Friday, November 5, 2021

Review: "ETERNALS" is Endlessly Fascinating

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 65 of 2021 (No. 1803) by Leroy Douresseaux

Eternals (2021)
Running time: 157 minutes (2 hours, 37 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, some language and brief sexuality
DIRECTOR: Chloé Zhao
WRITERS:  Chloé Zhao, Chloé Zhao & Patrick Burleigh and Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo; from a screen story by Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo (based upon the Marvel Comics by Jack Kirby)
PRODUCERS: Kevin Feige and Nate Moore
EDITORS:  Dylan Tichenor and Craig Wood
COMPOSER: Ramin Djawadi


Starring:  Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Barry Keoghan, Lia McHugh, Bryan Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Haaz Sleiman, Esai Daniel Cross, and David Kaye (voice) with Salma Hayek, Kit Harringston, and Angelina Jolie

Eternals is a 2021 superhero film directed by Chloé Zhao and produced by Marvel Studios and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.  It is the 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) series.  The film is based on the Marvel Comics stories and characters created by Jack Kirby and first appearing in the comic book, The Eternals #1 (cover dated: July 1976).  Eternals the movie focuses on a race of immortal beings who have lived on Earth for millennia, protecting and shaping its people.

Eternals begins with the story of the “Celestials,” the great beings that created the universe.  They also created a race of immortals, known as “Eternals,” to do their bidding.  Seven thousand years before the present day (5000 BC), ten of these Eternals arrive on Earth from their home planet, Olympia.  They are Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Thena (Angelina Jolie), and Ajak (Salma Hayek), their leader.  They are human-like and have super-powers.

The most powerful Celestial, Arishem (David Kaye), has sent these Eternals to Earth to protect humanity from monsters known as “Deviants.”  Over several millennia, the Eternals protect humanity from the dangers posed by Deviants, but they are not allowed to interfere in the development of the humans and their civilizations.  In 1500, after believing that they have killed off the last Deviants, the Eternals break apart as a group because they have different opinions on what their responsibility is towards humans going forward.

In the present day, Sersi and Sprite live together in London.  One night, they are attacked by a Deviant, but the powerful Eternal, Ikaris, arrives to drive the creature away.  Sersi, Sprite, and Ikaris decide to reunite their group in order to be prepared for the renewed threat of the Deviants.  However, not all the members are willing to reunite as some have new lives and others hold old grudges.  Meanwhile, dark secrets from their past and about their future hinder the Eternals ability to deal with “The Emergence,” an event that threatens to destroy the world.

Eternals is Marvel Studios most unique film to date.  For all the talk of there being a formula to Marvel's films, Eternals is like nothing else that Marvel has done and like no other superhero film, for that matter.  The costumes, special effects, technology, art direction, and graphic design are key to creating a film that is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but also feels separate from it, in a way.

Eternals co-writer and director Chloé Zhao won two Oscars for her work on the 2020 film, Nomadland, a film filled with characters that are fiercely independent, unique, and contrary.  Eternals is a film about a group of ten people who essentially form a family, but these ten are individually disparate people.  After their mission is complete, the Eternals discover that they have very little in common.  They know enough, however, as they saying goes, to hurt the ones they love.

Zhao deals with the ramifications of being a hero confronted by the question of which is more important in a mission – the orders or doing the right thing.  Zhao reveals that it is not so easy because individuals have differing views on the mission and what it means to “do the right thing.”  Zhao also delves into the complicated nature of a family unit, how the bittersweet can become downright sour when there are secrets and lies and also betrayal.  Eternals is a film about difficult relationships and about the heartache and pain that can come when differences cannot be bridged.

Some may find Eternals too long and boring.  There may not be enough action for fans used to the humongous action set pieces of the Avengers films.  Also, the film's ostensible lead, Gemma Chan's Sersi, is a female superhero that is nuanced in ways not seen in superhero films, especially compared to Marvel heroines like Black Widow, The Wasp, and the Dora Milaje.  Chan creates a Sersi that is beautifully gentle and compassionate, while being vulnerable in a way that makes her a better hero.  Even Angelina Jolie's Thena, an elite warrior, is as vulnerable as she is fierce and violent.

That is not the formula for girl-hero kick-ass and that is fine by me.  I find Eternals endlessly fascinating, and while I watched it, I always wanted more of it.  After all, each Eternal has 7000 years worth of stories to tell, and that's just what happened before they arrived on Earth.  Whether there is another Eternals film or not, Eternals 2021 is important to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, simply because it is the kind of entry that will stand out and show that there can be truly different things in that cinematic universe.  Eternals is one of the year's best films.

9 of 10

Friday, November 5, 2021

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