Writers: Chloé Zhao and Chloé Zhao & Patrick Burleigh and Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo (screenplay by); Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo (screen story by); Jack Kirby (based on the Marvel comics by)
Stars: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Barry Keoghan, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Don Lee, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh
MPAA Rating: PG-13
With countless shots of sprawling landscapes populated with impossibly beautiful people staring listlessly off into the distance, Eternals often feels more like a high-end perfume ad than a Marvel movie.
Chloé Zhao, fresh off her acclaimed film Nomadland, co-wrote and directed Eternals, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest installment. But while it has similar success capturing the natural beauty of the planet (particularly in the IMAX version we were shown at the critics’ screening), the film fails to come up with a compelling story to match.
The Eternals — we learn through a dull wall of text that opens the film and countless long-winded monologues — are a godlike race of beings sent to Earth 7,000 years ago to battle the Deviants, a horde of snarling beasts that like snacking on humanity. However, the Eternals proved to be too good at their jobs, so about 5,000 years ago they won the war and were then left on Earth to hang out until they receive further instructions from their Celestial boss. (Celestials are basically hulking kaiju that float through space and apparently communicate through balls of lights in the Eternal’s throats.)
While they wait, our heroes decide to go their separate ways. They do their best to assimilate into various civilizations across Earth until present day, when the Deviants reemerge and the proverbial band must get back together.
Zhao and her fellow screenwriters Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo struggle to distinguish the various Eternals or give the audience a compelling reason to care about their various interpersonal and global struggles. There are 10 Eternals with unique powers and paper thin personalities:
Sersi (Gemma Chan): our protagonist, who enjoys using Instagram filters
Ikaris (Richard Madden): brooding, can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes
Ajak (Salma Hayek): the leader of the group; her character is basically just Salma Hayek, but boring
Thena (Angelina Jolie): a savage warrior who is slowly losing her mind
Druig (Barry Keoghan): has the ability to control human’s minds
Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani): spent the last 100 years being a Bollywood star and he’s really jacked for no reason
Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry): the tech guy
Gilgamesh (Don Lee): he, um … likes cooking?
Makkari (Lauren Ridloff): has super speed, communicates through sign language and, understandably, completely removes herself from society so she can read books in peace
Sprite (Lia McHugh): got stuck being a little kid for all eternity; possibly as a prank
For a studio that has made billions by methodically introducing characters one by one in standalone films before having them all team up for an epic battle, it’s baffling that they would attempt to introduce so many Eternals all at once. The film ends up squandering its talented cast. And, while it is great that the MCU continues to strive for diversity in its films, Eternals is completely uninterested in explaining why these various characters all have unique accents and ethnicities when they were all made by the same space kaiju (which, considering how much time the film spends explaining every other mundane aspect of their backstory, is a notable omission).
Kingo is easily the most memorable character. Nanjiani seems to be having fun in the role and Kingo is the only one of the 10 who has used eternity to do anything of note. Ridloff really is quite charming as Makkari, but she spends most of her time in the film wishing she wasn’t there (including a moment where she’s excited about a possible extinction event because it could finally cure her boredom).
Most of the Eternals treat immortality like it’s an absolute drag. They’re both bored and boring. Yet they love to talk. There’s so much talking in this film. Most scenes involve some combination of the various Eternals standing near each other with the arms down by their sides having lengthy moral debates or reminiscences about their shared pasts.
There are multiple scenes where the action starts to heat up and it feels like we may finally be building toward something exciting that suddenly stop so the characters can launch into yet another boring dialogue. And I honestly can’t emphasize enough just how rigid and awkward their bodies are positioned during these conversations. No one sits on a couch or lays down while chatting. They can only converse with their spines erect and their fists balled at their sides.
Eternals will likely garner headlines for showing both a shared kiss between two gay characters and the MCU’s first sex scene and even those moments feel rote and perfunctory. (Taiki Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok feels both queerer and sexier without containing a single romantic embrace.)
This is the film’s biggest sin: it’s boring. The MCU is a sandbox of infinite possibilities where demigods can interact with alien beings at the edge of the universe or heroes can be transported through portals to an epic battlefield to square off against an Infinity Gauntlet-clad Thanos. Chloé Zhao is great at capturing landscapes, but she and the other writers can’t think of anything interesting for the characters in those locales to do.
You’ll likely enjoy soaking in the breathtaking vistas Zhao captures on film, but with a story this dull, you may find yourself wishing you were out there in nature instead of being stuck in a theater watching pretty people sulk.
Written by Joel Murphy. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.