Directed by Chloe Zhao
Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harrington, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, and Bill Skarsgard.
Eternals is a story of immortal guardians charged with overseeing an Earth in perpetual evolution. Over thousands of years it tells a tale of selfless observation, where the journey, not the destination is everything.
Writer-director Chloe Zhao has quietly carved her own niche in the film industry through breakout hits including The Rider and Nomadland. Both depicted very human stories that show people to be infinitely complex creations, defined through nuance and unpredictability. That the latter won countless awards and provided cinema with a fresh perspective on personal epiphanies, both tragic and otherwise is important when it comes to Eternals.
In every conceivable way this is a genuine departure from the Marvel formula. There is an old soul vibe to this vast concept movie, that walks a delicate line between biblical epic and character-based drama. It explores relationships, moral quandaries and gender fluidity under the guise of an ingrained omnipotence, only made possible through infinite experience. With some serious heavy hitters in the cast including Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Gemma Chan, it would be easy to scrimp on character development and lean into set pieces. However, that two hour running time allows plenty of scope for exploration of both.
To begin with Gemma Chan and Richard Madden are given room to breathe in their respective roles. There may be some DC hat tips apparent in Ikaris with his power of flight and heat vision overkill, but he is much more than the sum of those parts. Likewise, Sersi exudes a quiet calm which defines her emotionally and otherwise. That Angelina Jolie is also able to bring real pathos to Thena, while Lia McHugh gives voice to gender discussions as Sprite should also be noted.
Upon its initial release Eternals came under fire for its approach to inclusivity, which some people misconstrued as pure marketing. A reaction to the marketplace, rather than an organic solution which came out of story and character. However, if audiences disregard that debate and go in cold, what becomes apparent is how brave Marvel were in bankrolling this phase four entry. This is a clean slate which requires extensive exposition, coupled with a mythology that demands solid narrative choices.
Voiceovers, flashbacks and intergalactic encounters may pander to the mainstream play book, but Chloe Zhao still adds depth to proceedings and maintains momentum. Cosmic threats, deviants and celestials aside there is also enough comic relief to keep things grounded as well. Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo supplies much of that while Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos is Eternals Q branch James Bond equivalent. Barry Keoghan also deserves a mention, holding his own amongst some seriously seasoned veterans giving Druig some much needed depth. Unfortunately, where the film flounders slightly is in the threat department.
Bill Skarsgard draws the short straw here as Kro, who is short changed on screen time and robbed of any build up. Aside from the fact that creating a dilemma for immortals is problematic, villainy in any conventional sense feels superfluous. Ultimately, Eternals is a vast movie on an infinite canvas, populated by immortals who struggle to maintain connections. It speaks to the need for human contact, explores our desire for companionship and dispassionately observes the human condition. This may be the least mainstream movie Marvel have ever made, but by the same token it shows audiences an essential change of direction. Something which must surely be celebrated, in a multiverse where by definition diversity is key.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Eternals arrives on Disney+ on January 12th and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD February 7th.