This review contains spoilers, because I cannot really emphasize my full thoughts on it without spoiling a few major plot points. Reader’s discretion is advised.
“The Eternals” is Marvel Studios third theatrical release this year, releasing alongside four Disney+ television series. At times, it is fantastic and feels incredibly fresh but at other times it is painfully boring to sit through. The movie suffers from major pacing problems, an overstuffed cast of characters that never get fully fleshed out, and ultimately its existence within this franchise holds it back. This movie feels like an obligation more than anything else, a film to watch once so that you know who the characters are whenever they make their dramatic entrance in the third act of the next Avengers movie.
Don’t misinterpret this, I still think that Eternals was a decent movie; it just felt incredibly underwhelming. The visuals are some of the best visuals the MCU has ever featured, Chloe Zhao’s direction as well as Ben Davis’ cinematography pair for a visually spectacular film, but it feels incredibly hollow.
The biggest issue the film has is the progression in which its storyline unfolds. Eternals covers over 7,000 years worth of chronology, and the film sets this up to be a millenia expanding epic, but what it ends up being is a decent storyline in the modern day interjected with expository flashbacks that conveniently correspond to whatever is happening in the modern day storyline. These flashbacks are where most of the action sequences take place, which is ironic because they’re some of the blandest action I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie.
Which brings me to my next point: this movie has no true antagonist. Throughout the movie, the Deviants, an alien race of predators come into conflict with the Eternals, but they have no motivation beyond “kill the Eternals.” They are never really fleshed out, mostly because they don’t talk until near the very end, but their development as antagonists takes a back seat because the movie is already juggling so many characters.
This movie also has one of the worst twists in any superhero movie and what makes it so terrible isn’t even the twist, it’s specifically how the twist is presented. The twist comes in two different moments in the film, first in the form of a five minute long expository dump to one of the characters. It’s the exact opposite of the twist in “Spider-Man Homecoming,” which is the gold standard for superhero movie twists. In one line, everything you thought you knew about the movie is changed, and the stakes are raised tenfold. This movie’s twists are the exact opposite because the movie lacks a true villain.
The second twist is even worse, specifically because it’s a trope that I am incredibly sick of: the evil Superman trope. The movie reveals that Ikaris (the MCU Superman stand-in) is actually the one who killed Ajak (the previous leader of the Eternals). The Boys, Invincible and Brightburn are just a few examples of movies and shows in recent memory to feature a “what if Superman was evil” twist, and even the Superman featured in the recent Justice League movie is evil for a major portion of the movie. I was looking forward to seeing a version of the Superman trope be a good guy, but sure enough they make him evil.
What makes that twist so much worse is that I actually very much enjoyed Ikaris as a character and thought that he was one of the character’s whose relationship with the other characters made the movie much more enjoyable to watch. That being said, the real standout here is Kumail Nanjiani’s character, Kingo, an Eternal who has the power of energy manipulation. Kumail Nanjiani being able to use finger guns to shoot magic sci-fi energy bullets is pretty self explanatory for why it’s cool. Despite Kingo being one of the best parts of the movie, he doesn’t even appear in the finale of the film, and his presence is sorely missed.
The movie does some things very well, but at other times completely drops the ball. It starts off with an incredibly strong opening but fails to truly make you care about all of the characters. Introducing eight superheroes in a movie was a bold decision that didn’t pay off, and if the film had featured a smaller roster it would likely have felt more cohesive. At the end of the day, it is only a movie that is worth seeing if you are a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and need something to watch while waiting for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” to come out.