by Alaisdair Leith
The current phase of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is off to a bit of a rocky start, with the underwhelming Black Widow and Shang-Chi sticking to the same MCU formula. After the spectacular finale of Phase 3 with Avengers Endgame, Eternals feels like the actual start of a new phase for the Marvel films and delivers a spectacle you won’t soon forget.
The story offers an epic story going back to the beginning of time and introduces Arishem, the prime celestial who gave light and life to the universe. When Earth was formed, and human life was introduced, a creature known as a Deviant began hunting humans and destroying the ability to evolve and create. As a result, Arishem sent a group of 10 immortal superheroes known as the Eternals to rid the Earth of the Deviants and stay in the shadows as protectors. Now everyone’s big question “Why didn’t they help with Thanos?” That question is answered here in full and makes sense as the scale of the big bad in this movie is on a whole other level.
There are a lot of superheroes in this team, and the film does its best to give each character their own time to shine. The Eternals are made up of Sersi (Gemma Chan) who can transform objects into other elements, Ikaris (Richard Madden), The MCU’s Superman with flights and laser eyes, Sprite (Lia McHugh), who can create illusions, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) an inventor with super intelligence, Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) the MCU’s Flash with super speed, Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) produces energy fireballs from his hands, Druig (Barry Keoghan) is the master of mind control, Gilgamesh (Don Lee) the super strong one, Thena (Angelina Jolie) a Wonder Woman style warrior who can produce weapons, most notably a sword and shield Amazonian style and lastly Ajak (Salma Hayek) the leader and protector of the Eternals who has the power of healing and the only one who can communicate with Arishem.
This film could have easily come undone at any second, and it really takes a steady writing and editing hand working with a talented director to get this right. Fortunately, this all comes together under the firm direction from Academy Award Winning director Chloe Zhao (Nomadland). This feels unlike any other MCU film made to date, the most significant notable change is the change of pace; everything is slowed right down, and while die-hard fans may not enjoy the lack of jokes every five seconds with quick action scenes zipping along, this film allows the story and characters to breathe and brings the audience into this world for just a tiny glimpse into the world of the Eternals.
Visually this film is leaps and bounds ahead of anything Marvel has done before. Zhao’s apparent influence of filming on locations and only using CGI when absolutely necessary for locations pays off. The lush rainforests, sweeping dry deserts, and beautiful beaches all help this world feel grounded, mainly when more fantastic elements come into play. The action sequences and CGI weaponry flawlessly blended into the real world are unlike anything the MCU has shown us before. Jolie, in particular, shines in her action sequences, drawing her signature sword and shield flashing in dark caves and gleaming in the sunlight of the hot, dry desert. When Ikarus flies and uses his laser eyes while pummeling enemies, it is very similar to scenes in Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel and Snyder Cut. The action is enormous yet still able to deliver a personal story that the audience will remember.
Each actor here brings in their A-game. The diversity in superhero movies is evolving, and Eternals, in particular, takes that even further with several surprising firsts that work in its favor and make it very clear that the audience for this film is more on the adult side than previous family-friendly fare. It’s no secret that the MCU’s first sex scene happens here; a stunningly beautiful beach sequence that adds to the story of this thousands of years old relationship is integral to the last half of the story. Zhao also introduces a deaf superhero that signs and a same-sex family that had my heart pounding with excitement, complete with stunning performances from Tyree Henry and Haaz Sleiman.
A lot will be said about the pacing and the lack of non-stop action in an MCU film. This allows the film to really hone in on each character, so by the time the action kicks in, you are entirely invested in these characters and sympathetic to their plight. Being a part of a family for thousands of years and seeing how each one reacts differently to Earth and the humans in it is a fascinating story to watch. Each character has their own hang-ups, and as they start to get back together, you can see how the world has changed them, and that adds new elements to the family.
Marvel’s Eternals is unlike anything the MCU has tried before. A focus study on galactic characters who really make the Earth feel small is a fresh perspective to take. The performances and focus on the characters themselves are enough to keep the audience invested in their journey and the hope to see the characters popping up again in the MCU over the coming years. While the pacing and dialed back action may not work for all MCU fans, the story is told well, and stunning visuals make this a bold and beautiful new direction for the Marvel cinematic universe.
Eternals is in cinemas Thursday the 4th of November.