Monday February 07, 2022
Movie Review: Eternals (2021)
It wasn’t until someone referenced Thanos and “the Blip” that I remembered, “Oh right, this is Marvel.” It was so bad I was assuming it was DC/Warners.
Seriously, what a clusterfuck this is.
I’ll just raise one point, a minor point, really, but not minor at all. This is the moment I threw up my hands—and a little in my mouth. It takes place 1½ hours into a 2½ hour movie, and we’ve already been inundated with that Jack Kirby mythic-cosmic bullshit the entire time. Never a fan of that stuff. Seriously, once Jolly Jack left Yancy Street to wander the cosmos, well, what a noble mind was there o’erthrown.
Backstory. In 5,000 BC, a big Galactus-y thing named Arishem (voice: David Kaye) sends our titular heroes to Earth to save us from “Druids,” growly monstery things. They pretty much do so without breaking a sweat. Then they stick around. They’re not allowed to interfere in human wars and things like that; their only job is to save us periodically from the growly monstery, salivating things.
The Eternals don’t age but somehow they arrived in 5,000 BC with hairstyles that fit the 21st century. Attitudes, too. Oh, and they look as diverse as we want this century to look. Eternals are EOE. The actors hail from Mexico, Pakistan and Korea. Plus three Brits: Ireland, Scotland, England—and the English one is Asian. Plus three Americans: LA, Chicago, Fayetteville—and the latter two are Black. Plus one of those is deaf. She’s the first deaf superhero in the MCU! Plus they defy stereotypes. The Asian dude has the powerhouse punch while the big Black guy is the techie. What the? Plus the Black guy is gay. He’s the first openly gay superhero in the MCU! And the hot LA one suffers from Mahd Wy’ry. Whoa! She’s the first superhero with dementia in the MCU!
Representation is great, but I get the feeling the filmmakers were checking off boxes rather than looking after the story.
A bullet from the back of a bush
What is the story? They’re not the superheroes they think they are. They’re pawns in the game—synthetic creations sent here to make sure enough humans are created, so enough energy is created, so another celestial like Arishem can be born. The Earth will be destroyed in the process, but hey: omelette/eggs.
And it’s not just Earth. Arishem has seeded the galaxy with things that will create more of him. More me, less you. He’s like most of us that way.
Our heroes find out all this about 2/3 of the way through. Before then, they’re just trying to make do on Earth while awaiting the next step of Arishem. Examples: Sersi (Gemma Chan), the Asian Brit, works for the British museum or something; Phastos, the big Black guy (Brian Tyree Henry), fixes bikes in Chicago; while Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) is a longtime Bollywood star. Nanjiani is my favorite here. He can’t really shake his standup-comic background and seems slightly amused by it all. Most of the others are dully serious.
Oh right. They also have names that echo through the ages. They’re the reason certain Greek myths were created since they first landed in Greece: Sersi is Circe, Ajak (Selma Hayek) is Ajax, Ikaris (Richard Madden of “Game of Thrones”) is Icarus. It’s like the “Who Mourns for Adonais?” episode of the original series of “Star Trek“ but without the pathos.
Also like “Trek,” there are many conversations on whether humanity is worth saving. You’d think the Avengers defeating Thanos and literally saving half of all life in the universe would’ve ended that back-and-forth, but no, it’s still ongoing. And it’s the reason why I threw up my hands—and a little in my mouth. Phastos, for one, gave up on humanity long ago. Can you guess why?
Not the Holocaust, or the Rape of Nanjing, or the Battle of Verdun. I mean, I’m not a military historian but check out this list of casualties by battle, and the amount of casualties, particularly during WWI, and you wonder why it took Phastos so long. And I get it, battles are between soldiers, and the U.S. decimated civilians in Hiroshima; and yes, it’s the tech that bothers him, and how he helped the tech increase over the years until it led to the A-bomb. Even so, it doesn’t feel like the perspective of “an Eternal” who’s lived for 7,000 years. It feels like the perspective of an American who’s studied some undergrad history, mostly 20th century, and read maybe John Hershey’s account, and handwringingly thinks, “Oh, this is so bad that we did this” when, in the history of humanity’s pointless cruelty and destruction, Hiroshima feels like a blip. No pun intended.
His epitaph plain
Anyway, the movie was already dead to me by this point. Too many characters doing too little for too long. Too many arguments about nothing we care about. The best Marvel teams argue amongst themselves but we need to see them working together first. “Civil War” didn’t happen until after “Avengers.” This begins with ”Civil War.“ And a ”Civil War" that has no consequences.
Even after the big reveal that they’re pawns in the game, they still fight with each other: half of the Eternals back Arishem, half back humanity.
The screenplay is by several people without many writing credits: Kaz Firpo, Ryan Firpo, Patrick Burleigh and director Chloe Zhao, who won a deserved Oscar last year for “Nomadland.” Then she got sucked into this.
One wonders if this continues. Are the Eternals part of a bigger MCU plan? Phase Whatever? Because this is the first MCU movie to get a “rotten” rating from Rotten Tomatoes: 48%. And it didn’t do great at the box office, either, $164m/$402m, despite being released before Omicron. (Now there’s a name for a supervillain.) “Shang-Chi,” released in the midst of Delta, did better. Maybe because, for half the film, it stayed close to Yancy Street.