After a pandemic and two-year break, Marvel Studios’ Black Widow finally ushered the Marvel Cinematic Universe back into theaters. While it may not have been top tier MCU — and had other issues outside the move itself — it was fantastic to have our favorite superheroes gracing the big screen again. Of course we did have some MCU content on Disney+ with WandaVision, Captain America — err — The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki.
With these shows expanding the universe into a new phase — along with Shang-Chi — Eternals may have been better suited as a series. On the big screen, it feels like a 2 ½ hour pilot episode. Never firing on all cylinders — with Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao in a tug-of-war between artsy fartsy and MCU spectacle — Eternals longs to be something far more grand than the average superhero film, but winds up falling flat by the time the credits roll.
The 10(!) member Eternals — Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Ajak (Salma Hayek), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan), and Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok) — are an immortal alien race who have been placed on Earth to protect us from ancient creatures called the Deviants. Once thought to be extinct, the Deviants have returned and now, the Eternals must get the band back together to find out why they’ve returned, and stop “the emergence,” ignited by the return of half the world’s existence from Thanos’s snap.
As far as the cast goes, Ridloff, Nanjiani, and Henry fare best with Chan never managing to prove she can hold her own. Thankfully, Zhao keeps Eternals the ensemble it always has been, leaving us hoping to see at least a few of the characters return — something promised on-screen. Now that we have the introductions out of the way, it should be interesting to see a sequel where the story can be far more focused. The expansive runtime is chock full of alternating between time periods and locations, but never spends enough time at these hotspots to feel like anything more than extended flashbacks.
Zhao may have two screenplay writing credits, but it’s clear she’s much better at directing actors, and capturing scenic wallpaper stills, than writing. The cinematography grapples with being top notch, and a lot was shot in IMAX. Director of photography Ben Davis — and editors Dylan Tichenor and Craig Wood — never seems quite sure when to use the footage. A few sequences could have been helped by the bigger ratio, but there are a ton of scenes where characters are just sitting around talking. And if two links to Game of Thrones just weren’t enough with Madden and Kit Harrington, don’t worry, Ramin Djawadi also provides the score, even if it’s unmemorable.
It’s been fun to watch the reactions over the last two weeks with fans and critics divided. Fanboys keep trying to say we’re just tired of superhero movies and the MCU in general. But I love these films — and the comic books, I am a fanboy too — and salivate over every new entry. Still, even I knew eventually there would come a day when one MCU film would wind up being simply meh. Enter Eternals. Messy, overlong, and never exciting or game changing. At least it piques my interest for what’s to come — especially after the end/post credit scenes. I can’t help but feel that this one may have better repeat value once it’s finally thrust into the bigger picture of the MCU.