Sunday, October 31, 2021

Eternals - Movie Review

The Movie: Eternals

The Director: Chloé Zhao

The Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree
Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, with Kit Harington, with Salma
Hayek, Angelina Jolie

The Story: When monstrous creatures called the Deviants mysteriously return, the Eternals—a group of heroes from beyond the stars who have protected Earth since the dawn of man—are forced to reunite in order to defend humanity once again.

The Review:
Prior to this project, I don't think an MCU movie has come out with more pressure and expectation packed into it and especially when it was announced that Chloé Zhao would be the film's director right after she won multiple Academy awards for her movie Nomadland. Add in a cast of Hollywood all stars, which also happens to be the most diverse cast of any MCU film ever, including the likes of Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayak, and Gemma Chan alongside Game of Thrones veterans Richard Madden and Kit Harington.

Adding more weight to the production, the story is stacked with the responsibility of telling the origin of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, tracing back gigantic piles of history and introducing a full Avengers style roster of characters that are powerful on a cosmic scale and then weaving all of that into the fabric of everything we already know. With all of that on the line, I understand why the big wigs at Marvel would want to stack the deck with the highest level of talent possible and here we are. The movie is finally here in all its glory and yes it's huge, it's bold, it's beautiful too look at (a hallmark of Zhao's movies), and it is nothing like any other Marvel movie that has come before it.

It's most important to understand that last comment because your expectation going into this movie will have an impact on how your brain accepts it, processes it, and lets you know whether you think it is good or not. Remember when Guardians of the Galaxy was about to come out and everyone outside of hardcore, long time Marvel comic book fans knew nothing about the raccoon, the tree, and the rest of those crazy characters. Then the movie came out with a one two punch of attitude and comedy that ended up being so irresistible most would consider it to still be in the top tier of the entire franchise. Eternals is kind of like that but in a completely different way.

Eternals takes a huge swing at creating a heavily dramatic, cosmic scale story that takes its time unraveling everything it has to offer and Zhao maintains a very deliberate and thoughtful pace which stands in stark contrast to the fast paced adventure spectacles we have grown accustomed to from Marvel. Is this a good or bad thing? That is about as subjective of a question as there is when it comes to this movie. If what you want is a movie filled with Guardians level swagger, Iron Man level wit, and Shang-Chi level high flying action, this movie may not deliver to your liking. If you are willing to sit with a two hour and 30 minutes long story as it unfolds an entire universe in front of you while mixing in some of those aforementioned elements, then you're going to be just fine.

Chloé Zhao was given the keys to this pivotal story for two reasons. Her previous movies are small in scale yet have that big cinematic quality that makes them essential for viewing on the biggest screen you can find and she absolutely delivers a knockout blow with this film. The visuals are epic and beautiful and eye popping and are just begging for you to see them on the biggest screen you can find. Yes, there are lots of CGI shots, this is a Marvel movie after all, and Zhao handles these scenes as well as anyone has up to this point, seamlessly blending big moments of action with smaller moments of drama and exposition.

The other reason Zhao was handed this franchise is because she is pretty dang brilliant at developing characters and weaving their stories together in very natural and authentic ways. Right off the bat she is tasked with introducing ten super hero level characters that have lived for centuries and have had a profound impact on the history of humanity both as a team and as individuals. I honestly don't know of anyone who could have handled this task better than Zhao did even given one of the longest run times in the franchise's history. This is the biggest, most expansive origin story we've ever seen and the characters we meet will have a huge impact on the franchise as it moves forward into a more cosmic scale.

The diversity of the cast is aso  huge step forward for a franchise that failed to provide a woman led super hero movie until well into its third act or phase as they're called and it wasn't until Black Panther that Hollywood finally opened its eyes to new, diverse possibilities. Now we have Pakistani actor Kumail Nanjiani, Korean action star Ma Dong-seok aka Don Lee, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Marvel's first openly gay super hero, and Lauren Ridloff, a former Miss Deaf America who is the first deaf actor to play an MCU, super hero type character. The Eternals transcend any sort of racial barriers or other stigmas human beings have built for themselves and it's nice to see all of these people just existing together as they are without the "hey look at this" type of treatment.

In a recent interview, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige stated that Sersi, played by Gemma Chan (Astrid in Crazy Rich Asians), will surface as the central figure of this story and sure enough she absolutely becomes the heart of what this movie is all about. Chan's performance matches the drama and gravity of what this story ends up meaning and I was very happy to see her emergence as a prominenit figure not just within the Eternals but to the entire MCU moving forward. The rest of the cast features a wild array of personalities and I wish we had more time with each of them although I'm not trying to say the movie should have been longer, 150+ minutes is more than enough for most movies, but there is enough here that their story could have necessitated the build up of movies that introduced the original group of Avengers back when all of this started.

Maybe even a Disney+ series leading up to this movie would have been beneficial in respect to character introductions, interactions, and more in depth development. I'm kind of on board with that idea but I guess there's nothing we can really do about that now and lots of cats are out of their bags so here we are. Given the pacing and deliberate tone of this movie, I can understand why people may be underwhelmed by how overwhelming the whole thing is and I also believe that it is going to be one of those movies that is appreciated and enjoyed more and more as time goes on. I honestly believe that Chloé Zhao has created the most complete cinematic drama that the MCU could possibly offer to this point and time will bear this out to be true.

The Verdict:
Eternals takes a bold, dramatic turn and shifts the MCU into a new direction with a host of new characters played by some of the top talents in the business. Director Chloé Zhao takes on Marvel's most ambitious project yet and delivers a beautifully filmed, long winded, super hero drama that defies genre expectations.

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