Marvel and Chloé Zhao take a big swing with Eternals, deviating from the norm and managing to deliver something epic.
Marvel Studios’ Eternals brings a grand ensemble of cosmic superheroes together for a stunning sci-fi adventure with scope, unlike anything the MCU has ever seen. The charismatic performances brilliantly choreographed action and the beautiful visual style of Chloé Zhao come together in one of Marvel Studio’s best entries and a highlight of Phase 4. Beware, some light spoilers are sprinkled throughout!
Directed By: Chloé Zhao
Written By: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Angelina Jolie, MA Dong-seok, Brian Tyree Henry, Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Lauren Ridloff, Kumail Nanjiani, Salma Hayek
Release Date: November 5, 2021
At the heart of this film are its characters, the Eternals themselves are a mismatched family with deep ties to each other even when they don’t always see eye to eye. Each of their dynamics is different but everyone’s perspectives are well established. Some characters do leave you wanting for more information, but overall does not take away from the film.
Gemma Chan leads as Sersi, an emotional, empathetic standout among the Eternals who cares deeply about humans and has a true connection to the people she has sworn to protect. Her dynamic with Kit Harington’s Dane Whitman showed this love for humans expertly well in ever so brief (but great) scenes. Their intimacy and chemistry was brilliantly brought to life by the two actors.
By contrast, her relationship with Ikaris (played by Richard Madden) was built on spending a millennia together, but his lack of connection to humans made them vastly different. His powers mirror his character, lacking true connection to people as he struggles to feel grounded with a vastness of abilities that his peers can’t even match. In battle, he is the only one who ever seems to fight alone, showing arrogance and isolation that characterize him well.
Sprite shares Ikaris’ feelings of isolation and lack of connection. Not from a place of a disconnect, but she has been forced into an existence that stops her from ever living a life. Being stuck in the form of an adolescent for 7000 years has left Sprite bitter and resentful of her placement on earth, without an ability to do anything as an adult or stay anywhere longer than a few years, she has little in common with her Eternal companions.
What the characters do have in common, however, is their care for Salma Hayek’s Ajak; the leader and essential mother to the Eternals. Her healing abilities compliment her caring nature as she watches over the group. Even the most disillusioned of the Eternals clearly respect and care for her deeply.
Kingo played by Kumail Nanjiani, is a character who might strike you as comic relief. He is to an extent, but with a contrasting and specific morality that makes his character a fascinating point among the other Eternals. His role as one of their fighters is evident in his mentality. When it delves into the serious conversations and moral dilemma, Kingo is never better characteriszd as a fighter and a soldier with deep loyalty and care for his fellow Eternals.
Fellow fighter Thena, played by Angelina Jolie, appears similarly as the headstrong warrior but is an endearing character. The more she appears the more she is developed into a complex character with her own struggles and relationships that allowed Jolie to work with some great material. This is no more evident than in her touching relationship with Gilgamesh, the Eternals resident strongman, played by Don Lee.
The bond between two of the Eternals big fighters wasn’t necessarily romantic but showed a deep bond between the two that served both their stories significantly. In the opening battle, the two unite against a Deviant with a wonderful display of teamwork that sometimes feels lacking in an Avengers film. Super strength can often feel overplayed and not particularly interesting as a power, but watching Gilgamesh just smack monsters was nothing less than extremely satisfying.
Similarly to Gilgamesh, Makkari’s superspeed threatened to be an overplayed visual that we’d all gotten our fill of in the past decade, but the take on the power in this film was unique and incredible. We’ve seen a lot of on-screen speedsters, yet Makkari’s power is done unlike any speedster before her. The character does not simply feel fast, but powerful. The sheer force of her movement is evident and its brilliant. No slo-mo, just power.
She was perhaps the least well developed of the bunch, her motivations are briefly established via her scenes with the other Eternals. Aided by Lauren Ridloff’s wonderful performance, are where she shines and what make her truly feel like a character. This is especially shown in her moments with Druig. The closeness between them gives a great extra layer to Druig as her presence seems to give him a levity that he lacks without her.
Played by Barry Keoghan, Druig is an admirable, but flawed, character who empathizes with humans but struggles to balance his desire to help with his obligation to never interfere. This leads to an interesting watch as he appears as one of the more heroic Eternals but still has a deeply flawed perspective on matters.
On the other hand, Bryan Tyree Henry’s Phastos, has the most grounded and human perspective of any of them. His desire to help humans advance and the potential consequences of that advancement puts him down a path of serious self-reflection. His family makes him a very unique member of the Eternals with a life none of them can truly relate to, but granting him a unique perspective.
Also, as the first LGBTQ+ superhero in the MCU, he was some wonderful and much-needed representation, his relationship with his husband felt genuine and caring but their sexuality was never a point of focus. These are simply two people who love each other and that was the relevant factor.
Characterization of the Eternals themselves is achieved wonderfully for all with the use of flashbacks throughout the film. Characterizing each Eternal before we meet them in the modern-day a lot of the time but also contextualizing interactions in hindsight. The time jumps aid the emotional beats of the film in a great way that lets you understand the characters well without extensive exposition.
The film’s villain, Kro, is where the film struggles most. While he has some intriguing motivations and the return of the Deviants served the plot well in its purpose; the minimal screentime was his downfall. A prolonged absence during the film made his appearance later on feel almost like a reminder of his existence. It feels to be the one element the film struggles to handle. The film is long but an extra scene solidifying his motivation and dynamic with the Eternals would have gone a long way to fix the only truly significant issue in an otherwise incredible film.
Chloe Zhao’s visuals, for example, are an asset to the film that brings the whole project together. Every scene is framed purposefully and the film feels beautiful even in its most mundane moments. When a truly stunning shot appears it registers so heavily and stayed with me way out of the cinema. The scope of the film is unlike anything we have seen in the MCU and the way Zhao plays with scale is awe-inspiring. Akin to Gareth Edwards Godzilla but so much more. Never has a director’s style felt so truly evident in an MCU film.