The Eternals received the usual Marvel movie hype in the build up to release, before bumping into something Disney and co hadn’t met much of before when it came to its superheroes: dissatisfaction. The Eternals started to get panned by people who had braved the Covid situation and gone to an actual cinema, i.e. people who were already very keen to be out seeing it… and they didn’t like it. We think we can see why, and we’ll keep the plot as spoiler free as we can while discussing the key problem. But as the title suggests, we’re saying The Eternals is a good movie if you just go and watch it in isolation.
How so? There’s a wonderfully large scale plot, with god tier beings the Celestials sending superpowered warriors called Eternals to Earth to defend the early humans from a race of monsters called Deviants. As the millennia pass, the Eternals – a diverse group designed to match the diverse nature of humanity – defeat the Deviants and blend into normal life waiting for the threat to return. As the start of the movie the Deviants do indeed return, and the heroes resume the long war before a series of massive twists. Everything is wide and large and grand.
We’ve used long war there deliberately. While yes, every Eternal has a particular set of super powers which they all jigsaw together in repeated and perfectly rendered fight scenes, the crux of this movie isn’t really about superheroes. It’s about being soldiers who have been on duty in a long and difficult war for so long that when the situation changes, they can’t adjust. There’s a strong theme of evolution, of changing your mind, but also of sticking to the mission you’ve devoted everything too when things change…
… and here’s the problem. It turns out that sticking to a mission of waiting to fight Deviants and not going off to stop other threats to Earth makes you look like an arsehole. These are incredibly powerful beings and they exist in a Marvel universe where some maniac causes massive carnage every other week, and Thanos killed half the universe. This is directly mentioned: Thanos snapped, and the Eternals stuck to the mission… and it doesn’t work. The Eternals is great when taken on its own lore, and you feel for them, but with Tony Stark getting killed, with half the world getting killed, and they just sat there… they feel irrelevant or idiots. This is made worse when the whole plot becomes about the war weary, broken soldiers struggling to turn away. Well, bit late for a load of people isn’t it. Also, the tone shifting, desperate to tie into the MCU end credit scenes are woefully in the wrong tone, especially the worst thing in the MCU, Patton Oswald’s embarrassing Leprechaun thing.
So, every Eternals actor is excellent, imbuing their role with gravitas. Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek are as good as you’d expect, Richard Madden comes into his own, the focal point is Gemma Chan who reveals top billing credentials. A gay relationship is handled like a real relationship and not some awkward token. The film moves grandly, never rushing, taking a wide sweep which annoyed people expecting a typical MCU pace but which wouldn’t matter if the MCU wasn’t here. And that’s the thing. The Eternals wouldn’t get made without the MCU, but it can only work without the MCU. As it is, it repeatedly makes you think ‘get on with it and save some people.’