I’ve tried to make the best out of the proliferation of comic book movies in the last couple of decades; having felt that I grew out of them at 10, I never expected that so many of today’s blockbusters would revolve around such ancient IP. I’ve rattled off the names of the best ones (Spiderman, Iron Man 3, The Dark Knight, Thor: Ragnarok), and even found plenty to enjoy in recent entries (Aquaman, Birds of Prey, The Suicide Squad, Black Widow) but Chloe Zhao’s The Eternals reminded me of that other list, the list of indigestible duds. Remember dull pantomimes like Daredevil, Electra, Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World and more? When the Marvel Cinematic Universe produces a real turkey, it’s a hard watch; all this preamble is required because Eternals is their worst film to date.
Eternals starts with an impenetrable opening scrawl about Eternals and their battle with aliens amusingly called Deviants, but nothing lands before the text fades. A throwaway bit of dialogue explains that the Eternals politely sat out the Avengers battle with Thanos because it wasn’t in their remit, which seems odd after the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ last-gasp hurrahs of the last two Avengers films. What we see is a bunch of name actors (Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani, Angelina Jolie, Selma Hayek, Richard Madden) mooching around on various locations, flirting with and betraying each other, delivering multi-pack helpings of impenetrable exposition about uni-brains and blasting each other with fireballs. This is boring after just ten minutes, but 157 minutes will leave you gasping for air.
Zhao better keep hold of the paperwork for her best director Oscar for Nomadland, the Academy may well be wanting it back after seeing this impersonal, bland and incoherent mess. Little thought seems to have been given to making Jack Kirby’s property make sense; instead there’s woke-window dressing in the form of gay kisses, sex scenes, Bollywood sing-a-longs, a deaf character and other virtue-signalling that doesn’t really add any value to the film. All this wokeness might feel like more of a positive if it occurred during a good story well told; it’s likely to arouse audience hostility when applied to a venture that resolutely remains stuck in first gear.
On the plus side, there’s at least one funny line of dialogue, and it’s delivered late-on by the MVP here, Barry Keoghan, who at least brings some snarky attitude to his role. By then we’re on a beach fighting a giant something or other with a face like a traffic light, and this critic wasn’t about to sit through a moving carpet of end-credits on the promise of fool’s gold in the form of a Harry Styles cameo. Eternals is a rotten movie, and won’t sell many toys, subscriptions or tickets for Disney. If nothing else, it’ll remind audiences what it feels like to be bored to distraction in the cinema; Marvel’s latest is an unfunny farce of epic proportions. Maybe fans will exhume something from this, but the po-faced posturing will likely be a turn-off for casual audiences.
Thanks to Disney for big-screen access, Eternals is out in the UK from Nov 5 2021.