Thu | Nov 30, 2023

Review: ‘Eternals’ – Marvel’s first misfire

Published:Friday | November 12, 2021 | 12:07 AMDamian Levy/Gleaner Writer
Salma Hayek in a scene from ‘Eternals’.
Salma Hayek in a scene from ‘Eternals’.
This image released by Marvel Studios shows, from left, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan and Lia McHugh in a scene from ‘Eternals’.
This image released by Marvel Studios shows, from left, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan and Lia McHugh in a scene from ‘Eternals’.

What more is there to do with the superhero genre? This year alone, Marvel Studios has released a film about a super spy on the run, a mystical martial artist, and a film featuring two and a half generations of Spider-Men is set for later this year. While the films have diversity in subject matter, the result tends to follow the same familiar beats. The hero’s journey rinsed and repeated, with a cast of comical characters centred around a relatably flawed individual.

With The Eternals, Marvel sets its sights on a different approach, not unlike the one taken by its direct competitors in the superhero movie racket. Rather than a sympathetic zero turned hero, The Eternals focuses on gods among us. Immortal superbeings who are sworn to protect the earth, only intervening when monsters, known as deviants, rear their ugly heads.

The Eternals may be duty-bound to protect from afar, but they have an undying desire to meddle. The film shows you brief snippets of their exploits throughout history, and even goes so far as to retroactively assign existing myth to the various characters (Richard Madden’s flying Ikaris is the literal Greek myth).

The treatment of superheroes as modern myth is an interesting direction, and it’s one antithetical to Marvel’s baseline of the superhero everyman. A fact that makes much of the movie fall short of its deific aspirations. It turns out, mythic beings aren’t all that easy to relate to.

Eternals is a movie with intriguing ideas, but poor execution. The notion of immortals exploring what it means to be alive without the fear of death is compelling, and in the hands of Chloe Zhao, it makes for one of the best-looking Marvel films that makes a spectacle out of intimacy. Yet, whenever the characters open their mouth, you’re either rolling your eyes or making a quizzical face as the Eternals display their one shared ability: The gift of exposition.

As slow as it is contemplative, you shouldn’t feel bad if you nod off during Eternals. Though complex and challenging at times, characters will assert their personalities every 15 minutes or so in a way only people who have spent thousands of years not interacting with humans would. Awkwardly.

The dialogue is disappointing, the performances are mostly wooden, save for a few bright spots, and the film’s muted colour palette makes the more explosive action feel lethargic. The most frustrating thing about Eternals is how close it comes to delivering something great. The few moments that its characters are enjoyable landed hard and go a long way to redeeming the film. Then again, not nearly as much as the diversity of the film’s cast, which rightfully puts people that have been excluded from the heroic limelight, centre stage. While it’s a pity their characters weren’t better developed, the film’s representation is enough to warrant a watch on the big screen, at a discount.

Rating: Half Price

Damian Levy is a film critic and podcaster for Damian Michael Movies.