Austin Burke’s review published on Letterboxd:
Following the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), an unexpected tragedy forces the Eternals, ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years, out of the shadows to reunite against mankind's most ancient enemy, the Deviants.
From Dune to Eternals, this is obviously the year of slower and somewhat epic blockbusters hitting the big screen. Okay, those may be the only ones, but there are plenty of similarities between the two. From a story standpoint, both films have a lot of lore to explore with little time, but Dune has the luxury of a second part. Eternals may see a sequel, but this film attempts to squeeze in thousands of years worth of story. This creates for some moments where you feel an integral story point is missing, and you get quite a large amount of exposition throughout. Approaching this as someone who has read a handful of Eternals stories, I was able to piece it all together fairly easily, but I have seen cases where others (understandably) haven’t. This is the first Marvel film in a bit to create some fairly intense discourse online, and then you have whatever the hell people are doing on IMDb (I try to ignore it now).
On its surface, it is easy to see why the film isn’t entirely living up to expectations; Chloe Zhao is a brilliant filmmaker, this cast is incredible, and the story feels so different from the rest of the universe. When the credits hit, the first thought that hit my mind was how different this movie felt compared to something like Black Widow or Shang-Chi. From the humor to the fight scenes, it is easy to recognize that these films fit inside this world (not a bad thing), but Eternals is different. This one is darker in almost every way. It holds more adult themes, the story is not afraid to make a drastic decision with its characters, and it even looks darker because of the way Zhao uses natural lighting to capture some of these moments. The cinematography itself is beautiful, but there is this cloud of darkness, and a few ideas in it that make it feel more like a DC film at times.
All of this isn’t to say that the MCU touch is gone because it definitely holds those moments, the main example being the humor. While more subtle from someone like a Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani delivers some of your more classic jokes, but I genuinely found him to be hilarious so it worked. Madden and Chan provide the heart as our main duo, and they are genuinely great. Gemma Chan is compelling, and it is so great to see her get a role like this. The cast spans far beyond these four, as there are just so many characters to work with here; because of this, the film can occasionally feel overstuffed. Fitting thousands of years of lore into one movie is tough, but attempting to do that with this distinct style can be even tougher. Zhao chooses to tell this story out of order instead of chronologically, which has caused the most complaints I have seen from the reactions. To a degree, I can get behind the criticisms, but one thing I never felt (at all) was confusion. The film tells us exactly when and where we are at all times, and while part of me wishes it was being told in order, I didn’t mind the decision.
The main negative from this is seeing integral character moments happen prior to knowing everything you need to know about that character. What elevates the film is the importance of the story, and the themes that we tackle. The burden these characters have on their shoulders is huge, and the idea of following your path or doing what you are made for is an emotional one. Each character is faced with a series of questions and decisions in this film, and it does such a nice job of diving into the mind of the team as a whole. These ideas cause for some incredible emotion and heartbreak. I also love the fact that the story itself is so unpredictable. No one is safe because this film feels so disconnected, so anything can happen to anyone, and that point is proven throughout. All of these elements are things we rarely see in today’s Superhero films, so it is nice to see one tackle that.
Sure, I was wondering where Dr. Strange was when things were happening, but at the same time, I wanted this to disconnect from that as much as possible. Lastly, the action scenes are great. The third act may fall into the “big cgi battle” trap, but at least it features a different kind of battle. When the brilliant score kicks in, and each character is showing us what they can do, it is great. The cgi admittedly sticks out more when everything is going down in the daytime, but it never truly bothered me. So while Eternals is far more sloppy with its execution than anticipated, and the constant (but somewhat necessary) exposition can feel a bit overwhelming, the film tackles so much that I appreciate. The themes are relevant, the story is epic, and seeing these celestials on screen is somewhat mind-blowing. Even with my positivity, I am disappointed that this wasn’t executed better with Zhao at the helm. Regardless, I found myself thoroughly enjoying most of it.
🔜Last Night in Soho