ETERNALS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Chloe Zhao

Stars: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Barry Keoghan, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Brian Henry Tyree, Ma Dong-seok, Lia McHugh, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Harish Patel, Bill Skarsgard, Patton Oswald, Harry Styles.  

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This bloated, inert and pedestrianly paced special effects heavy empty spectacle from the Marvel Studios is arguably the weakest film from the studio to date. Along with the recent Shang Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, which was heavily influenced by Asian cinema and tapped into wuxia martial arts and Chinese fantasy, it seems that the studio is moving away from the tentpole franchises for which they are best known – both the X-Men and the Avengers juggernauts.  

Eternals is based on the comic book created by Jack Kirby, and it centres around a team of diverse millennia old immortal superheroes known as Celestials, who have been sent to Earth by their head God Arishem to protect the planet from the Deviants, horrific and rapacious CGI created alpha predators. Their mission is almost a secret history of the world as it spans some 7000 years, from Biblical times to Babylon, the annihilation of the Incas and to the end of WWII. But the world building exposition and the internal logic behind the eternals is somehow lacking and raises more questions.  

The leader of the mission is the wise and maternal Ajak (Salma Hayek), and the roster of eternal superheroes include Druig (Barry Keoghan, from The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, etc) who can manipulate minds; strongman Gilgamesh (Korean action star Ma Dong-seok); Greek warrior goddess Thena (Angelina Jolie) with her golden sword formed from cosmic energy; Phaston (Brian Henry Tyree) who develops most of the technology that he passes on to the human race to help them progress which they seem to turn into weapons of destruction; Ikarus (Richard Madden, from Cinderella, etc) who can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes; Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) who can shoot projectiles from his hands; Sersi (Gemma Chan) whose power is transmutation and can turn rock into dust; and the androgynous tomboy Sprite (Lia McHugh, from The Lodge, etc) can project lifelike illusions; Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) has superspeed and is deaf. 

But when they eventually defeat the Deviants they go their separate ways, although they still remain earthbound awaiting further orders from Arishem. They live amongst humans. Sersi becomes a teacher. Pharos has grown disillusioned with humanity following the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and retires. He now lives in Chicago where he has married his boyfriend and is raising a family (he is the first openly gay hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is treated quite sympathetically). Kingo has reinvented himself as a leading Bollywood star and is followed everywhere by Karun (Harish Patel), who is videotaping his adventures. And Sprite is suffering from a Peter Pan-like complex and just wants to grow up and be human. Thena’s mind has splintered, and Gilgamesh has taken her away to the remote Australian outback where he watches over her and helps her heal. 

But when Ajak is found dead, the eternals come together and discover the true nature of their mission, and it causes a split in their ranks. They learn about an apocalyptic event known as the “emergence”, in which Tiamut, an elemental force, will bring about the destruction of the planet. Five years ago, Thanos snapped his fingers and wiped out half of the world’s population, but the emergence of Tiamut will bring the world to an end altogether.   

The film has been shot on a number of locations ranging from the Canary Islands to Alaska, and cinematographer Ben Davis (a veteran of the Marvel films) gives the material an appropriately epic sweep. But this is a slow, turgid mess and uninvolving filmmaking where we don’t empathise with the majority of the characters. The pacing is pedestrian and perfunctory, and the film lacks any real sense of momentum, surprising giving that the stakes are so high.  

The film does tick many of the right boxes for having a diverse ensemble cast of characters and actors, but unfortunately it amounts to little as the characters have zero chemistry. And Jolie and Hayek seem to have merely phoned in their performances.  

Much of the failing can probably be levelled at the choice of director. As is often the case with the later entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio has opted for directors who come from a more independent background and are unversed in the demands of big budget special effects driven films of this ilk. This time they have handed the reins for this potentially franchise launching movie to Chloe Zhao, who won on Oscar for her work on the more intimate and introspective drama Nomadland. But here she seems out of her depth.  

The film has an unnecessarily bloated running time of 157 minutes, and it seems even longer. Over the end credits we are treated to a sting or teaser about what will happen next with the eternals, and we are greeted with the words “the eternals will return.” But after this disappointingly bland, soulless and empty spectacle that seems more like a threat than a promise worth keeping.

★★ 

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