WARNING: The blog post will contain SPOILERS for Marvel Studios Eternals. Do not read on if you don’t want both major and minor spoilers. This will be the ONLY spoiler warning.
The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit theaters on November 5th 2021, a film helmed by Oscar winning director Chloé Zhao (of Nomadland), which straddles the line between typical superhero movie comfort, and exploring moral and mythological depths that Marvel has merely flirted with in the past.
At the time of writing this, Eternals Rotten Tomatoes Critic Score sits at 48%, the lowest of any MCU film. Criticisms range from commentary on the long run-time, to the vague “it doesn’t feel like Marvel”.
Bad reviews normally don’t mean much to me – I will defend the Star Wars prequels with my dying breath – but these ones really stuck out to me as particularly unwarranted. Eternals took a lot of big concepts and wrote a film that themes on humanity, found family, and love with the familiar backdrop of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is a film with something to say, and it was said beautifully.
This is not to say that I think Eternals is a perfect movie – in terms of personal taste, it’s not even my favorite MCU movie. I saw this movie on opening Thursday night and walked out of the theater unsure of how I felt. The more I’ve sat with Eternals, the more it’s grown on me and moved up in my Marvel ranking. And honestly, I’ve only grown more baffled at the reviews. Eternals encapsulates the reason why I love superheroes in the first place.
A sci fi comic book setting is a fantastic place to explore themes surrounding humanity and moral quandaries. These characters are powerful and immortal. They experience life on a grander scale, and are the perfect vessel for these messages.
The Action Scenes
I realize that I am probably in the minority here, and it’s probably a big reason why I loved this movie so much, but I normally do not care for intense action scenes. I’m the type that prefers scenes between characters that are steeped in emotion and reveals of the heart. I sit through the action scenes to get to those scenes.
Eternals had very few actions scenes, but the ones that it did have, kept my close attention throughout. Angelina Jolie moves beautifully, and it was a delight to watch Richard Madden fly. The way Lauren Ridloff moved was the best speedster I’ve ever seen in live action.
Each of the Eternals has their own base power, which makes for an interesting choreography that keeps your attention. I liked the sparse action scenes – there were no emotionally intimate scenes broken up by random explosions or attacks, a nice change from the typical superhero film.
The Run Time
Eternals has one of the longest run times of all the Marvel movies at 2 hours and 37 minutes. After perusing negative Eternals reviews, this is the point brought up most often. And while I would normally agree- stories are best when they’re concise – I have to disagree with that sentiment this time.
Eternals is an origin story for a team of 10 new characters. 10 new characters who have never before appeared in the MCU. 10 of the strongest characters we’ve ever seen on screen, who necessarily must give an explanation for where they’ve been all this time. Where were they when Loki attacked New York? When Ultron tried to take over? What about when Thanos successfully eliminated half of all life? This isn’t like introducing the Guardians of the Galaxy. Not providing an explanation would have been a disservice the storytelling of the overall universe.
Frankly, I could’ve watched an even longer cut. Imagine more screen time for Barry Keoghan and Lauren Ridloff. More of Gilgamesh and Thena. More development to the Ikaris/Sersi connection. There was no moment during my viewing where I was checking the time or thinking “Why are we still in this scene?” I was sad when it ended; I wanted more time with these characters.
And speaking of characters…
The Heart of Eternals: The Characters
Character is the heart of any story. I tend to have trouble where plot is the main focus and characters are just there to carry it out. I want characters and their decisions to lead the story. This film allowed every character to grow within the plot, and there was not one character without agency.
Eternals took a cast of over 10 brand new characters and made me invested in all of them. Every single character is a fully realized and complex individual. They are messy and emotional and ironically, some of the most human characters to ever come out of the MCU.
