Eternals ★½

"They're not worth saving."

Eternally awful. First time I've seen walkouts during one of these.

What is almost certainly the worst Marvel movie, Oscar winner Chloé Zhao gets plucked from the land of indie docu-hybrids to direct the most soulless and empty spectacle of a film from the MCU. Featuring a lifeless and forgettable story that drags through a runtime of over two-and-a-half hours, Eternals is a staggeringly inept piece of filmmaking derived from a lore that absolutely no one gives any fucks about. With boring characters that have uninteresting differences, a giant text blurb in the first few minutes is the point at which you know you're about to see a lot of bullshit that means nothing and will leave your head the moment you exit the theatre.

We learn that an immortal alien race created by the Celestials called the Eternals have been protecting Earth from the Deviants for 7,000 years, but supposedly killed the last of them a half-millennia ago, dispersing thenceforth as they are not allowed to interfere with the planet otherwise unless called by the Celestial Arishem.

Spread out, but destined to reunite, they are telekinetic Sersi (Gemma Chan), beam-spouting Ikaris (Richard Madden), cosmic energy-throwing Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), illusionist Sprite (Lia McHugh), weapons specialist Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), supersonic Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), mind manipulator Druig (Barry Keoghan), strongest protector Gilgamesh (Don Lee), spiritual leader Ajak (Salma Hayek), and elite warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie). Gradually, jts revealed their original mission was not what they believed, and the Earth is in even more severe danger.

A heavy reliance on CGI and green screen acting brings audiences murky, poorly-lit, and just dull sequences over and over. (Seriously, the amount of darkened actions scenes is unbelievable. You literally cannot fucking see what is going on.) That may be easy to ignore or brush aside if we were watching dynamic characters with flashy personas, but those in Eternals are spectacularly flat with zero charisma. I can stomach a stupid superhero movie when there are gags, or unpredictable beats, or new twists on familiar stories. Not so in this screenplay with four co-writers: Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo, and Zhao herself.

The story itself is utterly confounding. Blending Greek, Cretan, and most especially Mesopotamian/Babylonian mythology is maybe quite the swing for modern viewers who often have zero knowledge of these tales. Sometimes it's changing a couple letters from their original names -- Kingo from Kingu in the Enuma Elish, Tiamut from Tiamat in the Epic of Gilgamesh, Ikaris/Icarus, Sersi/Circe, Phastos/Haephestus, etc. -- or just using those places in hopes we know of them, like the Ishtar Gate. It's just not going to resonate with many people. Funny enough, the film was banned in much of the Middle East for its objectionable content, i.e. a same-sex relationship. So, oh well.

Meandering and sputtering in its nauseating length, Eternals contains all the talky talk that Chloé Zhao's precious brilliant films never did. Perhaps she's making up for all the silence and intelligent ambiguity in Songs My Brothers Taught Me, The Rider, and Nomadland, as this disappointing feature is chock full of conventional beats and brutal exposition. One notable scene midway feels like a 9th Grade science class PowerPoint lecture, if it were all utter nonsense.

Asinine platitudes rehashed from all the previous Marvel movies come out here again with eye-rolling consistency, where the heel turn you knew was coming sure comes but goddamn it takes so so long. Every ounce of wit or humour was already found in the endlessly repeating trailer, so this self-serious story leans into its depressing plot and an orchestrated sense of grandeur. Though a few non-CGI shots with Zhao's trademark golden hour cinematography do make for a few impressive scenes, it all adds up to nothing.

Man, what an absurd and terrifically bad movie. Trying to cram eight different stories into one film, full of characters you've never heard of before and yet have somehow existed for 7,000 years -- and then Earth doesn't know? -- is just a terrible idea.

Friend who wrote a better review than me: WowMIKEWow.

Added to When Good Directors Make Bad Movies.
Added to Chloé Zhao ranked.
Added to The Narrative Films of 2021, ranked.

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