Eternals ★★★★½

The 2021 superhero film, Eternals, takes the Marvel Cinematic Universe into “Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more.” territory. The previous installments in this franchise of comic book adaptations have all explored the notion that our world is smaller than meets the eye, but this latest endeavor throws us into the cosmos with gleeful abandon, placing us at the mercy of Celestial beings and their plans for our existence. Director Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) deals in wide open spaces, by way of natural filming locations, but each vast expanse shown by the camera eye only reinforces the concept that the landscapes are far from permanent.

Thankfully, Zhao also deals in character believability. The 10 titular humanoid immortals are each given plentiful screen time, so that endearing idiosyncrasies, charismatic leanings, and menacing tendencies are revealed in unforced ways. This is not an easy task, since this movie is expected to acquaint us with an ensemble in just two hours and 37 minutes, whereas The Avengers screen stories took multiple films to arrive at the same point. The combination of forward narrative movement and historical flashbacks outlining highlights from the thousands of years that the Eternals have quietly populated our Earth is not always as effective as it could be, but the proceedings are well-paced.

These mythology-influenced characters are graced with a tangible humanity that keeps us the viewers in the fold. Lauren Ridloff shines as the first deaf Marvel character. Brian Tyree Henry captivates as an openly gay hero with an endless supply of one-liners. Kumail Nanjiani introduces a welcome Bollywood aesthetic to this tale. Barry Keoghan, whom I last saw as a nefarious thief in The Green Knight, is excellent as a wild card among these immortals. The most crucial players, Gemma Chan and Richard Madden, are wonderfully convincing as former lovers who are forced by circumstance to work together again. Of course, Angelina Jolie seems born to portray comic book heroes, so much so that I cannot believe it took Marvel so long to cast her in such a role.

I have always enjoyed movies, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, that toy with our ubiquitous beliefs concerning both spirituality and creation. I see nothing blasphemous about such fiction, instead appreciating the ideas with a Ray Bradbury-esque sensibility, allowing for religion and science to go hand-in-hand. I like how Eternals is not afraid to swing for the fences with regard to big questions and bigger explanations.

I suppose that the big question on the minds of skeptics is whether or not Eternals is a sign of the Marvel Cinematic Universe letting its ever-widening fictional world get away from it. I believe that the answer is yes, but I do not necessarily believe that this is a bad thing.

Block or Report

The Great Owl liked these reviews