Review by Sean Boelman
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has attracted plenty of extraordinary filmmakers, but Eternals is the first from an Oscar-winning director (although Joe Johnston had won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and Taika Waititi later would win for Best Original Screenplay). And while Zhao’s characteristic gorgeous visuals are present and welcome, the movie lacks the energy it would need to succeed.
The film follows an ancient group of powerful extraterrestrials who have lived on Earth for thousands of years, shaping the formation of civilization. As is the case with (almost) every Marvel movie, the team must fight end-of-the-world stakes, but here it takes a much longer time to get there as the first hour is very heavy in exposition.
It’s clear that Zhao and the co-writers are going for something of an epic scale, hence the runtime clocking in at the second longest of the series, two hours and thirty-seven minutes. There’s enough action to keep the movie from leaving audiences completely bored, but every fight sequence in the film is virtually identical.
There are some interesting themes here about playing God and the ethics of war, but the script is so heavy-handed with them that it feels unnatural. Zhao should be praised for doing something ambitious with the movie that helps it stand out from other Marvel projects, but it obviously never escapes the feeling of extensive studio oversight.
For a film that introduces so many new characters in one go, it does a decent job of making the audience care for them. It definitely helps that the movie ties the characters into real-world mythology (which, within the film, was inspired by these characters) but there’s also just a natural charm to many of their personalities.
This movie also has one of the biggest casts in all of the MCU (barring the Avengers films). The eponymous group is full of international superstars like Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, and Ma Dong-Seok, and among the other big names in the cast are Kit Harrington and Bill Skarsgård It’s crazy how many A-listers are in the cast… and also how they don’t give the most impressive performances. And lead actress Gemma Chan isn’t good enough to break Marvel’s anti-recasting rule.
That said, audiences will be absolutely captivated by the visuals of the film. Of course, it’s disappointing to see such gorgeous shot compositions interrupted by CGI monsters, but that doesn’t make the backgrounds any less gorgeous to look at. The score by Ramin Djawadi is also excellent and accompanies the movie well.
Eternals definitely aims higher than a lot of Marvel movies do, and while it is exciting to see a blockbuster like this embrace diversity behind and in front of the camera, it’s more often than not a swing-and-a-miss. There are enough redeemable qualities here to keep it from being a total disaster, but audiences deserve better than this.
Eternals hits theaters on November 5.