This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Mx. Glides’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
no, it's not as bad as people are saying.
kevin feige has but one secret weakness, and it's that the man obsessively wants an oscar of his own. not a nomination. he needs a full entire win. he needs it for his capeshit. he desperately needs it to be taken seriously. the biggest franchise isn't good enough. it must be seen as art, you see. he must be able to do it. this will consume his mind until there is nothing left.
he needs it like gollum needs his precious. somewhere out there, someone exists who doesn't think these are the greatest movies ever made, and it eats at kevin's mind like a burrowing maggot. perhaps if he gets but one statue of his own, albeit one that lost all its relevance years ago, he will finally be able to rest.
today is obviously not that day. it's clear black panther's success caught him completely by surprise, and he got so tantalizingly close to what he's truly craved.
i'll expand on my thoughts later.
ok, it's later.
the biggest shame of it all is that chloe zhao was clearly intended to be the fall person in case this went under. you have plausible deniability because they have made off-kilter choices like this before. look at james gunn and taika waititi and jon watts and anna boden and ryan fleck and...you get the idea. tiny indie filmmakers who suddenly jumped to a much larger level. all of them but gunn had worked with established characters, and gunn had the advantage of being a cult hit from all his troma and scooby-doo work. not zhao. nobody outside of film buff circles knew chloe zhao before this. i barely knew who chloe zhao was before this. that's not an insult to her, it was the gamble that they figured eternals was the closest to the trophy that they could possibly aim for. kevin knows that no spider-man movie will ever win the trophy (and sure, the new one might get nominated). he needs an entirely original property. black panther got its nominations entirely by accident as it is. a welcome accident, but still an accident. if anything, assuming this would be it, with characters named after bastardized versions of greek and sumerian myths and shakespearian pomp and circumstance, betrays a much worse impulse. you want to make your art picture with the closest to a successor that terrence malick has, and also have the pew-pew-boom-boom. hell, even joker, a mass focus testing campaign in the form of a movie, had enough sense to realize that you had to significantly scale everything down to get even close to what feige wanted. it is funny, then, that kevin didn't simply try to copy that movie more closely, but the problem is they don't have a character like that. the joker has always been that one that the edgelords took too seriously and everyone else pretended was deeply complex when he's not. by throwing marvel full-fronted into the kid-friendly space, kevin permanently lost that particular market. it doesn't matter as far as profits are involved, but nobody gives awards to kids movies.
so kevin compensates by having chloe put in the most flaccid and wooden sex scene i've ever seen (it feels like gemma chan and richard madden look physically uncomfortable together, and i feel deeply sorry for them both), and a weird subplot about a 7,000 god in the form of a child wanting to bone another character and having it be her entire personality, and shit i'm almost certain isn't in the comics. not that you can't have a sex scene, lord knows the capeshit movies are missing genuine horniness. but it's in such an ass-backwards way the only way kevin knows how. only in the sanctity of marriage! the character who wants to have sex outside of it is played by a literal child and is cursed for it by mortality lol. this feels like what a faith-based film would look like if jesus christ never existed in some ways. i'm also not certain he DOES exist in the mcu.
who does exist is dc comics, revealed in this film to be the premiere form of entertainment for the MCU, and it reveals sort of the other big play kevin makes here: the eternals are supposed to be his version of the justice league. eternals is a zack snyder movie made by someone else, all of his flaws and all included. the eternals are cold and distant gods who can kill one another and control humans by the billions if they wanted to. we should consider ourselves so lucky that they do not. making them all so cold as a personality trait feels like kevin trying to have his cake and eat it too. most of these actors aren't even so wooden usually! richard madden is pretty goddamn phenomenal when he isn't playing yet another Evil Superman. granted, his character first hinders, then helps, then hinders, then...one of those two, his motivations change based on how horny he is. ikaris (yes, he's the mythological icarus) eventually stops trying to genocide the planet and then commits suicide because he gets horny, and that again feels like the weird christ-less faith-based film this is.
but all that aside, the biggest issue is this films feels genuinely unfinished. you see, arishem is the arceus of the mcu, and he and the other celestials create life, and they created monsters called deviants for...no reason, and then they created eternals to hunt the deviants, so they could eventually eat all the life on a planet to create new life. this feels like a subtle way to introduce galactus (i'm not sure if he's a celestial or not), but wasn't ego from guardians of the galaxy 2 a celestial? so wait, why didn't they care when he did this exact thing in a far better way? wait, why are violating canon, i thought mcu movies didn't violate canon! see why this feels unfinished? the film ends in the middle of a sudden fight with arishem where the remaining eternals are taken by him to...somewhere. and then harry styles shows up as thanos' brother (seriously) and says he knows where they are, and it feels like there's another half an hour that was just randomly cut. but don't worry, blade is also there at some point. whatever.
