As the release date for Eternals, the 26th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe grew near, studio head Kevin Feige made it sound more and more like they had something truly special on their hands that he couldn’t wait to share with the world. Seeing as it was directed and co-written by Chloe Zhao, who had just (deservedly) won Best Director and Best Picture at the Oscars, and had an incredible cast including Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Barry Keoghan, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie (among others) made it sound like he might not be exaggerating either. So, when the movie turned out to be a rather ordinary superhero movie, some people were bound to feel at least a little bit disappointed, even if in all actuality it’s a better movie than many more generally well-liked early entries in the franchise.
The film introduces us to the titular Eternals, ten superpowered beings from the planet Olympia who have been sent by Arishem, a towering Celestial, to fight off monsters known as Deviants and therefore keep Earth safe for humankind. Their quest carries on over thousands of years before they finally exterminate the last of the Deviants in the 1500s, and then split up to spend their time on our planet pursuing their own interests. When Sersi (Chan) and Sprite (Lia McHugh) are attacked by Deviants in modern-day London, it becomes apparent that their mission was not as complete as they once thought, and so they and Ikaris (Madden) head off to reunite their team to fight the danger.
There is, of course, more to it than that, but to say more would spoil the story, which does wind up feeling somewhat like boilerplate for these kind of pictures but actually winds up being more unique than it might first appear. Once what is really going on is revealed, the team members wind up having wildly different ideas on what to do about it, which is fitting for their personalities but is not typically how these play out (even if it isn’t the first time the MCU has pitted our seeming protagonists against each other). There is a much more solemn tone to the entire affair as well, with only fleeting moments of the sort of quippy levity that has become a house staple. And that’s not even to mention that this is easily the most diverse cast for any superhero movie I can recall.
As it does follow the series’ recent trend towards convoluted, metaphysical weirdness, the introductory segments can feel like large exposition dumps, but this is still a fun movie, with several satisfying, if occasionally hard-to-follow fight sequences, and a cast of characters that winds up feeling more fully-developed than you would expect given just how many of them there are. Aside from some of her trademark sweeping vistas, it’s hard to say what exactly having Zhao direct brought to the table, but it still feels like she at least handled the job capably, even if it doesn’t come off like the Oscar-worthy masterpiece the pre-release hype might have led some to expect. And that may be the biggest mark against the movie. Those who go in with more realistic expectations will enjoy themselves, and most likely be eager to see where these characters go next. The way Marvel Studios runs things means we are unlikely to get any truly exceptional films out of them, but it also means that they can be counted on to make consistently entertaining escapist cinema, and Eternals is very solidly that. ★★★★
Available in theaters.
Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, some language, and brief sexuality.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor