HomePop CultureEternals Is Earnest But Not Entertaining

Eternals Is Earnest But Not Entertaining

By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Writer

Despite its obvious earnest attempts to address diversity and representation, Eternals isn’t engrossing entertainment. This part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe requires a lot of background so expect some text to set the stage and more than enough exposition to plunge you into this world that begins after the Thanos snap.

At its very basic, this tale is about a heroic team Eternals charged by the supreme beings (Celestials) to only interfere with life on Earth if the villains, the Deviants are involved.

I was surprised when Chloé Zhao was pegged for this endeavor because beyond the diversity she brings as both a female director and a person of East Asian descent, her past efforts have been small independent films such as the 2017 contemporary Western, The Rider, which starred Brady Jandreau as a fictionalized version of himself named Brady Blackburn. Zhao became the first woman of color (and second woman) to win an Oscar for Best Director for Nomadland. That film starred Oscar-winner Frances McDormand as a nomadic worker living out of a van and Zhao had real van-life people playing versions of themselves.

Of course, for Eternals. there are no real superheroes to film. This entry in the MCU has nothing to do with reality or hardship. Zhao is also credited with writing along with Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo, using characters created by Jack Kirby.

Kirby drew heavily from Greek mythology so if you need a refresher course, you can check out my full review with notes on Greek mythology. Here’s a quick summation:

Sersi – Circe

Ikaris = Icarus

Phastos = Hephaestus

Makkari = Mercury

Gilgamesh = Gilgamesh

Ajak = Ajax

The movie begins with two paragraphs of exposition (“In the beginning…”) that explains that there were Eternals who came from the Planet Olympia under the guidance of the Celestials. The Celestials have charged the Eternals to keep the Deviants from taking over planets.  The Eternals are in contact with the Celestials through the Celestial named Arishem the Judge (voiced by David Kaye) whom only Ajak (Salma Hayek) can contact. She has always had complete faith in Arishem and never doubted their mission until recently.

When the Eternals first arrive on Earth, they kill the Deviants and introduce bronze weapons to primitive tribal peoples. That defensive battle is when Sersi (Gemma Chan) first meets Ikaris (Richard Madden) and emotional sparks begin to fly.

Jumping to Present Day London, Ikaris is nowhere to be seen. Sersi is late and her current crush, Dane Whitman (Kit Harington), is trying to distract the students gathered at the museum. Sersi begins to talk about apex predators which are required to balance an ecosystem when the world, including London, is hit by a series of earthquakes.

The Deviants are the cause of the quakes and soon appear in London. Sersi and her gal pal Sprite (Lia McHugh) are soon joined by Ikaris to fight them off. That forces Sersi to explain to Dane (and the audience) that she and the other Eternals came to earth seven thousand years ago.

Now Dane gets some back story about Sersi and her first love: Sersi and Ikaris, were together for five thousand years, but Ikaris left her and she moved on.

In a flashback to 575 BC Babylon, the Eternals are a unified team. The script suggests that Phastos is somewhat clueless because he’s interested in introducing the steam engine, but Ajak feels it is too advanced. Under Ajak, the Eternals decide to give humanity the plow.

Flashing back to 1521, the audience learns what broke up this team of Eternals: They witness Hernando Cortéz in Tenochtitlán. The Eternals are conflicted because “This isn’t war; it’s genocide.” Druig (Barry Keogha) is the most vocal opposition to non-intervention and Thena (Angelina Jolie) shows the first signs of her mental illness. The Eternals separate and somehow integrate into human societies of their choosing.

The time-jumping is jarring and prevents us from really seeing how these Eternals handle each major cultural evolution (and the possible setbacks) by just giving us brief glimpses of their final solutions. To an extent, the film seems like a diversity diversion tour: we have to hit a geographically balanced history because surely there were other genocides and moments of ingenuity elsewhere.

The actors might be charming enough alone, but emotionally there is no depth and the emotional web to capture the audience’s heart hasn’t been woven. There’s a lack of charismatic physicality in so many aspects of this film, from the lack of adjustment time to their new environment and how their powers function within it, to even their fighting styles and turn at dancing.  The ensemble’s physicality isn’t interesting nor always convincing. Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari is the exception and watching her move and act is a joy. Chan isn’t given much to do and doesn’t really hold our attention even though she is a key figure in this tale.

The gender-switching of some of the characters is one issue, but not a major one. The ethnicity of some of the characters has been changed. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) was originally a samurai and Japanese action star. Here he is a Bollywood actor.

Gilgamesh as the king of the famous poem, Epic of Gilgamesh, was from West Asia. Unlike the other characters, there is no attempt to disguise the source of the name of this character. And you don’t have to read the whole epic poem to know that Gilgamesh was a serial rapist. He was bad by even the standards of his day. For more on that, you can read my blog essay about Gilgamesh.

There are also some issues of costuming that makes this ensemble less cohesive and likely hard to block and light. Something I address in another blog essay.

Eternals isn’t a good film and it isn’t particularly entertaining in its action sequences or scripting. This might make cool cosplay in the future and I appreciate that most of the costuming is sensible, especially for women. That and my appreciation of the diversity isn’t enough to make this film worth buying a pricey ticket.

Eternals premiered in Los Angeles on October 18, 2021. I saw it in IMAX. Its theatrical release will be on November 5, 2021 and the film is part of MCU Phase Four.

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