The fatal flaws of Marvel’s ‘Eternals’

Jane McGill, Staff Writer

If I were to attempt to summarize my feelings towards the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in just one word, that word would be “Meh”. A lot of the success that Marvel has experienced over the past decade can be attributed to the consistency of the films they produce. Marvel rarely hires visionary or innovative filmmakers instead opting for middle of the road or inexperienced indie filmmakers shooting committee-written screenplays under the close supervision of Marvel Studios’ higher ups. This most often results in movies that feel as if they were designed by the same group of studio executives and visual effects artists. The main benefit of this approach is how rarely it yields truly bad movies. The main drawback of the approach is how it very rarely yields truly great movies. Because yes, the list of Marvel movies that are legitimately bad is small, but the list of Marvel movies that are legitimately great is even smaller, with most of their films simply being enjoyably passable. “Eternals” is a film that held the promise of greatness but ultimately follows in the Marvel tradition of mediocrity. And while it’s quality is fairly consistent with what I’ve come to expect from Marvel Studios, it’s well below the quality that I expect from Chloe Zhao.

The film follows the titular group of super-powered alien beings who were originally sent to Earth by a Celestial named Arishem to protect humans from a species of alien predators called the Deviants. Thousands of years later, the Eternals must reunite in order to save the world from an event called “The Emergence”. The cast is phenomenal, delivering engaging performances all around. Highlights include Kumail Nanjiani who is hilarious as Kingo, Brian Tyree Henry who gave a refreshingly understated comedic performance as Phastos, as well as Don Lee and Angelina Jolie as Gilgamesh and Thena respectively, who make the most of their limited screen time. The film was the latest in a long line of Disney-related films to promise queer representation and the first to actually deliver on this promise, with Phastos being the first gay superhero in a Marvel movie. His husband and son aren’t a major part of the narrative, but it’s a good start to a hopefully better future of LGBTQ+ representation in Marvel movies.

The characters’ complicated relationships with each other and the human race could have been very compelling, but are critically underdeveloped. The film introduces so many new characters, many of which have little relevance on the narrative, and tries to flesh out so many of the characters’ motivations and relationships at once that the characterization throughout is exceptionally weak. The narrative as a whole is weighed down by its attempts to flesh out its character cast while simultaneously telling multiple love stories, a family drama, and a cosmic epic all at once. The cinematography on display is more visually striking than most Marvel movies. The stylistic the flare that defines Zhao’s previous work is significantly toned down, but still present. However, the visual effects are more flawed than in any Marvel movie in recent memory. There numerous shots that are so poorly rendered that they look like something out of a video game.

The film contains two major reveals, the first of which completely changes the trajectory of the plot and the second of which changes the trajectory of the characters, neither of which contain the dramatic weight they should have because of how poorly the movie is structured. Eternals’ most intriguing aspect is the complex themes it expresses about the consequences of technological advancement, the moral value of the human race, and the philosophical merits of saving lives if it means destroying the possibility of creating life in the future. But these themes never get the thorough exploration they deserve as the third act is much more interested in pulling off the bloated CGI boss fight we’ve seen a hundred times before than a satisfying thematic resolution. While Eternals benefits from some fantastic performances and occasionally stunning visuals, it’s poorly structured pacing, narrative, and themes hold the film back from achieving anything but mediocrity in the end.