by Brandon Thomas
The Marvel formula continues to chug along 13 years after the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born in 2008’s Iron Man. The popular studio has had some major highs with The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther, and some major lows with Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, and Black Widow.
How does Marvel’s latest, Eternals, stack up with the rest of their catalog?
Well, it might be time for Kevin Fiege and company to go back to the drawing board when it comes to their origin stories.
Eternals is a sweeping, millennia crossing story that follows a group of immortal beings sent to Earth to protect it from the Deviants. After spending thousands of years fighting the Deviants – and finally destroying them – the group goes their own way until the time comes for their return home. As present-day arrives, an old enemy begins stalking the group one by one, and they must reunite for a final battle.
Eternals is Marvel going full cosmic. The story is big – one that stretches over space and time – and seeks to be the most grandiose MCU movie to date. However, the film stumbles over itself time and time again with a story that never really knows where it wants to go. Eternals spends too much time reuniting characters we barely know. It’s difficult to become invested in the overall struggle when our heroes haven’t even made an impression.
Director Chloe Zhao was an interesting choice for Eternals. Her films have always felt especially grounded and personal. Characters have always been her focus with the story a distant second. And those quieter moments in Eternals are the ones that work best. The large cast is more than game to bounce off one another with the ridiculous dialogue, and those become the moments where Zhao’s work feels most prominent, along with the gorgeous cinematography that has become a staple of her films.
Speaking of the cast – wow, there’s plenty to speak of, including Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani and Richard Madden. At 2 hours and 37 minutes, most of them get time to shine even if those moments feel like they came out of half a dozen previous Marvel movies. There’s no real breakout star the way Downey, Pratt, Hemsworth or Bosman were.
Even the spectacle ends up disappointing. Marvel has a bumpy track record with the action in their film ranging from great (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) to downright boring (Thor: The Dark World). The action sequences here feel emotionless and lack even an ounce of excitement. It’s hard to get invested in what feels like a bunch of pixels bouncing off one another.
I remember when it was exciting to see lauded filmmakers like Sam Raimi or James Gunn get a shot at one of these giant franchise movies. Now, when a respected filmmaker like Chloe Zhao gets thrown into the comic book movie mix, I can’t help but wince at what the final product might be.