Eternals takes some of the biggest swings the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken so far, introducing 10 brand new characters and giving them a backstory that spans millennia across time. It’s an ambitious film with Nomadland and Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao at the helm, but in going big, the film struggles to stay grounded and like Icarus, flies too close to the sun. There is simply too much happening all at once, and as grand as everything is, the weight and purpose of that grandiosity is never truly felt when there is so much that needs to be covered and not enough time to do it all.
Thousands of years ago, a group of 10 super powered individuals called Eternals were sent to Earth by the Celestial Arishem to hunt down and destroy the Deviants who were ravaging the planet and the humans. For millennia, the Eternals lived among the humans and protected them from the Deviants and occasionally shared their gifts and technologies with them to help society flourish. As time continued on, the threat of Deviants became less and less, the Eternals lived their own lives among the humans. Flash forward to the present day and all of a sudden there is a new Deviant attack, bringing the Eternals together once again after hundreds of years apart.
There is a lot of ground to cover and to its credit, Eternals doesn’t waste any time in diving into this new chapter of the MCU. At the center of the story is Sersei (Gemma Chan), an Eternal with the power to alter inanimate matter. There’s also Ikaris (Richard Madden) who has the power of flight and laser eyes, Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) who can shoot energy projectiles from his hands, Gilgamesh (Don Lee) who is the strongest of them all, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) who invents things, Sprite (Lia McHugh) who is a master illusionist, Druig (Barry Keoghan) who has the power of mind control, Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) who has super speed, and Thena (Angelina Jolie) who is can form weapons from cosmic energy. They’re all led by Ajak (Salma Hayek), who has the power to heal and can communicate with Arishem directly. That’s just the Eternals themselves, and then you also have to consider the Deviants, Celestials, and Kit Harringtons Dane Whitman. It can all be overwhelming. As you can expect, there’s only so much that can be explored even at its lengthy two hour and 37 minute runtime. The film gives a good overview of everything and everyone, but there isn’t nearly enough time to really go into much detail on any one particular thing as it jumps from character to character and from one time period to the next.
That being said, when scenes do piece together perfectly, you’re in for a treat. The action scenes are particularly exciting, especially when everyone is working together and their abilities lend themselves to some exciting action-packed combos. Watching Phastos use his tech to subdue an opponent while Makkari delivers a flurry of attacks as Thena elegantly weaves in and out of the chaos is exciting. In these moments, the Eternals truly feel like superheroes. Huge shoutout to Kumail Nanjiani, whose Kingo is an absolute delight to watch in every scene. If there is anything that the film needed more of, it’s Kingo.
My main issue with the film, however, is that as big and all-encompassing Eternals is supposed to feel, it never properly conveys the intimacy and stakes of what the Eternals are doing. After spending thousands of years on Earth watching everything happening and not intervening unless Deviants are involved, Sersei and the others have grown attached to the humans so when the need to save the world arises, they turn their backs on their duties to do what is right. The entire film is about how the Eternals have grown to love humanity and yet we rarely see that in the film because it’s so exposition heavy. Everything centers around the Eternals themselves. So much time is spent with them talking only to each other about what to do and we never really get the opportunity to see the world they so desperately love and want to save. They had the opportunity to give the film a little bit of humanity through Dane Whitman and his relationship with Sersei, but that is quickly abandoned after the first act when she runs off to go and join the rest of the Eternals. Even the final battle takes place on an isolated island with nobody around. As big as things are in the film, the stakes have never felt any smaller.
Eternals may be necessary viewing for what’s to come in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and there is plenty of potential to actually explore these characters in future films and content, but their first outing has bitten off more than it can chew. Chloé Zhao has created a visually stunning film that’s ultimately quite hollow on the inside. It’s just too much for a single film and ends up imploding under its own weight.
There is simply too much happening all at once, and as grand as everything is, the weight and purpose of that grandiosity is never truly felt when there is so much that needs to be covered and not enough time to do it all.