The following contains spoilers for Marvel’s Eternals.
Marvel's next big movie is here, and while Eternals won the box office crown as expected, the new Marvel Cinematic Universe entry has been getting more of a mixed reception than other films in the franchise recently. While many critics and most fans seem to love the movie, that praise is not universal.
Eternals is certainly not all bad, of course. Even the reviews that one would have to call negative still found things worth of praise. By the same token, even the “good” reviews found some elements that were not perfect. Eternals is a mixed bag, so let’s take a look at what works in it and what doesn’t.
Eternals Is Beautifully Shot
Let’s start with the obvious: Eternals is a visually impressive movie. Director Chloé Zhao knows how to capture the natural world and has an eye that few other directors have. While Eternals, like its fellow Marvel movies, has plenty of CGI, what makes each image of Eternals stand out is the real world that surrounds it all. Eternals is simply shot differently than most Marvel movies, and it’s a refreshing change of pace.
The Cast Is Amazing
Another way Eternals stands out is with its massive main cast. There are 10 heroes in this movie. Only the latter two Avengers movies have so many characters we needed to keep track of, and those movies had the benefit of not needing to introduce us to all of them, as there were several movies that came before.
And yet, Eternals does a remarkable job of balancing the cast. Each one of them gets time so that we really get to know them and understand them, and they're all unique. While these are heroes trying to save the world just like any Marvel movie, that’s not really what the movie is about. It's chiefly about the characters, and it’s stronger for it.
The Non-Linear Story
Because the Eternals are brand-new characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there are a lot of them, there’s quite simply a lot of information that needs to be presented to the audience. These heroes have been around for thousands of years, and fitting all of that time into even a long movie is tough.
Eternals solves this problem by jumping us back and forth through time. We see the Eternals' first appearance on Earth, and then we see them in the modern day, and the time in between is filled in a piece at a time, jumping back and forth. It keeps the story interesting, and allows it to fit in action sequences to keep the pace of the movie up. But it also gives us insight into these characters in a different way. Perspective on each of them changes as we learn more of what happened to them in the past, so we’re never quite sure we really know what’s going on with each of them until the end.
Marvel’s First Gay Superhero
Disney has been given credit, and criticism, in the past for the studio’s use of gay characters. Frequently these characters have been literally in the background, with no real attention given to them; simply the reference that they exist. But with Eternals, we have a main character, a major part of the superhero team, who is unambiguously gay.
For a superhero team that was clearly designed to be diverse, making at least one of the Eternals gay was basically necessary, but the role is handled well besides. Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos is one of the few characters who has made a human relationship of any kind. It’s what drives him. Whether or not you think Disney or Marvel deserve "credit" for this, or you think this sort of thing should have been done years ago, at least it's there now.
Now let's go over the aspects of Eternals that don't nail the landing.
The Eternal Infodump
As mentioned previously, there’s a lot of information that needs be conveyed to the audience while watching Eternals. There are 10 major characters that have been around for 7,000 years. For the most part, this massive story is told well, but there is one place where it significantly falters. When one character has to basically stop and explain the entire plot to another over several minutes of screen time.
The Eternals have been largely kept in the dark about what their ultimate purpose actually was, but eventually Sersi discovers the truth. This is done through a sequence where their Celestial leader just talks through everything Sersi didn’t know, giving her, and the audience, a lot to digest at once. It’s a lot of backstory and it basically stops the momentum of the movie cold.
Weak Emotional Stakes In The Finale
Sometimes making one decision in a movie means making sacrifices elsewhere. We've talked about how Eternals does an absolutely remarkable job balancing its massive cast. We get to know and understand each character very well. Each one seems to get a comparable amount of screen time, with nobody really hogging the spotlight. While Sersi is our main character, we don’t necessarily get to know her any better than the others.
But there is something lost in that balance. The relationship between Ikaris and Sersi is a big part of Eternals, and it’s especially important at the end, when Ikaris ultimately can’t stop Sersi because he can’t bring himself to hurt her. The problem is that while we’ve seen the relationship the two had in the past, it’s not given quite enough time to develop. We know how Ikaris and Sersi feel, but we don’t necessarily feel it the same way they do.
The same is largely true for Sprite’s heel turn. We’re told how she feels about Ikaris, but the fact that she made the decision she did, and went so far as to stab Sersi over it, doesn’t work as well as it might because we’re never given the chance to really understand how strongly Sprite feels.
More could have been done to show us these characters emotional stakes, which would have made the finale hit harder. Of course, that would have either meant an even longer movie, or shortchanging some of the other Eternals.
On the whole, Eternals still did a lot more right than it did wrong, and even the places where it maybe didn’t hit on all cylinders are understandable, and largely side effects of the decisions that made the other parts of the movie so strong.
There is no such thing as a perfect movie, no matter what review aggregators might indicate. Eternals has a lot that’s going for it, and while it may not be perfect, the things it does well, it does really well.
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