The last time I went to see a movie, it was a V.I.P. experience and I had never heard the word “coronavirus” in my life. This time was starkly different but enjoyable in its own way.
I’ve been wanting to see a movie in this pandemic ever since Tenet hit theaters in 2020, but that was before vaccines and many people were not ready to be back in cinemas yet. 2021 is different, and I’ve been enjoying stores and dinners out once again. Time to go see a movie! Eternals it is! Now I’m completely caught up in the MCU, just in time for Spiderman: No Way Home!
Eternals hasn’t been doing well, and for a Sunday matinee all that was available was the standard 2D showing. (I could identify scenes that looked like important bits were cropped out from the Imax aspect ratio.) My original intent was to see the movie with our friend Vu, but he’s a busy pharmacist and at the last minute, could not get away. I was already at the theater, so I went ahead and bought my ticket. Morning show: less than eight bucks! Occupany: I was one of five people total!
I got comfortable in my seat; with the nearest person many rows away, I felt more comfortable than I’ve ever felt in a movie theater. Not a sound from the others (not even a laugh at the funny scenes) and absolutely no distractions. I don’t think I’ve ever had that experience in the cinemas before. As per cinema rules, I was also masked for two and a half hours with no difficulty whatsoever. In fact my usually cold nose was very happy to be masked.
I usually look forward to the trailers, but all I saw was shit. Morbius looks awful and the fan-service trailer feels like a promotional clip for more than one movie. I grew impatient. Bring on the Eternals.
ETERNALS (2021 Marvel)
Directed By Chloé Zhao
I really wanted to like the Eternals. Just days ago I acquired the last Eternals action figure of the ten: Ajak, Salma Hayek’s character, healer and leader of the team. She was a Walmart exclusive. More like Walmart “elusive”! The designs of the costumes, with unique colours for each character, were intriguing. With all ten characters in hand, I was familiar with all their names and powers.
There’s Thena, Angelina Jolie’s goddess of war who can manifest blades and shields. Gilgamesh (Don Lee), the powerhouse with a mighty punch. Sprite (Lia McHugh), the master of illusions and storytelling, trapped in a child’s body. Druig (Barry Keoghan), the brooding controller of minds. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), a star of the silver screen who can fire bursts of energy from his hands. The master of technology, Phastos (Bryan Tyree Henry), can create devices of great power and ingenuity with his mind. Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) is the speedster and seemingly much faster than Quicksilver himself. She’s also deaf and signs with her teammates. Ikaris (Richard Madden), upon whom the legend of Icarus is based, is perhaps the most powerful, with strength, flight, and cosmic energy eyebeams. Finally there is Sersi (Gemma Chan), the actual central hero of the film, who can convert any non-sentient matter into anything else. Air to water, earth to wood, her choice. They have been here for 7000 years, shaping our history and becoming our heroes of ancient legend.
That’s a lot of characters, and doesn’t include the underused Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington), Sersi’s boyfriend and spinoff setup device. Kingo’s valet Karun (Harish Patel) has more screentime than the future Black Knight. Dane’s lineage is briefly hinted at, and the Ebony Blade mentioned, before being revealed in a post-credit scene that we’ll discuss later. The point is, Whitman is not important to the story. He begins as the “regular person” perspective character that we can relate to, as the strangeness unfolds. But then he disappears and only at the end do we cynically realize his true purpose: MCU world building.
It wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without some deus ex machina to boot — or maybe characters just like to wait until the last possible minute before revealing their presence? That said, Ikaris does know how to make an entrance.
Many of the characters are quite delightful. One feels for the relationship between Thena and Gilgamesh; one the sick and one the caretaker. Poor Sprite feels cursed as a 7000 year old child who can never age, never to know love or even what it feels like to be treated as an equal. Phastos, the master of technology, is haunted by his past. He thought aiding humans to develop new sources of energy would help their society advance. As he stood in the ashes of Hiroshima, he realized how wrong he was. He has retreated to an anonymous family life with a husband and a son. Thena, wonderfully portrayed by Jolie, has the equivalent of Space Alzheimers, lashing out in violence in fitful rages of memory loss.
Other characters go undeveloped. I loved watching the speedy heroics of Makkari (Mercury), the girl with attitude, but never get a feel for her character otherwise. Kingo is the entertainer, loving the spotlight and admiration of humans. He displays wisdom, insight and his own unique perspective on events, but we never really get a feeling for what makes him tick.
Then there is Druig, the intriguing Eternal who can control minds. With a thought, he could end all war on Earth, but he is forbidden from interfering. Forbidden by who?
The complex story of love, deception, legend, history and family takes two and a half hours to unfold. It is told in the form of flashbacks and exposition, lots of exposition. The initial cover story is that the Eternals were sent to Earth to protect intelligent life from predators called Deviants. That turned out to be a lie, but they are forbidden from interfering in human affairs unless Deviants are involved. This comes right down from those that created both Eternals and Deviants: the Celestials. The Deviants were their mistake, and the Eternals are the correction.
