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Film Review: Eternals

8 November 21 words: Kieran Burt

Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao’s Marvel debut is a progressive yet overly ambitious standalone epic...

Director: Chloé Zhao
Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kit Harrington
Running time: 157 minutes

“You can bet there’d be consequences,” says Thaddeus Ross to Captain America in Civil War, a movie full of consequential events for both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its characters, despite its short time frame. Eternals, by contrast, doesn’t have the same world-changing events, but it succeeds in giving meaningful consequences to its characters.

The focus of the film is on former lovers Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden). Sersi settles into a life in London and starts a relationship with Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington), and although Whitman and Sersi don’t share a lot of screen time, their romantic chemistry is clear. Events force Ikaris and Sersi back together, where Sersi decides to rebel against the grand designs of Celestial Arishem, leader of the Eternals. She fights to save the Earth – admittedly using powers the film doesn’t explain very well – whereas Ikaris gradually descends into evil, blindly believing in Arishem until the very end.

There is a clear difference between the Eternals at the start of the film to how they end up at the end, but the same can’t be said for the Earth. The Eternals' work is unnoticed by society at large, with their presence known only to a few. The stakes present a worldwide catastrophe, but it is quite clear that Marvel isn't going to destroy the Earth – especially with the new Spider-Man movie just around the corner. World-ending events, unless built up to like Infinity War and Endgame, lose their impact as the audience is repeatedly shown films with the same stakes. The MCU is unlikely to reference these events in future Earth-set films, which is a shame. 

With a film that has so many characters, there are bound to be some that are short changed. Director Chloé Zhao does her best to juggle the lore surrounding the Eternals, Celestials, Deviants and the film’s various locations and time jumps, but it becomes overwhelming. The film tries to introduce too many new concepts and characters too quickly – this is not the patient Marvel that the audience has got used to.

A film that is bound to overwhelm even the most loyal MCU fans

This is a film of firsts and a very progressive move for Marvel. It shows Marvel’s first sex scene, and Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is in a gay relationship, has a child and performs Marvel’s first gay kiss. Disney has also taken the rare move of not cutting these moments out for more conservative countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. This is a bold decision, and it makes the moments better that Disney is willing to stand by its film instead of its bottom line. Eternals also puts people with disabilities at the front and centre, with Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) being deaf and Thena (Angelina Jolie) suffering with a form of dementia.

Modern films are taking more time to tell their story and Eternals is no exception. At over two and half hours long, it is one of Marvel’s longest films to date. However, the film manages to comfortably fit that time, with very little of it dragging or feeling boring. 

Eternals is a film that is bound to overwhelm even the most loyal MCU fans. It does a good job of setting up the characters for future projects, and is overall an enjoyable film. It doesn’t reach the highs of the MCU, but it must be said that it’s better than the lows.

Did you know? Chloé Zhao aimed for the film to be “a marriage of East and West” citing a variety of eclectic influences including manga, the films of Terrence Malick, concepts from Yuval Noah Harari's book Sapiens and the Final Fantasy video games. 

Eternals is in cinemas now

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