Eternals ★½

2021 Ranked
MCU Ranked

Like if Sense8, JUPITER ASCENDING, and ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE were all erratically smashed together and then remixed by The CW.

Went in with a bit of hope thinking this might be another case of a “polarizing” MCU entry actually being a, for lack of a better term, “secret banger” (see also: CAPTAIN MARVEL, IRON MAN 3), but uhhhhh…no, it really is embarrassingly bad. Chloé Zhao is a gentle, well-intentioned filmmaker—and you could never tell she was involved in this. Sure, Eternals does have some magic hour shots, but 1) none of them are particularly interesting or well-composed—the best shot in this, whatever it might be, is not a fraction as good as anything in THE RIDER; and 2) to suggest Eternals is “Zhao’s film” simply for that reason only highlights a complete and fundamental misunderstanding of her ethos. Even for an MCU joint, it’s still quite astonishing how void of Zhao’s sensibilities this is.

And I think that comes down to the possibility that, in addition to Kevin Feige and co. micromanaging the shit out of it, this is already an awkward pairing between filmmaker and material. That’s not to say Marvel doesn’t regularly hire directors who lack experience in making big budget studio tentpoles so they can easily control them, but there’s a huge difference in hiring James Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy — a property that his sensibilities are so naturally in tune with — and hiring the writer/director of The Rider and Songs My Brothers Taught Me for what seems like such a schlocky and bombastic property. Either way, it’s certainly the best example of Marvel stripping a distinctive filmmaker of their sensibilities yet.

Instead of being the so called game-changer it was hyped up to be, Eternals is a haphazardly edited glorified fanfic largely consisting of painfully endless exposition, ineptly staged and unimaginative action set-pieces, obvious studio mandates, and Feige’s own cynicism—especially in its insincere, desperate attempts to appease MCU skeptics with a fondness for art house cinema. Whether it be the cringeworthy quips and forced references, the obnoxious product placement, or scenes being edited down to the point where they have no room to breathe, to suggest this hardly even feels like an MCU film is utterly laughable. Granted, it’s nice that you can occasionally tell Ben Davis shot this, as he’s clearly attempting to do something similar to his work on both CAPTAIN MARVEL — the only MCU film shot by Ben Davis where his work wasn’t butchered to shit — and CRY MACHO, but a substantial amount of Davis’s work here is, sadly yet unsurprisingly, hampered in the edit and severely flattened by the MCU house style—both in carrying that hideous wet concrete/muddy grading and even CGI bullshit overpopulating many of the frames. And for a film that was said to be shot largely on location, it hardly ever shows; in addition to the set design being largely cheap, there are multiple instances of obvious green screen and/or soundstage. Incredibly generic score by Ramin Djawadi too, so much I can’t help but wonder what THE RAID composer Joseph Trapanese would’ve done here had he not dropped out.

I’ve said in the past that Zhao is not a very good writer, but it’s hard to put the blame on her in this instance when she not only had to work off of a draft by two guys who had never written a feature before, but also had to co-write with one of the writers of…Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway. Characters in this aren’t so much characters as they are mouthpieces who exist to spout a bunch of faux-profound exposition about humanity, and realize that maybe humans are good after all! For how much some have praised this for supposedly taking big swings, Eternals borrows liberally from Avengers: Age of Ultron thematically—except the execution is even more uneven in this case and without any closure. And the quips themselves are even more painful here than in most of the franchise because Zhao is not exactly known for her comic wit and most of her cast doesn’t have much experience in comedy either. The only genuine exceptions to that are Brian Tyree Henry and Kumail Nanjiani, and that’s partially why they end up being two of the least scathed out of the ensemble. Gemma Chan is also solid (and occasionally very good) in this, even if the poor material threatens to hinder her more often than not. Everyone else is just utterly lifeless here and there’s zero chemistry within the ensemble, and it all results in none of the film’s attempts at pathos landing.

If anything else, I’m glad Eternals exists, because it will hopefully prove to people once and for all that Marvel never has and never will give directors creative freedom. Sure, Gunn is afforded a bit more space than the rest, and both Shane Black and Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck managed to smuggle enough of their sensibilities into their respective MCU entries to stand out from the crowd, but even then, all of these filmmakers' voices were still somewhat filtered through an MCU lens, and at the end of the day, it is indisputable that this is Feige’s world and he sees the directors as mere hired guns. I pray for Sam Raimi.

And that Hiroshima bit is risible in every sense of the word. Fucking hilarious, and it clearly wasn’t intended to be. For how much this studio holds back artists from making audacious choices, I can’t believe that scene actually made it in the final cut.

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