Sersi – Gemma Chan
In what is mostly an ensemble, Gemma Chan plays the “main character” Sersi. The plot revolves around Sersi, and the forward motion of the story depends on her choices. Despite her significance in the film, Sersi is the character about which I have least to say. She is the moral heart of the story. When she learned the truth from Arishem, she immediately did the right thing. I found her powers to be the least compelling. But even after all of that, I was moved to see her save the day. Gemma Chan has the heart and dignity of a true leading character.
Ikaris – Richard Madden
Ikaris is the character that I expected to like the most. He is played by Richard Madden (I’ve missed Robb Stark), is based off a character from mythology, and has powers that make him the “Superman” of the group. The way Richard Madden played those powers was very realistic; the way he slightly moved the muscles in his face when using the laser eyes added another layer of realism, and his flying is the best I’ve seen in live action. If people could fly, that is what it would look like.
His struggle kind of encapsulated the entire message of the movie – it was the struggle between his values and his duty vs. the love he has for his wife and family. Despite his struggle and initial betrayal, his love won out in the end.
I love a dark Superman story, but stories that I love the most are ones where love is more powerful than darkness. Eternals provided this most strongly in Ikaris, and I really hope to see him again in the MCU (despite his ending.) Richard Madden gave an award-worthy performance and it would be a shame to never bring him back.
Thena – Angelina Jolie
Angelia Jolie is a very experienced CGI actress and it really shows in this movie. The way Thena holds her weapons and the way she moves just adds another layer to the entire experience. Of all the cast, I truly believed that Thena was other-wordly and kind of mythic and larger than life.
Her struggle with her mind really spoke to me and the decision to keep her memories despite the danger was both powerful and cemented the themes throughout the movie. Memories are what make us who we are and it is unethical at best to rob a person of them.
Gilgamesh – Don Lee
If this is a story about found family and unconditional love, Don Lee’s Gilgamesh is the best example of that. He dedicated his life to helping Thena, but to him it was not a sacrifice; it is simply what you do for family.
Super strength is always fun to see on screen, so I loved Gilgamesh in his action scenes, but he shined in his softer scenes with Thena and the rest of the Eternals. I love that he took his time to learn to cook and as a home cook myself, my heart broke over dropping his pie.
Kingo – Kumail Nanjiani
Having Kingo bow out of the final showdown was a bold and possibly controversial move – but also the right one. These characters may look young, but they are thousands of years old. They have watched generations pass by, they’ve seen countless people die, they watched humans build the earth and destroy it. It is not surprising that Kingo might view this whole fight as simply the passage of time. And it’s definitely not surprising that he wants to remain loyal to both Ikaris and Arishem.
It is a testament to Kumail Nanjiani’s charisma that I was never mad at Kingo for leaving the team before the fight began.
Sprite – Lia McHugh
Sprite is actually a great example of the complexity with which these characters have been written. I found Sprite to be supremely annoying throughout the movie, and often wondered to myself if she ever did anything but complain. But by the end when she begged Sersi to turn her human – she got me. I finally understood her.
The themes of this movie surround family and what we do for love. The fact that none of the other Eternals even thought to stop loving Sprite after her betrayal is a testament to the bond that they share and that their love for each other supersedes all the rest of it.
Ajak – Salma Hayek
I initially disliked two characters in this movie; I discussed one of them above, and Ajak is the other. From the outset, I found her to be vague and unsentimental. It was obvious she was keeping something from the rest of the team. What I loved is that Zhao never portrayed her as “bad” – only a person who is doing their duty, but grows to love humanity so much that she is willing to turn away from her original motivation. I may not have cared for Ajak originally, but her character arc turned her into a hero that I could root for, and even miss.
Phastos – Bryan Tyree Henry
Phastos had an interesting set of powers that provided a compelling character arc through thousands of years. He basically works on technological advancement and his work is the cause of nearly every progression in human history. He was responsible for the engine and pushing humans towards it. But, as well all know, human progress has had some devastating effects as well.
The scene of Phastos at Hiroshima was a wrench to the heart, and Bryan Tyree Henry gave a beautiful and heartbreaking performance.
