Movies

Movie Review: “Eternals”

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The most heavily promoted Marvel’s Avengers-like movie has finally graced the theaters. Are the Eternals the next generation of Avengers?  Not quite.  Although the movie’s trailers make it look like a close-knit family of immortal superheroes, the story goes totally sideways.

The Eternals were created 7,000 years ago by the Celestials, who oversee the universe. Ajak (Selma Hayek), the leader of the Eternals, can communicate directly with Arishem, Prime Celestial, the deity who created the first sun and brought light to the universe. 

Under Ajak’s titulage are Ikaris (Richard Madden, “Cinderella”) and Sersi (Gemma Chan, “Captain Marvel,” “Crazy Rich Asians”) – whose on and off romance spans for centuries, Thena (Angelina Jolie, “Maleficent,” “Salt,” “Wanted“), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Phastos (Bryan Tyree Henry) and Sprite (Lia McHugh). Ikaris is the MCEU’s Superman; he can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes. Sersi could transform objects into other matters.  Thena is the goddess of war and skilled in weaponry; she can conjure up a golden sword and spear from thin air and fight with balletic grace. Druig is mind-controller. Gilgamesh, with his hulking frame, is super strong. Kingo could form fire balls with his hands.  Makkari is the Flash here; she’s a deaf super-speedster. Phastos is a technology inventor. Sprite is an illusionist and has the body of a perpetual teen.  Kudos to Marvel for pulling together the most diverse cast (races, genders, ages, orientations, impairments) onto the big screen!

The Eternals were sent by Arishem from Olympia to travel to Earth to watch over and protect humans from the monstrous Deviants. They’re first seen in 5,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia. They have lived through centuries of civilizations. While they have marveled by the wonders of this beautiful planet and human progress, frictions have emerged over time, as they have also witnessed wars, destructions and deaths. 

Per Arishem’s order, these superpowered beings are strictly prohibited to interfere with human affairs in order for mankind to develop as they are meant to be. But after thousands of years have passed, some have begun to question their purpose and why they can’t help, even though they have the otherworldly abilities to make the world a much better place. At the same time, aren’t flaws what make humans truly humans? This central moral conflict, combined with one of the Eternals suffering from a memory overload, which is a mental condition, split the Eternals apart and they go on their separate ways.  After all, the Deviants were defeated and they’re just waiting around for Arishem’s order to return home to Olympia. 

The present day brings the story forward to London, where human-loving Sersi is now a museum curator and in a stable relationship with a human, Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington). She also lives with Sprite as her roommate. After a surprised attack by the Deviants, whom they thought had been exterminated long ago, Ikaris shows up to lend a hand. Not only these modern-day Deviants turn out to be stronger and seem to have self-healing ability, they are also targeting the Eternals this time around, not humans. This prompts Sersi, Sprite and Ikaris to band together and track down the other Eternals.

Unexpected would be a major understatement for what awaits the trio.  Ajak is in an unimaginable place.  Kingo is a flashy Bollywood star, running a century-long, one-man dynasty for eons.  He injects a lot of levity into his scenes, which is sorely needed.  Phastos has retired from inventing, has a husband and young son.  Gilgamesh and Thena isolate, with him taking more of big brother role of a protector and caretaker.  Druig has gone off the grid and lives in the Amazon jungles.  Makkari resides in what used to be the ancient Mesopotamian region.  Along the way, twisted secrets are revealed, which make them question their identities and life’s purpose further.  It’s definitely not a straightforward story of noble alien superheroes serving as Earth’s protectors.  

As someone who loves history, whether real history or historical fiction, I actually wished the backstories were much longer. I wanted them to stay in the past and explore their lives there first.  I wanted to know more about these characters, the family-type of relationships, the friendships and the romances.  However, this wouldn’t be possible due to the length of the movie, already at a staggering 2 hours and 37 minutes.  It would have been neat to have another movie that lays out the foundation and tells the stories that led to this “Eternals” movie. 

The Avengers had the benefit of having solo movies prior, so you’re invested in the main characters and their journeys. The Eternals does not have this advantage, and as a result, so many expositions are crammed into the movie and the scenes jump from one to another with super quick cuts. While the pictorial shots of real landscapes in natural light and historical places are sweepingly stunning, the scenes feel rushed because of how quick they are.  They’re gone in a flash before we could digest them.

The story goes far beyond a typical dysfunctional family. It touches on free will and destiny, blind faith and loyalty, duties and betrayals, convictions and morality, purpose and meaning about who they really are and what the right thing to do is. And it’s not simply a familial conflict; it’s a full-blown existential crisis, treacheries and tragedies to the point of no return. 

What’s unexpected for me was how bleak the movie is. While superhero movies typically have twists, the twists in this movie are shockingly dark, which doesn’t feel like a Marvel movie.  It makes the superheroes’ rivalry in “Captain America: Civil War” look like child’s play.  

Director Chloe Zhao has crafted something different.  Unlike the universally praised “Shang-Chi and the Legends of the Ten Rings,” it’s also understandably divisive.  The use of natural terrains is a nice touch.  The costume designs look celestial.  While the movie has the big special effects scenes that come with a superhero movie, it’s not a formulaic Marvel film.  While there are certainly typical action scenes, the movie digs deeper into the dynamic of multiple layers of relationships and dark human drama, even if they are not humans.  

The closing credits show how the Eternals are eternally and subtly weaved into human history through the artifacts.  The post-end credits show potentials of what the saga may continue.

Copyright (c) 2021. Nathalia Aryani

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic (rottentomatoes.com/critic/nathalia-aryani). She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven (sdmoviemaven.blogspot.com). Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at indotransserv@gmail.com.

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