Marvel's Eternals is a bit of a mess, just quietly

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Streamer: Aussie cinemas from November 4

Length: 156 minutes

Score: 2.5/5

Eternals is a brand spanking new Marvel film that encompasses a lot of firsts. It’s the first flick from the MCU to feature an openly gay superhero, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and a deaf superhero, Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). It’s the first one of these movies to lure Angelina Jolie onto the big screen.

And, somewhat less excitingly, it’s the first Marvel movie to get a “rotten” (negative) score on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.

But is it really that bad? And what’s Eternals all about? And should you even care?

The stars of the Marvel film, Eternals standing in a row on a beach. Photo: Marvel Studios.
Find someone who loves you as much as Eternals loves long shots of people standing in vaguely heroic poses. Picture: Marvel Studios.

Eternals tells the story of ten immortal beings with various superpowers and abilities. These Eternals lobbed down to Earth some seven thousand years ago looking to exterminate fearsome monsters called Deviants.

Once this job was done, the Eternals were free to move about humanity and find a new reason to live. Some of them, like Sersi (Gemma Chan), managed to do this quite well, falling in love with human Dane Whitman (Kit Harington).

Others, like mind-controlling Druig (Barry Keoghan) and fearsome warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie) chose to live life off the grid, away from the hustle and bustle.

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Everything changes when one of the Eternals is murdered, proving they’re not quite as eternal as the name would suggest, and the surviving nine have to team up to find out what happened and what they can do about it.

Eternals is, it has to be said, a bloody strange movie. It’s based on a comic by the legendary Jack Kirby and is chockers with trippy ideas, big sci-fi concepts and startling revelations about the nature of humanity.

Why then Marvel chose to ping director Chloé Zhao for the gig is, frankly, a baffling mystery.

Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) in the Marvel film, Eternals. Photo: Marvel Studios.
Ikaris (Richard Madden) asks Sersi (Gemma Chan) if she wants to stand in a vaguely washed out, brownish environment to look pensive. She does! Picture: Marvel Studios.

See, while Chloé’s award-winning film Nomadland (2020) was pretty damn great, it’s about as far from a superhero film as you can imagine. And when Zhao brings her minimalist, everything-shot-in-the-late-arvo aesthetic to this material the result is deeply contradictory.

Everything feels ethereal and dreamlike, which can work in isolated moments but for a film that runs a bladder-punishing 156 minutes, it can seem downright somnambulistic.

The thing is, despite the uneasy mix of styles there’s some nice stuff here. Performances from Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani and Lauren Ridloff are really solid, with some lovely character moments from each.

There’s also a sense of epic scale and cosmic stakes that really give an otherworldly feeling of trans-dimensional menace at times. Plus there’s a couple of twists and turns in the plot that are genuinely surprising. That’s nice.

The problem, however, is that for so much of the movie’s runtime, the story plods along in a leaden, lacklustre fashion. The same dour colour palette is used for every scene, the same listless dialogue delivery is employed, which eventually will lead to quite a few audience members simply tuning out.

The best thing to say about Eternals is, Marvel actually took a risk. This doesn’t feel quite as cookie-cutter as some of the other MCU films, particularly since the Thanos arc concluded with Avengers: Endgame in 2019.

Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) fights with a Deviant monster in the Marvel film, Eternals. Photo: Marvel Studios.
Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) gives a dirty Deviant a bit of the old 'pew pew' action in Eternals. Picture: Marvel Studios.

But uh, that being said? Why on earth did Marvel think Chloé Zhao, a director famous for including a lengthy scene where Frances McDormand poops in a bucket, was the right person to tell this trippy space odyssey?

Eternals feels like the biggest case of director/subject mismatch since Ang Lee’s much-derided Hulk (2003) which starred Eric Bana and was just… weird, man. There were Hulk dogs, people. One of them was a poodle!

Ultimately, Eternals is too ill-conceived and unwieldy to recommend. Those of us who enjoy watching interesting failures will get a kick out of the number of baffling choices on the big screen, but for those just looking for a good time? Eternals will feel like a listless eternity.

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