminated.

Then, the music started and I quickly realized it wasn’t going to be the movie I was hoping for. First, the story’s focus was on Sersi and Ikaris, and Makkari’s role was... really small, even more so than other secondary characters. In fact, the character themselves finds out what’s happening from everyone nearly after two thirds of the movie and complains she’s been sitting on the ship bored the whole time. I... don’t remember that being a storyline for the Makkari character anywhere, to be honest. Maybe I missed that issue where they sat around doing nothing and complained about it. In the comics, Makkari is a doctor with a full life story. In this movie Makkari, of all the Eternals, got no real experience of human life. I was waiting and waiting for her to get a story, to be a doctor, or doing something with the Deaf community. For all her speed, she was standing still. What. The. Freaking. Hell.

That to me as a Deaf man turned the Deaf Makkari into plot device more than character, especially given her role in fighting and her experience and her ability of awareness through vibration. She could easily have kept tabs on the ship and gone anywhere in the world. After they find Makkari, we still don’t really get much of the character. Instead, the characters interact with each other while they send Makkari off on errands. We rarely got to hear Makkari’s opinion on anything, and she had no real conflict or growth; she provided supportive random statements to other characters. Patel got more character development. It felt like they set the movie up for a fully realized Deaf character but never gave them the screen time. The other characters could never wait two minutes for her to get back with results and be part of the discussion.

To make it worse: Makkari’s life was the only thing they decided to cut out, apparently. Usually, Marvel films are excellent at figuring out how to condense and strengthen the work from the comics in ways that adapt them perfectly for the film format. Unfortunately, for The Eternals, this wasn’t true. The story was plodding and frustrating. It felt like the first third could have been cut, and the story told better with characters like Phastos experiencing their current lives and waking up after their loved ones return after the Snap, learning info as they did in short flashbacks, making the reveals of the Celestials more powerful.

The film as it is wound up becoming a plodding, confusing story, with the romance between Ikaris and Sersi feeling shoehorned in, and storylines like Phastos’, which honestly felt more engaging to me, unsatisfactorily explored. There was a lot that first third of the movie should have been. Ikaris became the focus as hero and villain, and Makkari as the hero and foil to Ikaris was clearly there but never given full shrift as a character, despite having too much power to be left out – and yet without having had as many experiences in the human world, her commitment to fighting the Celestials didn't ring true. Contrast that with Sersi's relationship and Phastos' family, and Kingo with Patel and the performing team. By the ending I was wondering more about why Makkari's character was the way it was, than about the story itself.



Caused grins

I loved how they animated Makkari's running and Thena's powers and storyline, and Gilgamesh's gauntlets. Watching Thena fight was like watching Hela fight in Thor: Ragnarok – I'd love to see these two characters go up against each other. In fact I think the Eternals and Asgardians are a pretty good match up. Maybe a future What If?

The scene with Makkari and the thieves was an absolute pleasure. Again, they shut this character up on the ship?

The character of Patel was fantastic – the vampire moment was one thing I wish they had actually flashed back to instead of cut out!

The end credits scene brings out two characters, one I love and one who made me go ew gross.

Overall

None of this should be a criticism of any of the actors or the visuals. These were excellent and they should have been easily set up for success. Somebody needed to work on this script. The result left me sleepy, confused, and bored. I had to watch several times to even write this review. And I wasn’t pleased with the way Makkari’s character was treated, and I sadly suspect they didn’t know what to do with a Deaf character though they were eager to include one. And I felt the same for Phastos. Seeing a more nuanced Deaf character portrayed with Echo in Hawkeye – and even Hawkeye in Hawkeye, as a man with hearing loss – I felt Marvel coulda done better with a Black and Latina Deaf superhero.

One out of five Celestial spirit orbs for me as a Deaf reviewer.

2 comments:

  1. It was good to read this and to know I wasnt the only person unimpressed with the plot. I wanted much more from the deaf character. Really hope to see more in the next film. Great review thanks for sharing, you really hit the note about the issues that my deaf friends and I felt when we left the cinema afterwards. We felt a “so what” rather than a real centric Deaf element of pride. Underwhelmed perhaps

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  2. Deaf representation is great--but it's not just about authenticity in casting--it's also realizing fleshed out characters with real emotional and developmental arcs. One of the best ways to do this is to put deaf people in the writers' room, having them work behind the camera at the director level or higher, and having the level of power to say at any moment's notice to "stop, let's rethink this and do it right." Your stories will be richer for it. Promise.

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