Luke Hansen’s review published on Letterboxd:
The latest the film in the MCU's rapidly expanding library. Award winning director Chloé Zhao brings us a rather unknown group of characters from the comics, Eternals. This film has stirred up discussion in all corners of the internet as being the first MCU film to be deemed "rotten' by Rotten Tomatoes. It seems to have polarized audience members. Some love it, some hate it, some feel absolutely indifferent.
I saw Eternals last night but gave myself a bit of time to sit on it before writing my review. I feel confident saying that I fall on the side of liking this film. A lot, in fact. Eternals is not without it's problems but what it does right, it does well enough that they easily overpower those flaws. Zhao offers us a fresh and different experience than we are used to from the MCU. It's still an MCU film at heart, but manages to present it's cosmic ideas in a more grounded way. It has a commits wholeheartedly to it's premise, characters, and themes. There's not jokes cushioning every emotional moment (though there are some), out of the studios fear that people will find drama corny and that's a welcomed change.
With that vague overview, I'll move into block chunks over different aspects of the movie because there is a great deal I would like to talk about.
Starting out with what my complaints. While by the end, things are flowing incredibly smoothly, the beginning does struggle a bit in terms of pacing. The first maybe 20-30 minutes or so bounce back and force between action sequences, flashbacks, and modern day character work. All of which are interesting in their own regard, but flutter back and forth fast enough that I didn't have enough time to fully immerse myself in one. It feels like things were speed up, and the action amplified, in an attempt to possibly grab the audience attention as the opening hook, but it had the opposite effect on me. Still good, but it's the only place where I felt conflicted about the structure of the events. Shortly after, I think it finds a strong balance between it's flashbacks (which are all gorgeous by the way), and it's modern day story. As I'm writing this out, that's really my only notable complaint, the rest will be small nitpicks added in among praise for other elements.
The characters are far and away my favorite part of the film. Eternals are a group of beings sent my a celestial being to protect Earth from monstrous creatures called Deviants. There job for all of the planets history has been to solely stop those beings and not interfere with human conflicts. Small tangent before I move on. It's worth noting that this film does a very good job at introducing Eternals into the greater MCU lore. Everyone's first question is why these heroes with godlike powers let everything bad in Earths history happen. Some might find the answer needy convoluted and extensive, but as someone who is fine with stories introducing lots of in universe lore, I was satisfied with the explanation given. I don't think it's at all ridiculous. It's actually worked into the story in such a way that it doesn't feel like an obligatory response
to put fans at ease, but a genuinely integral part of their characters. Which is a perfect way to segue back into them.
This is a refreshingly character driven film. I absolutely loved these characters. A lot of their appeal will likely spawn from how well the sense of comradery is conveyed among them. You can really feel like this group of characters loves and cares for each other and has formed this bond of Earths life. The individual dynamics within the group are great as well. Romances and friendships appear with various characters and all are charming and meaningful. It makes them feel all the more fleshed out. Use of these dynamics as the film progresses are all great. It does it's best not to waste what it has created.
As is to be expected of a team of this scale, some members are focused on more heavily than others, but all receive a moment to shine and get an arc. Sirse, beautifully played by Gemma Chan, very much took the forefront of the film. I loved her arc and connection to her teammates. Richard Madden as Ikarus was another really fun character for me. Some will definitely find his arc more controversial but I thought it worked incredibly well. His relationship with Sirse was one that the film loves to play with and I loved how it did so. Salma Hayek was perfect as Ajak. She just gives off such a wonderfully believable motherly vibe that you can't help but understand why the team loves her as their leader. Lia McHugh as the sarcastic Sprite was another great performance and character. However her arc is the only one that I felt needed more to it. It's really good but towards the end it is one of several elements you can see the film struggling to balance out. It pops in and out jarringly, even if the end result is one that works.
I don't need to go into every cast member (although I would love to), but in short, they were all amazing. The representation in this film is stellar. I'm not one of usually bring that up, but this movie is filled with so many groups that are never shown on screen and it does this in a naturally way. All these characters and whatever the represent are extremely prevalent in the film but never pointed out in a way that feels like "ooo look at us, we're being diverse, come see out movie". I've talked to a few people from these groups and they felt mostly thrilled by what we got.
In terms of the plot, I actually liked it. As I mentioned earlier with the explanation for their existence, it will undoubtedly be too much for some people. It's a lot of lore for one movie. But as someone who has a background in reading fantasy and obsessing over fictional worlds, I love a good in-depth lore filled story. So I had no issue with all the added information that was needed for this story to be presented. The story is, however, where more complaints come out. Thankfully, the finale didn't pull a Black Widow and just go off the rails. It mostly maintains a similar tone and quality equal to what it previously showed, but it's still boarding that massive CGI mess that plagues many MCU films. There are quite a few moving parts and arcs that all need to be wrapped up and it's a juggling act to try and do so. That leaves some resolutions either feeling rushed or forgotten. Sprite being one of the rushed ones. There is also an interesting subplot with the Deviants that ties into the overarching theme of the movie that is unfortunately pretty underwhelming in it's conclusion. It just didn't tie into the greater finale very well which left the film in an awkward position where it had to give it scream time but didn't wasn't to take away from the more pressing matter at hand. So the finale ends up probably being the weakest point for the film even though I still need to stress that it is very good. It simply has some issues that don't ruin it as a whole, but make for some choppy sections.
Overall, Eternals is grand and ambitious. That, on top of being a bit more stylized, is sure to make this a film that is not for everyone, but it worked for me. The implications of what this film brings up begs the question of what the future of the MCU will look like, but that's something that only time will reveal. In the meantime, all we can do is enjoy this slightly new take on an MCU film. I like the MCU dipping it's toes in some different film making.