Having won Best Picture and Best Director at the 2020 Oscars with Nomadland, Chloe Zhao falls short with the latest chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; Eternals.
One of the big talking points in the lead up to Eternals was the stellar and diverse cast put together. Brian Tyree Henry portrayed Phastos who is the first gay character in the MCU and this isn’t a gay character who falls into some of the lazy stereotypes we see often on-screen, instead, Phastos is part of a warm and loving marriage which are battling with the challenges of bringing up a son. Also, Lauren Ridloff plays Makkari, who is a deaf superhero that communicates with other characters using American Sign Language. This follows the fact that Marvel/Disney handed the reigns on this notable project to Chloe Zhao. Zhao is a director who has already smashed through industry ceilings in last years Oscars and continues to be a trailblazer in the industry. The masses of people who will watch Marvel/Disney movies means they have a responsibility to diversify the characters in their films whilst doing what they can to change the industry as a whole, so it’s excellent to see some progressive steps being taken.
The cast of Eternals and the characters introduced to MCU fans is an immense part of this film. This is our first impression of all of the characters, at least in a cinematic sense, so this was always going to be a towering assignment for Zhao.
There were a couple of Eternals who stole the show – Gemma Chan was superb as Sersi who’s arc was at the forefront of this film. A theme in Eternals is the quandary of morality and Sersi is a central component to this particular theme and acts as the moral compass whilst maintaining a likeability. On a negative note and this is less to do with her performance and more to do with the script but the love triangle she was tangled in with Richard Madden’s Ikaris didn’t carry much weight, more so when you are reminded throughout the film how many years they’ve been alive – this dilutes the sentiments of their relationship.
Barry Keoghan as Druig was the best of the bunch. Druig is a complicated and unpredictable character and Keoghan did a stellar job. Keoghan reinforced the enigmatic nature of Druig by being difficult to read. Druig had the hardest time following orders whilst having the capability of putting a stop to us and through Keoghan’s performance, it’s not clear where this internal struggle will take him. This was the most intriguing theme of Eternals and, regrettably, it was a fleeting idea. Keoghan’s performance certainly increases the excitement around the rumours that he may be taking on the mantle of the Joker in Robert Pattinson’s upcoming iteration of Batman.
Ultimately, it’s the number of members who make up the Eternals that is the prominent downfall of this film. There are far too many characters who don’t feel very fleshed out and as a result, there is a lack of care for the group. The structure of superhero movies is fairly repetitive and familiar at this point – the success of the finale relies upon how engaged you are with the characters involved. The majority of Eternals are so raw and one dimensional by the time the insanely destructive CGI battle takes place, it’s honestly, dull.
Angelina Jolie plays Thena, a character who for the majority of the movie has similarities with X Men’s Jean Grey. Her biggest obstacle is being able to control her own mind/power and when she is unable to do this, she attacks her associates. However, without any real logical explanation, she manages to comfortably get over this and Phastos is content with leaving Thena in a room with his young son. The cynic in me feels like it was all to set up a pretty drab joke about babysitting.
Ridloff’s character Makkari is a lightning-fast superhero who honestly feels like she’s just making up numbers – she didn’t add anything to the story from a narrative perspective. She does share a close relationship with Druig but it was so undercooked it was trivial.
Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo was also a very underwhelming character. When not being an Eternal he is a Bollywood movie star who essentially acts as the humorous part that we see in all MCU movies. However, unlike cohorts of the MCU, there was nothing else to Kingo – comical characters don’t need to be laugh-a-minute and he typifies the larger issue with Eternals. There are too many characters and too little time to flesh them out – therefore it resulted in most personas feeling very one dimensional.
Phastos was very interesting and also had a unique power – off the battlefield, he spent time working on technologies and assessing when he can introduce breakthroughs to the human race depending upon the state of society at that time. In combat, he could use mechanics and engineering to create bespoke weapons to defeat whichever opponent was in front of him. We’ve seen almost every superpower imaginable however this was unique and interesting but unfortunately, we didn’t get ample opportunity to see the absolute potential of this power.
In the first Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn did an amazing job at acquainting Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Racoon and Groot. As well as that he demonstrated the dynamics between relationships and the group overall. The Guardians of Galaxy were introduced with likability, humour and a real sense of camaraderie within the group and this is why it is one of the strongest films in the MCU. Eternals failed miserably at that and this was due to the volume of brand new characters that were presented.
In terms of the phases of the MCU, I felt refreshed after Shang-Chi – it’s a superb first impression to an exciting group of characters and an original environment. Another huge positive was the hand to hand combat and superb choreography involved in the first two-thirds of Shang-Chi, this was pretty refreshing. How they capture and incorporate a distinctive culture into the MCU – similarly to Black Panther – is also a big part of Shang Chi’s success and certainly freshened up the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole.
Eternals does feel like it’s undone the majority of that good work and reinforced some Marvel fatigue. A developing concern with MCU is the huge amount of power some of these characters now possess – collectively the Eternals can almost obliterate planets and if we accompany that with Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange’s insane strength – it’s hard to imagine the forces that can cause a genuine threat whilst holding on to an emotional impact that Infinity War and Endgame held. Some of the most popular MCU characters like Spiderman, Captain America and even Thor do feel redundant now. The action sequences are becoming increasingly CGI heavy as the threats get more catastrophic.
We’re soon going to reach a point in which the galaxy is at threat of destruction, frankly, it’s reaching a level in which it is difficult to care how these films conclude.
Eternals is a real setback and probably the worst MCU movie we’ve seen in some time, perhaps since Thor 2. However, similar to Thor, there is an opportunity for MCU to reinvent some characters, trim some fat within the group and hopefully, come back swinging and positively impact the MCU. There is certainly potential for characters like Sersi, Druig and Phastos to add some real value to the MCU.