Eternals ★★★★

My first film by Chloe Zhao (I really had meant to watch at least The Rider before I went to see this... I'll get around to it), the third theatrical release of phase 4 of the MCU, and the... let's see here... 26th film in the MCU. In a way, it reminds me of Guardians of the Galaxy in the sense that, in between films focused on individual, mostly well-known characters, they've released a film featuring an entirely new cast of characters that radically alters the scope of the MCU worldbuilding in some way. While Guardians showed us the wider universe outside of Earth for the first time (other than like, Asgard in the Thor films), this film takes us far into the past and even provides the MCU's own creation myth for the entire universe, one involving nigh-omnipotent beings called Celestials. Celestials send immortal warriors called Eternals to planets to save them from their ancient foe, the Deviants, which in this are big ugly CGI monsters that aren't really anything to write home about plot-wise. I haven't ever read the Eternals comics (or any other Marvel comics, for that matter) but I have to imagine they probably made for slightly more interesting villains there. Villains are rarely the strong suit of these films anyway.
This film follows one particular group of these Eternals as they have accompanied the people of Earth throughout recorded history, their names often remembered among our legends and folklore as gods. They are, in effect, gods among men, but their Celestial supervisor explicitly forbade them from any intervention in human affairs that did not directly involve the Deviants, so despite their powerful abilities, they are mostly left to watch as humans wage war. This idea of the characters and their godlike abilities influencing the human world leads to some individual scenes that have raised lots of eyebrows but they *mostly* made sense to me - feel like there's one in particular where they might have selected a different example to highlight one character's personal low point in his 'trying to help the humans' journey, but, well, it's there. As a premise, it's neat, and I like the film's journeys through antiquity. The characters are mostly cool. Gemma Chan and Richard Madden are both really solid in the main roles as Sersi and Ikaris, and I also liked Barry Keoghan, Angelina Jolie, Lauren Ridloff, and Don Lee. The most irritating character to me was Lia McHugh's Sprite, an annoying character and not a super great performance, either. Kumail Nanjiani was fun in the scene where he was acting in a Bollywood movie but feels one-note and underutilized.
He's also quippy. Brian Tyree Henry's character was a mixed bag for me - he gets saddled with some of the more awkward instances of the 'we do not interfere' story bits, and he's also the quippiest character in the movie, and I hate the MCU quippy characters. On the other hand, I'm glad they finally have a gay character front and center in the MCU, kissing his husband right there in the center of the frame. I wasn't sure I'd ever see it happen! Disney has absolutely led the world in the Patting Yourself On The Back For Doing The Bare Minimum Industrial Complex for what feels like the last decade now, breathlessly announcing to the world that like, a dozen different films would all feature Disney's very first bona fide LGBT character, and every time it ends up being a guy in the background of one scene (75% chance to be played by Josh Gad) looking wistfully at another man. I don't know what finally brought them around this time but a man loves another man and still gets to be a main character. Another few movies and the MCU might finally catch up to like, who knows, 2017's Call Me By Your Name. Or 2016's Moonlight. Or 2005's Brokeback Mountain. Or 1987's Maurice. Anyway, all of this is beside the point - it feels like this film really does make a real effort in representation, and however cynically market driven-and focus-grouped that might be on Disney's part, I think it's still an ultimate win that this is a film with a gay character, a deaf character (played by a deaf actor), and a cast of actors from a wide variety of races and backgrounds with relatively equal importance to the story.
The story is good in the sense that it feels like it's the first film this phase to feel like it's really filling in some of the exposition about the greater world of the MCU, and while the plot gets a little complicated at times (and maybe doesn't always juggle all of those balls perfectly well), still comes together for a mostly-satisfying conclusion. I will say I'm mostly over the Post-Credits Sequence as a concept at this point - almost none of the ones from this phase have gotten me excited about anything to come, and about half the time it's more just eye-rolling than anything else.
I haven't seen Chloe Zhao's other films so it's hard to say exactly to what degree this film demonstrates her personal style, but there ARE a lot of sunsets. Plenty of the shots here still look like the usual MCU standard of 'the lowest-bidder non-union CGI studio did this', but there are some that are clearly on-location and those look good.
My early hot take on the MCU was that I didn't like the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, and I still don't. I guess my more recent hot take is that I DO like Eternals, because it seems like a lot of people are on the fence about this one. I think it's the best film of phase 4 so far.

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Will liked this review