The Pitch: For millennia, intergalactic beings known as Eternals have defended humanity from the predatory Deviants. Once their mission is complete, however, they’re left stranded on Earth, living amongst humans through the ages as they watch our evolution while holding firm to their code of non-interference.
That is, until their ancient enemies return, signaling the emergence of an even graver threat. With their family separated across the globe, Eternals Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), and Sprite (Lia McHugh) must bring the team back together to resume their purpose. This may not be the happy reunion they’d hoped for, though, as revelations about their own pasts may redirect their future — as well as our planet’s.
Sir, See the Potential: On paper, there’s a ton to be excited about with Eternals, Marvel’s first big-screen, terra-bound superhero team that isn’t Avengers. Fresh off her history-making Nomadland, filmmaker Chloé Zhao brings her poetic lens to capture a stellar cast in the most diverse comic book movie ever produced. The pedigree is as epic as the scale, with a story crossing centuries and a plot stretching to the very center of the actual Marvel Cinematic Universe.
A fair amount of that actually comes through on the screen. Zhao paints beautiful scenes in the movie’s intimate moments, the glare of a setting sun washing these super-powered beings in humane romance. When we’re able to take a breath and spend some quiet time with the Eternals, their family dynamics and desire to reconnect resonates. And if you’re able to pay attention, the story’s implications for the scope of the MCU are tantalizing.
Unfortunately, you have to sit through two-and-a-half hours of muddled motivations and facile exposition to experience any of this.
King Oh No: For the first time in 26 entries, a Marvel movie opens with a preamble crawl. The text spans thousands of years and countless galaxies. From the jump, there’s simply too much unknown context to ever establish a satisfying plot.
Perhaps afraid to ask audiences to sit through another multi-movie plot or feeling the pressure to “try something new,” Marvel slams what should be two stories into one. The back and forth between the Eternals’ centuries on Earth and their current predicament is meant to justify both the characters’ modern day situations and their incentive for rejoining the fight. But in having to lift all that while establishing 10 “main” heroes, the former end up as ill-defined interludes that relegate the latter to exposition dumps. Shang-Chi, this is not.
This is — and this is not said lightly — Marvel’s Justice League (the theatrical cut). Too many characters we don’t care enough about are banning together despite their differences to stop an extraterrestrial threat that’s already hidden on Earth. The main distinctions are that A) the Eternals themselves are E.T.s, and B) Zhao has a much more artistic eye than Zack Snyder.
Even that’s a double-edged sword, as Zhao’s instance on using real-world locations instead of green screen sets backfired more than it succeeded. Whereas there are some truly stunning shots, there are also bleak, boring forests and flat, uninteresting plains. There’s no reason those settings can’t work in a superhero blockbuster, but when the landscapes are populated with aliens in Power Rangers-colored armor firing off golden cosmic energy, the world ends up feeling flat.