Marvel’s Eternals: Disregarded Potential

A Movie Review

Jake Cruz, Writer / Video Editor / Producer

Marvel's Eternals explained: Disney Plus release date, run time, reviews and more - CNET
The Eternals. Photo by Marvel Studios.

Eternals is packed to the brim with plenty of elements and lore to easily fill a trilogy. Yet, it’s two-hour and forty five minute runtime restricts all of the threads and themes from reaching their full potential. The Eternals was originally created after Jack Kirby left DC comics in 1970 to return to Marvel.  Thus, The Eternals is an epic saga that uses all of the high concept energy that Kirby was originally channeling into DC’s The New God’s line, before it was cancelled. 

The Eternals are a group of diverse beings that have been tasked by the Celestials with protecting Earth and its people from the predatory forces of the Deviants. After centuries of Deviant absence, the god-like group have now grown-up and found their individual places amongst humanity. The re-emergence of the Deviants, in modern day, reunites the group for a journey that calls their very existence into question. 

The film was directed by Chloe Zhao, academy award winning director of NomadLand.   Viewers will be able to clearly see her fingerprints smeared over every ounce of this film.  Examples of this include; the wide sweeping shots of celestial beings, the multi generation spanning narrative filled with themes, and the ideas that aspire to challenge the viewer. Marvel’s Eternals has the building blocks for a grand epic built on the backbone of truly intriguing character dynamics, much in the vein of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. However this is  where the true travesty behind Eternals lies. The unyielding boundaries of the Marvel formula hold back what are the mismatched ruins of potential in this film. 

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Eternals Comic panel. By Jack Kirby

From a visual standpoint, Eternals often feels far removed from the films that have preceded it. There is more emphasis placed on allowing the cinematography to breathe and envelop the viewer. Thus, it pushes the boundaries of what a MCU movie looks like, and it is a shame that the directors didn’t make more of an effort to pay homage to the original visual style. Kirby’s original run was dripping with colors that have the saturation pumped up to nauseating levels. The lining of the film was complex, making every image into an almost maze-like expression. This version takes a drastically more subdued approach. Thus, it allows the film to easily meld into the cookie cutter MCU mold, even while using a grand, sweeping visual approach.

The star-studded cast of Eternals is a joy to see. The film includes; Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kit Harrington, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Barry Keoaghan, Don Lee, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, and Bill Skarsgard. There are over a dozen characters in the film. Thus, this creates a dozen sets of variables,of stories, of dynamics. The story line starts at the beginning of humanity itself, and spans thousands of years. That is a lot of narrative and character complexity to attempt to flesh out within two hours and forty five minutes. The scale of the narrative, and the scope of the lore established in this film, is the sort of thing that multi-season television programs fail to get right.  As the story unfolds it throws questions at the viewer, bringing into question their very existence. This is quite a lofty ambition for a superhero film. Yet, Eternals never pursues these questions further than the asking. The trajectory of the Deviant narrative is a prime example of how the film nurtures interesting ideas, only to chop them off just before they are able to take flight. 

Eternals is a film begging for one of two solutions. In solution one, the film would be given the space it needs to breathe. It shouldn’t have been presented as a film. Instead, it should use Disney+ to give the story the nine episodes needed to create a Disney version of Game Of Thrones  in scale. This would create an epic series. Conversely, the second option if there is no other choice than to adapt it to a film, is to take the scissors to it. It should be scaled in narrative scope, to allow for a tighter film that has a much more attainable focus. 

Marvel's Eternals Post-Credits Scenes Explained: What They Mean for the MCU - Den of Geek
Arishem. Photo by Marvel Studios

Eternals desperately wants to be something that its required parameters will not allow it to achieve. However, Chloe Zhao’s MCU debut has plenty of merits. The film is a gorgeously shot epic, containing some of the most visually impressive images that a Marvel film has to offer. The action sequences feel energized, and the inclusion of each Eternal as having their own unique gift, allows for a dynamic spectacle. In superhero films it has almost become a trope when it comes to speedsters, to portray their powers using slow motion. The speedsters are going so fast that everything is slowed down around them. In this film, however, the viewer feels the electric power of speed behind Makkari’s actions, thus making her a genuine standout in the cast. 

In the places where the film attempts to diversify itself from the crowd of 29 other projects, there is nothing but praise from me. It is clear that the creative minds behind this film are itching for the leash to be loosened, for the restrictions around their visions to be broken down even more. The passion and true scope of Zhao’s vision for the film is clear. Viewers can only hope that if she returns for a sequel, that she can have the freedom to make this vision come to life.