REVIEW: ‘Eternals’ Smashes the Marvel Formula

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Eternals - But Why Tho

Cosmic Marvel is where things get creative. It’s the space in the Marvel cinematic universe where formulas get altered, the stakes get raised, and things get weird. It’s separate from the mainline stories of Captain America and Iron Man to swing for the fences and do its own thing. And to that point, Eternals smashes the Marvel formula to bits and never looks back.

Eternals is the latest film in the MCU by Academy Award-winner Chloé Zhao. Directed and co-written by Zhao, the film is co-written by Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo. But to top all of it off, Eternals has the most star-studded cast of an MCU film to date with Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Ma Dong-seok, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, and Lia McHugh.

Eternals has a lot of heavy lifting to do. Not only is the film introducing a plethora of new characters into the MCU, but entirely new lore that extends so far that its existence is the foundation for life itself. In the film, a group of aliens known as the Eternals has been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years, beginning in Mesopotamia and onto the present day. Tasked with protecting humanity from the Deviants, the Eternals complete their job and wait for a call to return home. But when a global event begins, a Deviant appears, and a personal tragedy emerges, the group must reunite to save the world.

Taking place after Avengers: Endgame, the first hurdle Eternals comes against is where were they? They’re as powerful as gods and are supposed to protect humanity, so everything feels like a plot-hole at first glance. That is until the film directly confronts that through exposition in multiple scenes that outline when the group can intervene and when they can’t. Placing limits on such powerful characters can be tricky, but this film clears it.

On the note of exposition, Eternals somehow avoids feeling weighed down with too much talking. Instead, Zhao and company chose to show the audience what happened in the past to inform the present. Additionally, every moment of exposition has a real-world implication and feels like a narrative element versus an add-on. And with so much to explain and introduce, it’s stunning that Eternals manages to pull this off.

With such a strong ensemble cast, it would be easy for the film to feel weighed down, with each star showcasing a charisma that overpowers each other. But that doesn’t happen here, no. In Eternals, each character carries a weight to them, a purpose, and each and every actor in the main cast compliment one another. While some choices are frustrating because I wanted more of certain characters, I can’t say that anyone was wasted, and that is no small feat with a cast this packed with talent.

This success is as much a testament to the actors on screen as the film’s script. Yes, the dialogue is essential, with intimate and tender moments between characters weaving an empathic element into the lives of literal gods. But it has to be noted that some of the film’s most powerful exchanges have no words, only a connection that the actors could bring to life. There is romantic intimacy between the characters that comes from small touches, glances, foreheads against each other, and holding hands. However, romance isn’t the only connector between these characters. There are intimate moments of friendship and family that hit.

In fact, there is an emotion and connection I haven’t seen in the MCU since Phase 1. None of the relationships, even their issues, feel toned down for a young audience. There is sex, there is love, there is anger, there is sadness, and every relationship in between. Truly, Eternals is the most adult MCU film in years, and it’s not because of sex. It’s because it trusts its audience to see a relationship fostered over thousands of years, warts and all.

Eternals - But Why Tho (1)

Eternals trusts its audience to see a relationship unrefined to the simplest emotions. Instead, it accepts that there are things we won’t know that happened between characters, lives lived that we haven’t seen, and as a film, it lets us live in them. This film trusts its audience with something more than formulaic companionship. We see this between Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok), Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Druig (Barry Keoghan), and literally, every single one of them as they come together as a family. Additionally, connecting gods to humans with deep connections isn’t an easy feat, but the film does it expertly through Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani).

The emotion is also what makes the film’s action sequences grow beyond just the spectacle they bring. Each encounter builds on the last, and in the third act, we see a millennium of emotion released in cathartic and rewarding fight sequences. Not to mention, each power was expertly showcased with both its strength and its weakness, allowing each moment of action to feel dynamic.

But where it excels with its main cast of heroes, Eternals’ biggest flaw is pushing too many antagonists and twists in one film. As a result, while the film’s narrative is filled with emotion and purpose, the villain elements overpower each other and clash. One would have been enough especially given the strong connections one particular baddie has with our heroes. Additionally, while I won’t call the film’s uniqueness a fault, Eternals doesn’t feel like an MCU movie in any way, which makes the name drops of existing characters almost feel out of place, breaking immersion ever so slightly.

To get a little personal, I wasn’t sure how much of the MCU would feel like it would hook me. Sure, series like Wandavision and Loki have broken expectations and embraced strange sci-fi and adult elements with open arms. But the films have delivered much of the same, executing a formula that works but being formulaic nonetheless. But now, with Eternals, I have the next series within the MCU to hold on to.

A visually stunning film, Eternals blows the doors off of Cosmic Marvel, creates its own path in the cinematic universe it’s situated in, and presents a world rich and vibrant with lore and emotion that I want to keep coming back to. The film may be long, but I wanted it to be longer and not in a negative way. I want to be in the world that Eternals created longer. I want more of the Celestials, of the characters, of the lore. I just want more Eternals, please.

Eternals releases in theaters nationwide on November 5, 2021.


Eternals
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    Rating - 8/10
8/10

TL;DR

A visually stunning film, Eternals blows the doors off of Cosmic Marvel, creates its own path in the cinematic universe it’s situated in, and presents a world rich and vibrant with lore and emotion that I want to keep coming back to.