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Eternals

*
2021

‘…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…’

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.

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  1. Disclaimer: I am a big comic book fan and have lived through the times of zero comic book movies, outside of B-movies. I remember the days before Tim Burton’s Batman came out, and how I would accept almost anything TV or movie related if it was based on my beloved comic book characters.

    Trying my best not to be too vicious but that poster of the “team” is laughably unappealing. Even with Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan and Richard Madden in it. That shouldn’t be possible! Is it a real promotional piece, or a “fan edit”? From what I’ve seen from the trailers, this film just looks dull and drab. Where are the OTT Kirby colours like in Thor: Ragnarok? Why do the characters look like cheap, knock-off Power Rangers? They appear to have gone for “serious” or “highbrow”, when comics are supposed to be fun; silly, sensational and exciting. Alarm bells have been ringing for a while regarding this film, but when some critics were raving that you have to watch this “just for the end-credit scenes,” I think they accidentally revealed just how enjoyable the film really is.

    • Totally agree about the poster; I’m always trying to find an image that represents the film. Maybe lowered expectations will help, but imho, the studio should have pulled this and reshot. The best comic book movies remind me of something I genuinely loved in my childhood, an overriding intelligence that pulled each panel of the comic into one gripping story. I just don’t think Zhao knows what that kind of narrative is. She’s a talented director, but just doesn’t connect with the material. Frustrating for me because just as I finally learn to love the genre, they go off on this drab, pompous direction that makes Justice League look as peppy as Ragnorok. And even with a feminist slant, why is a man still central to the poster image? And some of the racial stereotypes may have been rethought, sure, but they still come across as caricatures. I think they’ll just junk whatever phase they’re on to sideline this movie moving forwards, it’s not a winner. Sorry to bring bad news, but it sounds like you saw it coming…

  2. Lots of younger directors now seem to jump at the chance to make an MCU film rather than stay within the independent sector. I was surprised Chloe Zhao followed this route. I wonder if she would have made the same decision if she had known she would win an Oscar?

    • Good to hear from you! I remember you mentioning that this was Zhao’s next project and thinking you were joking! Aside from some use of real landscapes, I can’t honestly say what she brings to this that’s new, but it also doesn’t feel part of the Marvel house style. I do note that some of the worst Marvel films, Iron Man 2, Thor 2, led directly to much improved sequels when highly idiosyncratic talents were brought it to add character. Hopefully the money will enable Zhao to bounce back with something better, but stamping her talents on this one seems to have been beyond her.

    • Very good point but MCU and the others do seem to attract good directors, possibly following the James Bond template which saw the likes of Sam Mendes etc taking it on.

  3. Oh blimey O’Reilly I was hoping this would be good and was looking forward to it- though the amount of trailers for it did give me pause- trying too hard I think. Well I’ll do it when it comes to Disney or wherever it ends up and see for myself but consider myself braced for the worse. Where is Kit Harrington in all this? I thought he was one too but he’s not in the picture you’ve posted.

    • Right, and maybe you’ll get more out of this with reduced expectations; it sure isn’t cut from the familiar Marvel cloth. I hadn’t seen the trailers, but the film’s dollops of hard-to-follow exposition made it a chore to sit through, with no notable action highlights to compensate. Kit Harrington is the boyfriend of one of the Eternals and appears in the opening and closing scenes in London; he’s not one of the crew. Maybe people more versed in the lore will dig it more, but adopt the brace position, because it’s one bumpy ride!

  4. Saw this trailer when we went to see venom 2 this weekend and i told my wife im not big screening this one, i can wait for it to be available on the disney subscription. Thank you for saving and proving my decision right. Great review as always.

    • Thanks! Having seen it, your call sounds correct. I’m not some curmudgeon that wants movies to be bad, but when they are bad, I have a duty to warn people. If everyone finds this as boring as I did, you wife will be pleased to give this one a miss, it’s turgid IMHO!

        • I’ll chase Venom 2 up; at least the Venom films seem to give people what they want, Eternals feels like lengthy notes from a do-gooder committee….

  5. “Remember dull pantomimes like Daredevil, Electra, Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World and more?”

    Actually, I think I skipped all of those. Or maybe I did see Iron Man 2 but can’t remember. I think there’s no chance I’ll be seeing this. Well maybe slight more chance than me seeing Spirited Away, but still approaching zero.

    • It’s been a difficult couple of decades as a film reviewer, in that I’m not really bought into the comic book world, but my expectation is that any $200 million blockbuster should work on its own terms. The films listed are some of the worst, But Marvel’s output has been a cut above in general, and that touch seems to have eluded them here. There will be a certain curiosity value, I guess, and I’m sure other IP will win people back over, but the wheels came off big time here…

        • Nor I, and even posting that picture in, they look like a cheap knock-off of the Avengers. Whatever complaints I had about the Avengers movies, they were big, actioned -filled spectacles with welcome dashes of humour. Even if you didn’t dig them, you could just about see why people adored them. It’s like when your favourite band announce their ‘new jazz direction’; the sooner they go back to this greatest hits, the better.

  6. Wow!! I have just read a review that said this is like Prometheus, but works. I was going to go and see it the cinema because I heard it was more sci-fi than superhero. I will take your word for it and not bother now.

    • I would genuinely be interested to see a review which made a good case for this film; I genuinely couldn’t make head nor tale of it. Particularly coming after Dune, which made something comprehensible out of a difficult sci-fi story, this is quite a frustrating film to watch. I quite enjoyed Prometheus, for all its faults, but this stopped me in my tracks; while Marvel have many fans, I can’t imagine many warming to this.

        • I’m keen not to read too much into one movie; it’s quite remarkable how consistent Marvel have been up until now, the misfires I mention are hardly the norm. Much derided as they have been, DC will be keen to take advantage of this kind of failure to connect; yes, it pre-sells lots of tickets, but I’d be amazed if the general public stagger out of this one delighted. It’s hard going.

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