So this is the third film in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and so far, they are batting .333. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was terrific, Black Widow was so-so, and this is warmed over leftovers from a meal that I don’t remember ordering. It’s not that it’s a bad film, it just feels like the DC Universe has rubbed off on the MCU, and that the goal of creating interconnected stories has become more important than telling a compelling story. There are ten new characters that are being put on the plate in front of us and we are supposed to care immediately? I don’t think so. This is a distinct group of superheroes, true, but unlike the X-Men, where we got a similar character dump, there is not as much popular history to ease us in, and the characters start fighting amongst themselves before we have much of an idea of how they fit into the whole picture of MCU films.
The Eternals seem to fit into the same category of human development as the monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey. Their appearance seems to arrive to prompt civilization in ways that will make the planet and its inhabitants more useful to the universe. Early on however, there is an indicator of a hidden agenda, and after an hour or so of trying to get us familiar with these characters, we are let in on their true purpose and one can legitimately wonder where this idea came from. Part of the plot focuses on the creation of Celestials, who are certainly different creatures as illustrated by “Ego” from “Guardians of the Galaxy V.2” . The brief history we are given here is designed to hide some of the surprises that are instore for the film, but they end up becoming confusing and seem inconsistent with prior knowledge and even things brought up for the first time in this story.
The Ten new characters are supposed to fight Deviants, who are depicted as mindless animals early on but for some reason develop an ethos later in the film that legitimately, provokes some philosophical conversation. That conundrum though is quickly overtaken by a sudden change of heart by the leader of the Earthbound Eternals, Salma Hayek’s Ajak. I say it is a sudden turn despite the fact it takes place over a 7000 year period, because in the context of what we learn about the Eternals origins, that is a blink of an eye. For a group of heroes, who supposedly think of themselves as a family, I would say they are a dysfunctional family. There are resentments, jealousy, and apparent psychological trauma in this group. The only time they seem to cooperate is when a Deviant is in the immediate vicinity. The big threat of the story therefore ends up coming primarily from the group itself, rather than an outside force. We seem to have jumped right into “Civil War” without the preceding dozen films that it took for The Avengers to get to. Richard Madden and Gemma Chan as Ikaris and Sersi, are a couple who end up on opposite sides of the dilemma, and it seems completely real that they have broken up as a couple, although there is no hint that this was the reason.
Clearly the intent of the film makers was to create a team of heroes that is as inclusive as possible. There is a great degree of diversity among the Eternals, but some of it is a little confusing given what we ultimately learn about their origins. There are some interesting ideas in the story that will not get the attention they deserve because there are so many characters. The character of Sprite is eternally pre pubescent, but 7,000 years of life have given her feelings that are not resolvable given her physical development. The emotional choice that she makes seems to be natural, but like everyone else in the story it doesn’t last long. Kumail Nanjiani is a hoot as Kingo, but when the climax comes, he is no where to be found. I enjoyed Ma Dong-seok as Gilgamesh, the keeper of the nearly mad Thena played by Angelina Jolie. Their relationship is more touching and believable than any of the others in the film, and that is another problem, Jolie is under utilized and the character of Gilgamesh is not on screen for most of the second half of the film. Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos is supposed to have the sarcastic wit in the film, but it feels way more labored than his work in Godzilla v. Kong, and that is saying something. The Ikea joke falls flat and that was supposed to be the big punchline that they used in the trailer.
There is a mid-credit scene and a scene after the credits, so the MCU fans will have plenty to speculate on, but they have nothing to do with what we saw and they raise some questions about the relationships we have seen in earlier MCU films. Maybe this will be an extension of themes covered in the comic books, but it is an example of overload in the film. I’m writing this a couple of days after seeing the movie and my memory of the events is already fading. This is a movie intended to launch the new characters in the MCU but it does not do it in a way that is very inspiring. I love the series of films and I want them to grow, but somewhere along the way, the spectacle overwhelmed the characters and stories and that is a problem. Maybe it’s just me, my favorite MCU films have been Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger and Ant-Man, which were all stand alone stories, so the team up concept takes some time getting used to. James Gunn managed to pull it off with Guardians but director Chloé Zhao, seems like she may have bitten off too big a chunk to have the same result.
As I said, I did not dislike the movie, I just didn’t like it very much. Like all things, maybe it will grow on me, but for now that’s where I stand.