‘Eternals’ is Simultaneously Compelling and Dull

By Janie Walenda

Editors Note: [The first half of this review is spoiler-free; however, the second half contains spoilers for Marvel’s “Eternals”]

“Eternals” has been surrounded by quite the firestorm of press.  While the MCU’s latest project totes the franchise’s lowest critic scores, it’s backed with strong opening box office numbers, audience scores, and support for the diverse cast.  Ultimately, enjoyment of the “Eternals” is going to come down to personal taste.  While I loved the movie, it has undeniable problems that leave it feeling dull.  However, I believe the complex character dynamics, motivations, and choices make “Eternals” worth watching.

One of the major controversies surrounding “Eternals” is its same-sex couple and sex scene, both firsts in the MCU.  While these elements are worthy of discussion, I believe the bigger problem is the film’s use of Biblical references.  “Eternals”  gets into a messy spiritual area as it rewrites the Creation story.  While it goes out of its way to reference Christianity, using a title crawl that reads “In the beginning” and having a character quote John 8:32, the film never discusses the reality of religion, specifically Christianity in the MCU.   With the upcoming shows “Ms. Marvel” and “Moon Knight” featuring Islamic and Jewish main characters, it’s tough to see “Eternals” treat Christianity so cavalierly.

“Eternals” main appeal was supposed to be Oscar-winner director Chloé Zhao.  Her unique style was meant to elevate the MCU’s Phase 4.  However, while the natural light and shot compositions are gorgeous, Zhao’s style works best in a realistic setting such as “Nomadland.”  In “Eternals,” her stylistic choices only serve to bog the story down.

The characters, like Kingo, Sersi, and Sprite, are what make “Eternals” excellent

The saving grace of “Eternals” is the characters, and their complicated relationships, morals, and decisions. While it mostly succeeds in dividing screen time equally, unfortunately, no one character or plot point is given much depth.  Combined with the slower pace, this makes the film occasionally boring and hard to follow. Despite this, what is introduced is well-executed.  It’s a tremendous feat to introduce ten characters in a movie and make them all distinct from each other, and “Eternals” accomplishes that.  I wanted to see more of every character, as well as the new ones introduced in the end credits scenes.  From this point on, I’m going to be going into spoilers, which I would recommend avoiding before seeing the movie.

Richard Madden’s Ikaris and Gemma Chan’s Sersi are the main focus of the film.  While they are initially shown in a loving relationship, as the film goes on we see that their worldviews are fundamentally opposed: Sersi loves humanity and will fight for it while Ikaris is a soldier on a mission.  The slow realization of Ikaris’s villain status is executed extremely well.  Something seems off about him during the entire film, but when it finally clicks, the movie gains momentum.  I love the evil Superman trope, and the visualization of Ikaris’s powers make him a daunting antagonist.

What makes this plot twist work is that we’re never sure which side is right or wrong.  Team Sersi is trying to stop a Celestial from being born out of the Earth’s core, which would destroy Earth.  Team Ikaris argued that if they stop the Celestial from being born, they are stopping the creation of billions of more lives.  Each character has a unique motivation for which side they choose.  I also loved that Kingo didn’t choose a side.  He believed that Ikaris was right but wouldn’t fight his family, so he walked away.

A villainous Ikaris brings the climax some much-needed energy.

The stand-out characters are Lauren Ridlof’s Makkari and Barry Keoghan’s Druig.  While Makkari was only in the film briefly, she made a great impact.  Her character is cheerful, intelligent, and mischievous without uttering a line.  Makkari is the MCU’s first deaf character, and this fact is integrated beautifully into the film. Thanks to the incredible visualizations of their powers, her fight against Ikaris is the best in the film.  Druig provides a great foil to the rest of the Eternals, as he is the first to get fed up with their policy of not interfering. He’s a morally grey character, as he feels empathy for humanity and wants to use his powers to help them.  However, as his powers are centered around mind manipulation, he ends up creating a cult of mind-controlled people.  He’s a bit of a secondary antagonist, but he does eventually reunite with the Eternals.  On top of all this, in about three scenes Makkari and Druig had more romantic chemistry than Ikaris and Sersi did in the whole movie.

Makkari and Druig make the most of their little screen time.

It’s impossible to talk about every character in this film, but there are still a few I’d like to mention.  Whether platonic or romantic, the relationship between Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Gilgamesh (Don Lee) is so full of love that it made Gilgamesh’s death much more impactful than it should have been, given how little time we had known him.  Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo brought most of the energy to the film, and the comedic banter between him and his valet Karun (Harish Patel) was hilarious.

“Eternals” is likely to remain a controversial film for years to come.  Many will enjoy it, many will consider it the MCU’s worst, and I suspect many will forget it.  However, thanks to strong characters and amazing end credit teases, I think the Eternals will have a place in the MCU for years to come.

“Eternals” is now in theaters.

Janie Walenda is a freshman Global Business major and an A&E writer for Cedars.  She enjoys watching musicals and movies as well as rereading the same books ten times.

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