The newest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eternals, tackles the unasked questions about how Earth was formed and who the deities are within the superhero world. With a massive cast of stars and an Academy Award winning director, Eternals was set up to win – or so it would seem.
While normally I don’t like to read any critical reviews before seeing a movie myself (I don’t like to be swayed by someone else’s take), I was late to the party seeing Eternals so inevitably I saw the critical and audience reception before screening myself. Other critics panned the film citing a mismatch of styles, a muddled theme and a too long runtime.
Were they right? The Conservative Critic will let you know by asking: Is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? and : Is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservatvie Critic Meter Check: Eternals
Overall Rating: Respectable
Eternals is an almost lyrical folk story about the mythological beings which make-up the Marvel universe (as in all things Marvel, aliens basically). It follows 10 extraplanetary protectors of Earth who have been sent by their leader who is comparable to Zeus or God or a deity of some kind belonging to a race of beings called Celestials. These Eternals as they’re called stay on earth for thousands of years to fight off monsters called Deviants all while helping humankind evolve and develop never interfering with human conflicts.
The story is quite complex and extremely allegorical. It is written much more like a Greek mythology than a traditional Marvel comic story and as such was probably too complicated for Marvel to try and weave into their MCU. The story primarily serves as an exploration of the ethics of deism as well as the beauty of humanity. Academy Award winning director, Chloe Zhao deals with this core element of the story with all her signature artistry and care.
However, in order to make the movie work at all within the MCU, there are some pretty jarring shoe horns of humor and cartoonish CGI which really dampen the overall effect of the work. Further, there is far too much expositional prose and even expositional reading attempting to bring viewers up to speed in the complex story. If you can’t tell the story without having to monologue a bunch of background, you don’t know how to tell the story.
The beautiful craftsmanship carefully tended by Zhao’s artistry combined with the lack of liberal agenda (I think?) and the rare exploration of the value of humanity to a high power which mirrors the themes of Christianity and the story of Jesus Christ (as well as other religious texts) was enough to make the movie overall good and worth a watch even with some of its glaring problems.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: For an allegorical mythology? Yes. For a Marvel movie? Definitely not.
If a viewer signed up to see a film directed by Chloe Zhao which explores the supernatural mythology of earth at its creation and throughout time then yes it is very fun and exactly what they signed up for. However, as my readers know, it’s important to rate films based on their intention. The movie was created and released as not only under the Marvel umbrella but part of its core universe and story. These characters and the overall storyline are supposed to line up with Shang Chi and Captain America and Iron Man. With that in mind, the movie is far too existential and pretty dry. There are very few action sequences and they’re all sort of interpersonal and broken up by long segments of world creation (not unlike this year’s Dune actually). The big climax at the end is beautiful and high intensity but also pretty locked in emotional conflict and interpersonal character developments. Did I cry? Yes I did. But is it an MCU smash success? No.
And further, two hours and forty minutes is an insult to viewers who endured only twenty minutes more for the major battle movie, Avengers: End Game (which I also thought was too long). What’s weird about how clearly too long it is, is that it also feels incredibly rushed. There is simply way too much story to fit into a single movie and yet the nicheness of its content doesn’t lend itself well to a limited run series.
If they go into it expecting the pace of Nomadland (Zhao’s award winner) not the pace of Shang Chi and viewers will be far more satisfied.
Does it have intellectual/artistic value?
Rating: Beautifully made…but with problems
Starting with what works: the film is absolutely breathtaking. What Zhao knows is how to capture a beautiful landscape and film it in dim light. Scene after scene is just awe inspiring vistas with the chilling anxiety of limited sun which threatens to take the view away and invokes the idea that beauty is as fleeting as the day but also that you only need a little light to see it. Her eye is unmatched in Hollywood and what she creates on screen is visual poetry.
Further, there is no one who does what Zhao does in terms of capturing quiet moments of humanity. Even in a loud and complex superhero film, Zhao’s characters deliver power in tiny and subtle gestures which hit viewers at the core of their emotions.
Other than Zhao’s mastery, It is a treat to see Angelina Jolie on screen any time but especially in her role as Thena, the greatest warrior of the group who struggles with a mental illness unique to her kind. Her character is driven mad by the weight of her own memories which in and of itself is conceptual genius. Jolie handles the material with her veteran professionalism and is the only character who is truly graceful on screen.
Additionally, Selma Hayek as Ajak is sensational. A mature role for Hayek, she brings forward an Ajak who is simultaneously beloved and dangerous. Her performance is reminiscent of Anthony Hopkins as Odin in Thor: Ragnarok when he counsels Thor from the afterlife. There is a deep sense of credibility and strength in her Ajak and it’s one of the better performances in the film and the franchise.
The problems with the movie are impossible to ignore even if the artistry outweighs them. The film kicks off with a few paragraphs on screen to explain the complicated backstory of the Eternals and Celestials. As if that wasn’t enough, the characters repeatedly provide more exposition in lengthy explanatory monologues. Either trust the viewers to pick up the nuances or don’t tell the story. That kind of explanatory dialogue is a relic of Hitchock’s failed movie endings. It’s bad writing and it’s inexcusable no matter how complicated the story may be. The only paragraphs viewers want to read are Star Wars.
Additionally, the tone was extremely confusing. Zhao’s vision was clear. Earthy and ethereal all at once. So when the characters are dressed in cheap looking Spandex costumes with little capes (Except Jolie’s character who wears all white armor and looks amazing), it is extremely unsettling and even amateurish. Further, while the comedic relief of Kumal Nanjiani (Big Sick, Silicon Valley) who plays Kingo fits into the story fine, his character has absolutely no other relevance to the plot. He enters and exists without changing the outcome in any way. You can’t write in comedic relief and not actually tie it into the rest of the story then it just becomes nonsensical.
Further, the internet made a pretty big deal about how much muscle Nanjiani gained to prepare himself for this part but it was actually irrelevant that he was muscular. In fact, the movie featured a deaf Eternal where the fact of her deafness is not a plot point, she simply is deaf. Meaning: the supernatural status of the characters did not make them conventionally “ripped” or “perfect” like in the case of Thor and Captain America. So why on earth was Nanjiani forced to go on a crazy diet and bulk up? He could have just looked normal.
Finally, the CGI used for the Celestials and Arishem is very cartoonish and does not match the style of the rest of the film (even the other CGI of the film). It does match the style of the other MCU installments like Ragnorak but in this film it stands out too far and seems oddly disjointed.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: I don’t think so…
The film deals with morality and ethics the entire way through. The Eternal’s question their rights and responsibilities as deities and ask themselves often if humans are worthy of their protection. Ultimately, humans are portrayed as loving and creative people who have flaws but whose flaws give us character and resolve. Its very pro-human race which seems anti-liberal to me considering they think humans are inherent diseases in the ecosystem.
It also seems to mirror the sentiments of Jesus Christ who in the Christian tradition came to earth to live as one of the humans and died to save them even after they showed him their worst colors by murdering him in cold blood. This exact story doesn’t play out in Eternals, but the sentiment is there. Humans are worthy of being saved and quite often save each other. And when we mourn things like violence and that makes us wonder if humans really are worth saving, we have to ask ourselves: who, then, are we mourning?
These concepts to me seem void of politics but frankly, they’re so high level for any movie and I haven’t really dived into the origins of the concepts to determine how they play out in modern politics. But from a cursory watch: no liberalism to be found.