Eternals (2021) Review: Cosmic Fun Brought down to Earth

Eternals is good... like most MCU films, despite it being a very different MCU film.

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Eternals movie review 2021

What is Eternals about?

Eternals introduces the titular Eternals to the MCU. The Eternals are an alien race who have lived on Earth for thousands of years, sent here by the Celestials in order to defend humanity against creatures known as Deviants. The Eternals have only been given one rule to live by; they must not interfere with humanity beyond destroying any Deviants who appear.

For thousands of years, they believed their work was done and that they could just live a normal life until a new much more powerful Deviant turns up and forces them to come out of the shadows to team up to fight against the most powerful villain they’ve ever faced… and that’s just the beginning of this epic millennia-spanning tale.

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Eternals Review

Eternals is basically the exact film that one should expect after learning the person helming the project is the person behind Nomadland, it’s a slow ponderous film that leans heavily on visuals and an intensely human story. If you go into this expecting Marvel’s usual bombastic action scenes where a super-powered person gets into a fistfight with some kind of supervillain you’re going to be somewhat disappointed. 

Eternals is a lot more about the big picture, exploring this idea about multiple universes that have been overtaking this era of the MCU. It does this by introducing The Celestials, giant creepy gods who can create entire universes out of nothing and who are the ones that charged The Eternals with protecting the earth and also clearly have something else going on that looks to become a major conflict that’ll probably turn into another massive movie in 10 years (Be prepared to cry when they pay a few actors a shitload of money for a very brief appearance in the big fight against these domino-faced giants).

Now, as a film, Eternals has a few very hard jobs to do and the first one is to answer the question “Where the hell have these people been? We had a giant purple planet destroyer snap half the population away, could’ve used the help!” and they answer that well, it’s partially why this film required the epic scale it has.

Taking place over thousands of years in dozens of locations, the film hammers home why the Eternals had to let things happen without them to a point where hopefully that question can go away now. Its scale is epic because it needs to justify why this super powerful team didn’t stop things like Hiroshima or Thanos, it takes the time to answer that and uses every bit of the scale it’s been given to pull off some impressive work.

Eternals (2021) - Movie Still
Eternals (2021) – Movie Still

The second thing this film had to do was introduce us to almost a dozen new characters and make us love them, for the most part, it pulls that off. Characters like Icarus (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Cersei (Gemma Chan) are instantly intriguing and have some of the best emotional sequences in the entire film.

Then you have Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Gilgamesh (Don Lee) who all not only provide some of the most fun moments in the film, they’re huge wins for diversity in this genre since now we have gay, deaf and Korean superheroes in the MCU (Despite what idiots who review bombed this film might want to believe, diversity is a good thing and if you don’t like it… well, I’m not saying you’re a bad person but I’m not not saying it).

Then you have great comic relief in Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) and Sprite (Lia McHugh) who both get probably the funniest lines in the film, all this topped off with great smaller but important roles in Ajak (Salma Hayek) and Druig (Barry Keoghan). Each one of them gets a real moment to shine, both showing their worth as characters and delivering some of the best performances in the MCU.

It’s a cast that’s so great that you kind of wish they ended up in the same scene together after the opening credits but once we’re done with the opening fight and get the truly impressive shot that’s just above this paragraph, good luck getting another big heroic shot of the entire cast at the same time.

That problem of the cast being split up for the entire film might be why this film fumbles the third thing it needs to do – create a grandiose epic story that’s completely engaging. It certainly tries, it shot for the moon and pushed itself to do something unlike anything we’ve seen in the MCU. It’s huge, it’s enormous, it’s world-changing… and it just never quite reaches the height of its ambitions, at least not consistently. When this film works, it is absolutely fantastic in ways that the MCU has never been before but much like Nomadland, there are long stretches where you end up wondering when the next high is going to come. 

Most of those low moments come when Eternals plays with time, it flies back and forth from the present day to some era of the past in order to fill in some parts of the Eternal’s history. Sometimes this works really well, like when they explain what made Phastos decide to shut himself off from the world but there are times when it’s just very self-indulgent and kind of makes the film harder to follow.

Not impossible, but certainly harder than it’s been for any other MCU film. Hard enough that it’s kind of understandable why some people might have a tougher time keeping up with the film, its repeated flashbacks and reveals of secrets makes it feel like the viewer is trying to catch up with the film the entire time and that’s not really something that the MCU does.

Eternals broke out of the MCU formula, that’s a great thing… but that formula worked for a decade for a reason and without that familiar storyline to hold us through and a giant cast with various storylines all trying to do something this huge over two and a half hours it turns into a huge bombastic affair that can sometimes just feel a tad overwhelming.

Eternals, not great but certainly not bad

Eternals is certainly a different kind of MCU film, trying to be more grandiose and high class than everything that came before it and while it doesn’t always work, it’s still a genuinely good film. This is mid-tier MCU where you admire the ambition and the aesthetics but the story needed a little more work. It’s the MCU trying to show some maturity and growth, that it can be more than just explosions and big fights against strange beings from other planets. It can also be big, romantic, operatic even when it wants to be. It’s certainly not the worst thing to come from the MCU, it’s just very very different and not ashamed to revel in that difference.

There are two end-credits scenes, both of which seem to be setting up fairly major events in future films so as usual, stick around till the very end.

What did you think of Eternals?

Did you enjoy this movie about a group of Eternals and their time on earth?
Let us know on social media.

eternals movie still 2

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