As the first openly gay superhero in live action movies, Phastos provided a long-time needed representation. His relationship with his husband and son was touching. They only had a few moments of screen time together, but I could feel their love through the screen and I felt their despair when Phastos had to leave.
Phastos had a fascinating character arc through his years that I would have loved to seen explored more deeply; feeling that humans wrought destruction with his inventions, deciding he no longer wanted to help them, to falling in love with a human and raising one and making them his first priority. Phastos, Ben, and their son really drive home the theme of love and all the sacrifices we will make for it.
Druig – Barry Keoghan
Druig. Oh, Druig. This is a character that I didn’t care about at all in the marketing materials (I thought Ikaris would be my favorite) but after Barry Keoghan was on screen for one second, I knew I was done for. He has very limited screen time (just enough to make us all want more) but I was drawn to his presence every time.
Despite his lack of physical prowess, I would venture to say he is the most powerful Eternal. When I said that this movie created complex and human characters, Druig was who I had in mind. He has the power to stop human conflict, but in the process, would rob us of free will. He had a very real moral struggle that was very compelling to watch unfold.
The entire cast was top tier but with Barry Keoghan in particular, I really believed he was immortal. You could see the centuries behind his eyes and the way he moved. The pain of living thousands of years is written across his features.
When we find him in present day, he is leading a cult in the Amazons, holding people against their will. So is he a villain? But he did save the world with the rest of the Eternals, as a hero. So is he something in between? I think Druig can stand with the other great morally gray characters of our time.
Makkari – Lauren Ridloff
Makkari, even with her very limited screen time, ended up being one of the strongest characters in the movie. Not only were her action scenes the highlight (watching her whoop Ikaris was a delight) but the speedster special effects were gorgeous and so much fun to watch. It looked almost realistic; like it wasn’t a movie, and she was really running that fast.
But what really drew me to Makkari was her presence and character. She lived through all the same tragedies as the other Eternals, but it never made her jaded or smug. Her smile is like actual sunshine and she brought life to every scene she was in.
A recurring theme throughout the film is that of love, and all the ways we can be affected by it. We see the love between then entire team, a familial kind of love that is completely unconditional. We see a more platonic but no less strong love between Thena and Gilgamesh, and we see the romance between both Sersi & Ikaris and Sersi & Dane. Gemma Chan had great chemistry with both Richard Madden and Kit Harington.
Every character is explored through their relationships with others. Sprite’s struggle is encapsulated by her feelings for Ikaris. Kingo’s loyalty to Ikaris is a fundamental part of his moral center. Gilgamesh dedicates his life of thousands of years to staying with Thena and helping her, rather than taking the easy route of allowing Thena to lose her memories.
The climax of the final fight, the reason why Ikaris backed down, was because his love for Sersi was stronger than his loyalty or his principles. His love for her won out over everything else. And though I wish the film gave us more background and development on their connection, it was a touching moment that cemented the final fight as one of my favorites in the MCU.
The most touching relationship in the entire movie was one that wasn’t even written in the actual text of the script itself.
Druig and Makkari are shown in early days, smiling and flirting with each other. Druig’s only smiles in the movie were reserved for Makkari, and he put up a harsh armor with everyone except her. Unlike the angsty Ikaris and Sersi, Druig and Makkari were fun and you could see with your eyes why they loved each other. At the most fundamental and basic level, they enjoy each others company.
The one sound made by Makkari in the film was her cry when she thought Druig died. And their reunion? My heart.
Eternals was a beautiful (literally – look at the shots in this film) film that centers around the unconditional love of a found family at its core, and all the ways that love can affect us. It did not trade emotional character moments for flashy action set pieces and is a more meditative and mythological film; certainly a change from the normal MCU formula, but definitely not worthy of the lowest rank in the franchise.
Oh, and it introduced Harry Styles to the MCU which is just two of my favorite things coming together as one, and I love that journey for me (if you understand that reference, try my Chicken Enchiladas!)