Eternals Movie Review
By Hervé St-Louis
November 5, 2021 - 15:11
Studios: Marvel Studios
Writer(s): Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo, Jack Kirby
Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kit Harington
Directed by: Chloé Zhao
Produced by: Kevin Feige, Nate Moore
Release Date: November 3, 2021
Rating: PG13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Eternals was incredible and officially my favourite Marvel cinematic universe (MCU) film, and probably even the best superhero movie that I have seen. Yes, it is that good and then some. This review comes from a long-time comic book reader who knew the Eternals way before they became trendy. I always base my reviews on knowledge and context taken from the source material, and thus I come to it from a different perspective than most movie critics, and the cottage cheese industry of “MCU experts” that has emerged since the first Iron Man film. I know my comics history, and I know the Eternals and their place in Marvel Comics lore.
The main Eternal character is of course Sersi, a character I have known and admired for decades. She was the one who resisted the temporary erasure of the universe when Thanos’s granddaughter, Nebula (I know, in the MCU, Nebula is Thanos’s adopted daughter but in the comics, which is more important to me, the relationship differs). Sersi was a strong Avenger and a flirt. She is not a flirt here, but the most sociable of all the Eternals. She loves humanity and it shows. She is humble, but a leader of Eternals. There is a permanent sadness in her gaze which is beautiful. Actress Gemma Chang’s Sersi drives the movie, not through sheer exposure or exuberant acting, but through a quiet solace.
I was surprised with all the other Eternals in the film as they were true to character, no matter the gender and ethnic updates. Makkari is an important Eternal in the comics. I expected to see her play a secondary role here. While introduced much later in the film, Makkari is a competent character full of love and soul. I love how she took her place even when communicating with other Eternals through sign language. Her intervention in the film was important in saving the day. Laurence Ridloff's casting was brilliant. She is also a gorgeous woman.
It is ironic that in the comics, Makkari and Druig are such bitter enemies but lovers here. I expected their relationship to take a backseat to Sersi’s and Ikraris, but it did not. We saw that relationship play out and become a driver of the action in the last act. Druig is the most changed Eternals from the comics even though physically, he is the one with the least changes in costume and who is played by an actor that looks most like him. I did not know what to make of Druig. Was he going to be as evil as in the comics or better? There were hints that actor Barry Keoghan would portray someone more nuanced in previews. He always had a smirk or looked at people oddly. Well, in the film, he also was always chewing on something and turned out to be a more capable character than I expected. I did not expect him to be a standout character at all.
Other complex relationships included the one between Angelina Jolie’s Thena and Don Lee’s Gilgamesh. Again, this was another Eternal couple but much like the others, different. This is quite marvellous that we have so many loving relationships and couples whose love was not portrayed the classic way. Sersi’s and Ikaris would be the most common. Love played an important role in Thena and Gilgamesh’s lives, but also Sersi’s and Ikaris’s. Without their love, the plot would have changed, and many decisions taken by characters would have sent the story elsewhere.
But the Eternals are a family and if romantic love was important, brotherly, and sisterly love was as important. The relationship between big brother Kingo and little sister Sprite was amazing. I loved how Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo, the most self-absorbed of all the Eternals was the only one who understood the pain Sprite had, and how not being able to grow old affected her so much. This was of course, take directly from the Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr.’s run from the Eternals. Sprite was mischievous as ever, but how can you hate her. Actress Lia McHugh was incredible in the role, showing much more maturity than her age would warrant.
The story is greatly inspired from the Eternals’ comics but does take things in a new direction. By the end of the movie, the family of Eternals is broken and visibly all characters have changed forever. There is no clean resolution like most Marvel films, even before the dreaded two epilogues that are meant to suggest that the adventure continues. Before the last credits roll out, you will see a changed world and changed Eternals.
The Eternals have always been on the margins of the Marvel comics universe, doing their own things, and fighting Deviants and each other. When critics complain about the lack of integration into the MCU, they ignore that this is exactly how they have been throughout the comics. They have never been centre-stage at Marvel. It is a property that ‘Marvel has allowed creators to take chances with, and the movie is the same.
Some of the criticisms were nonsensical as the film was rated lower than obvious bad films such as Thor the Dark World, Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3. The cinematography alone warrants an exceptional rating. Other critics complained that there was not enough character development. I am not sure what movie they saw because this movie is completely character driven. Everything that happens is because of a character’s feelings, emotions, bad decisions, anguish, or pain. The Eternals are as flawed, if not more than most Marvel characters. These are flawed characters that at moment’s notice, pull out of big fights, leaving people speechless. But that is that character’s flaw. I have never seen this before in a superhero film and there were no Rocky Balboa scene where the hero changed his mind and came back to help his family. He just quit. That’s deep and nuance in a nutshell.
I think that this is what destabilized many critics who are not accustomed to nuances where characters do not play out as expected, allowing the story to be wrapped with a nice bow by the end of the movie. Another major complaint that I have read and seen is from reviewers whose idealism and liberal ideas are conflicted with the story. Some of them dislike how in many scenes, humans just bow and appear subservient to some Eternals. Well, guess, what, deference to authority is a major thing in much of the world, outside of the West. It’s about time that we see this portrayed legitimately, no matter how we feel about it from our own cultural standpoint. Why should world angels who have lived across the world emulate the very narrow American values of some Americans. These values usually populate all our media and when we see things from another angle, we dislike the movie.
This brings me to director Chloé Zhao whose insight is not classic Hollywood. She comes from another culture, and it shows. That’s why the film is so great. We get to see gigantic cinematic superhero action but told from non usual lens. That’s why so many critics hated the film. They hated the film because it did not reaffirm their own narrow sense of identity. Some were even pissed at the suggestion that the Eternals played a role in how civilization came about and that – gasp – in the context of the MCU, some of the progress and inventions of men were consequences of nudging from the Eternals. These critics are so attached to their own sense of being, that they cannot even humour, for the movie that perhaps in that world, the Eternals did help men invent the wheel and the nuclear bomb. It does not mean that in our own world this happened. The MCU is a fiction, not our own world. So what if the Eternals inspired the pyramids of Egypt in the MCU? It does not take anything away from the greatness of the Egyptians who did in our own history.
Other critics complain that there was not enough action or that there was not enough plot, too much brainless action, too much plot, not enough visual effects, too much visual effects and so on. If there were one element that these critics could agree upon, it would help. I have a hunch that in a few years, when the people mature a bit and are less conceited about world cinema that must fit in with their own identities, that many will appreciate the greatness of Eternals.
This last point matters to me as many claim that this film fits the DC Comics mould better than Marvel’s. That’s hogwash! The Eternals are flawed. The Justice League is not flawed. Wonder Woman is nearly perfect. Thena is a wreck! Superman is a boy scout. Ikaris has an inflated sense of duty. These are classic Marvel characters, designed by Jack Kirby (except for Phastos). The movie featured more than enough jokes, and funny moments and the standard two post-credits scenes. It is a bigger, and wider MCU film, but it is a MCU film. By the way, the Celestials are incredible. I want to seem more of them, as well as the cosmic side of Marvel. Eternals has become my favourite MCU and superhero film.
The Eternals' Sersi
The Eternals' Druig
Eternals Movie Review
The Eternals' Kro
The Eternals’ Ikaris
The Eternals' Makkari
The Eternals' Sprite
The Eternals' Kingo
Are the Eternals too Woke?