Marvel’s Eternals is the exception defining the rule.
Since the traumatic first five minutes of Guardians of the Galaxy, I rarely go into a Marvel movie, or any movie for that matter, without at least a few spoilers. Being a huge fan of the MCU, Guardians left a bad taste in my mouth for this reason. These days, I’m careful.
However, this time I trusted Marvel. I trusted director and screenwriter Chloe Zhao, I trusted her co-writers Patrick Burleigh and Ryan Firpo. I went into Eternals with nothing but the trailers to forewarn me as to what I would see – and my trust was well placed, because the movie was an absolute delight.
What shocked me, when I finally took to the internet after my viewing of the movie, was the complaints of critics. Bloated run time, forgettable, filled with synthetic sentiment – these are the criticisms I have read, making me wonder if I watched the same movie these people did.
The movie has its flaws, yes. Any time you’re introducing a new mythology for any intellectual property, you face the challenge of including exposition without turning the whole thing into a lecture — and here, we’re talking 7,000 years of exposition. This is also a more mature film, that while not devoid of the action and stylized look the MCU is known for, definitely puts the pervasive, more brutal fighting and explosions in the backseat until the climax, and adds a polish to the whole thing that renders it a little less colorful in a very literal sense.
However, for all the backstory they had to include, the makers of this movie handled it with grace and genuine effort that results in some brilliant storytelling through character relationships. You have Ajak (Salma Hayek), the healer and maternal leader of the Eternals who serves as a touchstone for the other nine characters and a focus for the admittedly complex and winding plot of the film.
The conspiratorial kinship between the omniscient mind manipulator Druig (Barry Keoghan) and the troublemaking speedster Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) that we see in ancient Babylon beautifully informs the flirtatious budding relationship we see in the present. It connects past to present with clear evolution from point A to point B.
The expansive romance between Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) brings scope to the story. The lively comedic interchanges and nuanced dramatic performance of Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) keep us in the moment with all aspects of his Bollywood career and the surprising depth of his relationship with his valet, Karun (Harish Patel).
There is also the core of this film, which hardly synthesizes any of the sentiment it brings to the fore: humanity, and the human experience — a power so great, not even the mighty and ancient Eternals can escape it.
We see it in Thena (Angelina Jolie), who struggles with an Eternals-specific mental illness — a condition called ‘mad weary,’ where the mind of an Eternal fractures under the weight of too many memories. We see it in her caregiver, Gilgamesh (Don Lee), who sacrifices his life to stay with and protect her, forming a beautiful and poignant bond that ties with that of Kingo and Karun as the most endearing and impactful of the entire movie. We see it in Sprite’s (Lia McHugh) struggle with issues surrounding growing up — something she cannot do being forever trapped in the body of a child. Moreover, we see it in the crisis of faith Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) suffers during a critical moment in human history, and the questions of faith, life, and love that form the very core of the movie’s ending.
These are the internal battles that gods among men face each day. They are battles we, as people, share with them. This plays into the climax of the film, which I won’t spoil here, but suffice to say it is this revelation that saves the human race from the Deviants — and from many others.
Bottom line, Eternals isn’t perfect. Few things are, especially made by the hands of mortal creatures, and that is what this movie is all about. Imperfections, like Makkari, a deaf character. Differences, like Phastos who serves as the MCU’s first openly gay hero. Secrets, secrets everywhere — such as those of Dane Whitman revealed in the film’s last post-credits scene.
Eternals is flawed, it is glorious, and it is important in ways that cannot be overstated. It’s also now in theaters, so be sure to check it out soon.
Above all, however, Eternals lives up to its name – this is a film that will serve as a timeless classic in the MCU for many years to come.
Liz Carlie, the Mad Woman with a Box, a regular book reviewer for SCIFI.radio and a regular guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. She has been in and around science fiction fandom for years, and works with the American Red Cross on blood drives at science fiction conventions all over Southern California.