‘Eternals’ movie review: Action is good, but the screenplay felt it needed improvement. An army of superheroes but not one worth cheering for.
The world, as we know, it is over. Thanos exterminated humanity after snapping his fingers, leaving the door open to future possibilities of superheroes and parallel galaxies to decide how to salvage whatever is left on the blue planet. In Eternals, the fight is not so much to resurrect life on earth to protect it from the evil forces called Deviants. Unlike The Avengers and what they set out to do, the 10-member team of Eternals has one single reason to exist – protect humanity and lead their evolution. However, the plot isn’t as simple as it may sound on paper.
The latest set of superheroes to be added to the Marvel pantheon are aptly godlike. The Eternals – 10 of them for the purpose of the new movie and more as promised by the mid-credits and post-credits sequences – have protected humankind for millennia. Babylon, Hiroshima, and even the Gupta period: the Eternals have been present through good times and bad, keeping a balance between humankind, their own creators known as the Celestials, and the malevolent aliens known as the Deviants. A crisis forces the Eternals scattered across the world to reunite and reassess their relationship with the Celestials and their adversaries.
Indian viewers may get a kick from the marigold wedding, the Eternal named Kingo (who is apparently some kind of a Hindi movie star, although he can barely hold his own on the dance floor), and Harish Patel as Kingo’s Hindi-spouting “valet” (we would have called him a manager).
There’s also a touch of Bollywood to the family-above-all-else theme. The 155-minute Eternals has been directed by Chloe Zhao, beaming herself into the Marvel Cinematic Universe after an Oscar for the gritty road movie Nomadland. Zhao, who is also among the several writers, can possibly be credited for the multi-ethnic cast, the prominence given to female characters, the first gay and first deaf Marvel superheroes (the latter played by a deaf actor), and the concerns over genocide and warfare.
But the real honors go to the visual effects and action teams. Good in the showing and poor in the telling. Eternals soars when superhuman abilities are in full flow and sags when the tortuous back story has to be explained (which is frequent).
The enthralling action set-pieces have to be parsed from in-between awkward moments in which characters stand around waiting to explain themselves. The wildly inconsistent tone moves from laugh-out-loud to deadly earnest, sometimes right in the middle of a scene.
At its best, the diversity of faces and inclusivity of thought acknowledge how far Marvel movies have come. At its most cynical, the casting of actors who represent each of the important markets for Marvel produce is a nifty ploy to ensure a connection with audiences in any corner of the world.
The actors with less screen time make a more significant impact. Brian Tyree Henry, Barry Keoghan, Lauren Ridloff, and Lia McHugh are more impressive than the nominal leads Gemma Chan and Richard Madden. Kit Harington, along with Madden and composer Ramin Djawadi represents the movie’s Game of Thrones connection, furthers his claim to romantic lead status. The effortlessly jovial Harish Patel outshines Kumail Nanjiani in every one of their scenes together.
But is Eternals as good as The Avengers, and does it hold a candle to the franchise? The answer is a solid – no!
To begin with, Eternals has a run time that exceeds two and half hours, only second to the almost three-hour runtime of Avengers: Endgame. However, the issue is not the length but director Chloe Zhao’s struggle to weave in as many backstories and subplots as possible to give the A-list star cast its due.
Visually, Eternals is stunning. No frame is without imagery, and the action scenes, especially the opening montage, are stunningly choreographed. That said, when it comes to building up characters that hold interest and subplots that you can actually invest into, the film falters.
Eternals tries to be everything but ends up coming close to being nothing. The comparisons to Avengers only make the experience worse. However, there are fleeting references to Avengers, and every time you hear a familiar name, you can’t help but plaster a big wide grin on your face.
Eternals could have worked had it spent as much time in the writing room as in the VFX studio. But, for fans of the Marvel franchise, Eternals is no Avengers, don’t go walking in with too many expectations, and you might have a decent time. Eternals has an army of superheroes but not one worth cheering for. Maybe next time?