I Don’t Know What To Make of Marvel’s The Eternals

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I mean it when I say I don’t know what to make of this movie. Marvel’s The Eternals isn’t a normal Marvel movie. It breaks the formula and is so different tonally you’d be forgiven for not getting that comfort dopamine of a Marvel movie. You can’t watch Black Widow and then watch this and say  “Oh jeez that Marvel formula at it again!” That’s both good and bad, and ends up making a totally average movie.

I’m not familiar at all with Chloe Zhao’s work as a director. But this movie very much doesn’t feel like Black Widow or Ant-Man. I appreciate the attempt to try and make something feel so different. Make something that is very much of its own and not just another in the list. There’s a focus on cinematography here that you don’t normally get in these movies. Almost every scene has a strong shot emphasizing silhouettes and colour palettes and vision of the scene to convey the emotion. And that’s cool!

But the movie is long and a bit boring.

Introducing ten characters is a lot. This isn’t like the original Avengers or Civil War, where you have a big team but you’re already mostly familiar with 80% of the cast. These are all newbies. I’m a comic dork and I knew nearly nothing about these folks, so it doesn’t even have the benefit of a Justice League where you might know not this The Flash, but you do know The Flash.

One benefit to the entirely new characters it that many of them steal names from history: Ikaris, Sersi, (a)Thena, Ajak and Gilgamesh are all names you should have heard and have some idea of what they’re referencing. I’m sure the others in Makkari, Sprite, Phastos, Druig and Kingo have basis in something as well though I’m just not familiar. 

When you have so many characters, it can be difficult to differentiate them but the movie does a well enough job to do that. You understand each individual power set and personality pretty easily. You could argue its reductive and simple, but it’s a 2.5 hour movie with 10 newbies, evil monsters and a Big Cosmic so it’s forgivable.

Characters do change in this film though and they do seem to hold to their convictions. There isn’t any “aw shucks okay I change my mind” scene just for convenience. Out of our cast of ten, there is only one or two that don’t really have a significant change. How much you care and sympathize though is up to you. I waffled and most didn’t grab me.

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The movie is on a timeline to an extinction event, which I get you need for this level of characters considering they’re basically angels or gods or whatever, but there also doesn’t feel like there is urgency until the very final conflict. The build doesn’t have to be frantic, but you don’t really get the sense of urgency or importance of a “the earth is going to explode by lunch time” level thing. You don’t feel that ticking clock. 

You also get to learn that these characters have been around and interacting/protecting humanity since way way way back when sharp sticks were the closest thing to weapons we had.

I am a sucker for when movies or video games or TV going back in time and adding little asterisks to history and filling in notes in the margins with new details. when they go back in time and weave themselves into history in a fun way. Gilgamesh the ancient warrior? He was an Eternal! These folks were hanging at Babylon. Icarus, Circe and Athena? They’re actually Ikaris, Sersi and Thena! Eternals! Hiroshima? The Eternals fault!

If you’re going to pull the “we were here all along” thing, then that’s a fun way to do it that helps add a bit of believability to your world. 

At the same time, there is a lameness to hidden characters that have been here all along and secretly being the guiding hand of history. Especially when you learn the reason they were sent, you can pretty easily say “hey, why didn’t you help with all the bad stuff?” and the answer isn’t particularly strong.

I don’t know if the movie is trying to make a religious point about any particular sect with that. You can have In The Shadows organizations, but the good ones have realistic limitations. Men In Black works because the world is totally normal outside of the weirdo nonsense in their direct jurisdiction. But this is a world with wizards and robots and and an unlimited supply of floating space ships and thousands of super secret agent soldiers and doomsday events every 3-4 years.

At some point you think one of those may have pulled them from hiding.

The conflict in the plot comes from the characters and what they’re purpose is, which again relates to their secrecy. The Deviants aren’t a great antagonist, though I thought they might build to something cool before they didn’t, and then you get to the big ending with the reveal and twist which is going to be mileage-may-vary for everyone.

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Time for some random one off thoughts: 

  • I like that the movie isn’t the same formula like building to a big dumb CGI ending divorced of the plot.
  • There is so much CGI in this movie though. It mostly looks good but at times it breaks and Angelina Jolie turns into gumby.
  • I miss practical effects in movies man. I’m watching the special features of Lord Of The Rings and its inspiring the lengths they went to. More movies need that 2003 mindset.
  • The flashbacks can be a bit long and uninteresting.
  • There appears to be no Disney+ tie in, and that rules.
  • Comedy takes a back seat to the movie. That’s good. The only real line that sticks out is “Fall catalogue. Ikea.” Barf.
  • There could be a fan edit of this that dials it back 15-20 minutes and might be more interesting. The bloat just starts getting to you at some point.
  • I want to see the characters again but just not for like 4-5 years.
  • The Bollywood scene was fun. I love how wild and crazy Bollywood is.
  • Celestials could be neat as a new Thanos.

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Ultimately, the movie was a chance and it was different and I like that. I’ll take this over another Black Widow any day. The movie isn’t bad but I’m not going to watch it again. Maybe if it’s on TV while I’m in a hotel room one day I’ll turn it on and scroll through my phone at the same time.

That just gets back to the problem with the movie though. I love seeing movies in the theatre and when I’m in the theatre I focus on the movie. But I did get bored at one point and thought “I wonder if anyone’s texted me…”

I get the feeling though that this movie will be on a bunch of lists in 5 years like “TOP 10 UNDERRATED MOVIES PEOPLE WERE WRONG ABOUT” in the inverse way now you get Star Wars: The Force Awakens on every “TOP 10 MOVIES THAT
SUCK THAT WEREN’T ACTUALLY GOOD!”

I want to like this more but I can’t because I just don’t care that extra bit.

@Adam_Pyde on Twitter, Adam Reviews Things on Facebook. CanadianAdam on Twitch.

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