what it all ends up feeling like is zhao's instincts butting up against kevin's, because she seems fully invested in getting 2-for-2, to make this ambitious and often abstract film. but then she's contracted to have them switch from distant coldness to making empty quips at each other. none of them feel like they even know or like each other, ikaris is either blindly obeying arishem because it's all he's designed to do or he's opposing arishem because he wants to fuck sersi (gemma chan). as for sersi, she ends up as such a passive character that it feels like a giant missed opportunity. the sad part is that gemma chan is genuinely good here, and they completely whiff on using her particular talents here. the scenes where chan gets to be awkward and a little twitchy as this giant nerd who still hasn't learned everything after 7,000 years...that's mostly in the background. and that's meant as a compliment, because sersi ends up being a far better superman analogue than ikaris ever could be. god, ikaris is so boring. you can understand why she eventually goes for dane whitman, with kit harington getting to play him with a roguish sense of humor that made me wish he was more than a cameo. everything that's interesting and fun gets relegated to the background. druig and makkhari, played by barry keoghan and lauren ridloff, are the only couple that has any kind of chemistry. their reactions to the eternals disbanding are the most interesting, with keoghan futilely trying to protect whoever he can and makkhari locking herself in their ship for thousands of years and just going totally nuts. both of them actually come off in the sort of puckish and ethereal sense greek gods actually should, and they're barely in the damn thing. same goes for brian tyree henry, playing phastos (hephaestus), who responds by falling in love with a human and having a demigod child, JUST LIKE A GREEK GOD WOULD. he's barely in the damn thing either. the most amount of attention is paid (other than sersi) to the boringest possible members of the team. ikaris is a wet noodle, thena (Athena) becomes this weird metaphor where multiple characters state she should kill herself because she's become traumatized by all the violence she's seen. it's this unintentional but gross subplot where basically her trauma is repeatedly mocked and she's treated like a monster for it. her husband, gilgamesh, dies basically off-screen and isn't given enough time for a personality. there's that weird kid, sprite, who's in the body of a child but is in love with ikaris, and ikaris uses her desire for him to turn her against the others, but she's being played by a child...it's a whole barrel of yuck. she's supposed to both be the precocious moppet and PART OF A LOVE TRIANGLE WITH TWO ADULTS. even zhao seems to be a bit squicked out by sprite, as she's both intended as the audience surrogate and also a love interest, and they address this by having other characters talk about it instead of her. sprite outright vanishes for large portions of the film. i feel bad for her actor because that's an unwinnable place to start. there's also kingo, played by kumail nanjiani, who became a meme because the poor bastard steroided himself to oblivion seemingly for no reason over this. i do feel bad for kumail, because it's just like star-lord: he could've easily played kingo at his pre-steroid size. none of the other actors did anything like this, not even richard madden. he looks visibly miserable to be here. he's probably broken his body for the rest of his life for no reason, and probably ended his career over it too. i don't blame him, and kingo also just vanishes at one point and then shows up at the end. what's the damn point of having this many if half of them are barely in the damn movie???
so again, all of this is why it feels so unfinished. it really feels like something horribly wrong went with production and there's another hour lying around that would actually make this a good film. it's why i can't even point at zhao: this is a producing fuckup through and through. it's to the point where zhao is listed TWICE in the exact same writing credit. the film is "written by chloe zhao and chloe zhao" and then a few other people with no other credits. what the hell was going on with this movie?? it makes it fascinating, because it's definitely the first in a while to have, you know, composed framing and live sets and that goes a long way. it just feels like a battle that zhao lost, and then forced onto her own sword over it. if anything, zhao feels like ajak, the leader of the eternals murdered by ikaris for trying to end their mission of global genocide. she's also a nothing character, but the scene where ikaris feeds her to a tribe of alien monsters is genuinely frightening. and there's also a monster who gets more and more human with each eternal he eats, but then he teams up with arishem despite arishem trying to kill him, but then thena kills him...yeah.
i might watch it again, which i almost never say about these, because it's a fascinating failure. it ends up feeling like the movie people accused the matrix resurrections of being, in the sense that it feels like a rebellion where the good guys lost. it is funny, then, how it's being disavowed and its cast will probably never appear in anything else after all this money spent. a shame, because you can see the potential it had that most of the mcu doesn't. this was uncharted territory, a failed expedition. in spite of being barely a finished film, you have to admire the actual ambition behind it. zhao is hopefully going to keep going after this, hopefully she'll be able to make more, because to punish her for this would be missing the point.