Again, a lot to sort out in under one movie. So in sum: 11 new characters (including Whitman), and three new factions. Sort of new.
We’ve seen Celestials before in the Marvel universe: giant beings of immense power. Peter Quill’s dad Ego the Living Planet said he was a Celestial. The space colony of Knowhere was built in the severed head of a giant Celestial. The ultimate villain of Eternals is Arishem, a planet-sized Celestial who helps creation continue in the universe. Celestials create new suns and life in the universe. meanwhile, new Celestials are born in the heart of planets and feed on the life energy of intelligent beings like humans. And it just so happens that a new Celestial named Tiamut is about to be born right in the middle of our Earth. We die so that the Celestials can continue to create new life. It’s a cycle.
And it also turns out that the Eternals are not the protectors of humans that we assumed. They were only to protect them until such time as the new Celestial growing inside Earth had absorbed enough life energy. This happened after the “Blip”, the moment in Avengers: Endgame when half of life in the universe was restored with the Infinity Stones. Now some of the Eternals have grown so attached to humanity that they don’t want to fulfill their purpose. They want to stop the destruction of the Earth. Others cannot imagine disobeying their Celestial masters. As you can imagine, this boils down to an Eternal vs. Eternal showdown at the end.
Any battle scene with the Eternals in this film has merit. Since each character has their own power, they find creative ways to use them in concert together. Unfortunately, the Deviants (who are being sold as the main villains but are really a just side threat) are not very interesting foes. They look like Bayformers from one of the really bad Transformers films; all sinewy with tentacles that seem to defy physics. Generic and uninteresting to look at. One of the Deviants learns how to steal powers from Eternals and becomes a new threat. We’re never really told why he can do this, but he does, and he evolves.
With the battle lines drawn, two groups of Eternals fight. Needless to say the do-gooders trying to save the Earth, led by Sersi, are triumphant. However the planet’s surface itself is scarred by the near-emergence of Tiamut the Celestial, and this will undoubtedly be referenced in Marvel movies and shows in Phase 4. Our heroes and villains split up and go their separate ways. A defeated Ikaris flies into the sun, almost like his mythical counterpart. A small group take their triangular spaceship the Domo to go look for more Eternals. And they find one almost immediately, in the mid-credit scene! Patton Oswalt fans will like this, and what it could mean for the future.
In a clunky but hype-worthy post credit scene, Kit Harrington reveals his family’s cursed blade, but before touching it, is asked by an offscreen voice if he’s really ready for it. Of course we know he will be, in whatever spinoff he appears. But what really matters is who the offscreen voice is. Thanks to director Chloé Zhao, we know it was a guy who’s kind of an expert on blades. Welcome to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Blade (Mahershala Ali)!
Zhao’s knack for an outdoor scene made this Marvel movie seem bigger than any before it. The cosmic themes with a grounded Earth setting helped the movie stay accessible. At all times, our characters feel like humans. Her direction provides a visual feast, as well as human characters.
But it’s congested. While not fast paced, it feels like characters and concepts are rushed. Who is Phastos, who is Kingo? Let’s find out more about them. What has Sprite been doing all these centuries? Are Druig and Makkari ever going to hook up, and if so, why has it taken them 7000 years? Seriously, you could do an entire film on Druig and what he could have been up to, building strange utopias in the jungle. Makkari looks like she’s been on a hell of a lot of adventures, plus she can read a book in seconds. Let’s find out more about her, please.
Nitpick: in the film, Dane Whitman asks why the Eternals didn’t try to stop Thanos or anything else that’s happened in the MCU. I would also ask where the other Marvel heroes are when a giant head and hand start to emerge from the ocean. Where’s that beeper to Captain Marvel at a time like this? (Granted, she had to go somewhere pretty urgently at the end of the last Marvel movie, perhaps excusing herself from helping out in this film.)
Following so closely behind the truly Marvel-ous Shang-Chi, Eternals feels like an unfortunate misfire. The proof will be how it goes in rewatches. Two or three years down the road, it might be better appreciated. Or, it might be seen as an unfortunate corporate launchpad for new characters and concepts in the MCU. Those who enjoy the cosmic side of the universe, as seen in Guardians of the Galaxy and Loki, will delight in the massive Celestials, very well executed on screen. Could this all be priming our senses up for the eventual arrival of Galactus in Phase Five? Just speculation of course, but it seems more than possible.
See Eternals, but maybe do some research on the characters first before you go in completely dry.
On my way out, I said “screw it, I’m getting some popcorn”. I didn’t have any during the film having just had an early lunch. I buttered it extra heavy and brought it home with me.
That was what I’ll call a positive experience.