Chloe Zhao has been on a roll since Nomadland won big awards at this year’s Oscars and Marvel has been on a roll churning out successes like Black Widow and Shang-Chi.
But nothing quite beats the magnum-opus appeal of Eternals, arguably 2021’s biggest and most highly awaited Hollywood title.
The film is set after the return of half the population in Avengers: Endgame (2019) ignites “the emergence”, the Eternals—an immortal alien race created by the Celestials who have secretly lived on Earth for over 7,000 years—reunite to protect humanity from their evil counterparts, the Deviants.
It appears as though the main characters the Eternals are separated and scattered across Earth for centuries now.
Sersi (led by Gemma Chan) is shown in the UK – where she’s with Dane Whitman (Kit Harington). Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) is a famous Bollywood star. Druig (Barry Keoghan) appears to be living somewhat in isolation in a forest before the rest of the Eternals come to see him.
Thena (Anjelina Jolie) and Gilgamesh (Don Lee) seem to be living together. Meanwhile, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) has settled down with his family. Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) is only shown in the modern-day speed-reading by herself with an Oculus headset nearby.
It is Ajak (Salma Hayek) who recruits everyone and brought back half of the world’s population that disappeared in Thanos’ snap.
As a neutral viewer of this universe, the context is made very clear at the start of the film and narrated in a non-linear manner. There is a lot of flashbacks and present-day cuts, making it quite challenging to follow the story.
Chloe Zhao has the knack for exploring poignant self-discovery stories, which delve profoundly into the paradigms of humanity.
Plus, her vision of open landscape and earthy scenes is very much prominent here too. Like Nomadland, the varying locations and settings symbolise the changing times and how this has a cerebral and sentimental impact on the character.
Internalised conflict is an eminent theme, where the division of mankind impacts the way these supreme beings operate and how Celestials are constantly battling between their duties as supreme beings as well as their emotions.
Whilst the intention is noble, sadly it gets repeated too many times in the movie, making it seem like a superhero sermon, attempting too hard to sound like the ‘voice of reason’.
The reason why recent superhero movies work is due to the stories being told attentively. For instance, Wonder Woman 1984 comes from a different universe, but yet it is the laughter, high-octane effects and focused story which makes it a wholesome watch. It also addresses societal issues too, subtly, but effectively.
However, here, it almost seems like Zhao is eager to promote ‘world peace’ rather than sincerely tell a narrative of splendour and soul. The idea of combining her vision with a superhero story works good on paper but somehow falls flat to lacklustre pace and length.
I understand that introducing multiple characters for a world like Eternals takes time, but the approach is anti-climatic, occupying most of the duration in backstories and dialogues on how catastrophe is lurking. Action scenes are squirted in places, making it quite irregular.
Furthermore, what the movie lacks majorly, is humour. Casting a comedy expert like Kumail Nanjiani could’ve proved to be a strength, but actually turns out to be wasted. He is in fact, the subject of cultural appropriation and stereotype.
Shots of (clearly) a Hindu priest reciting mantras with Sersi and Ikaris (Richard Madden) wearing marigold garlands, whilst other Eternals are dressed in Indian old/traditional attires are casually flung in to look inclusive.
Then there is the cringe-worthy Bollywood sequence, which again, seems intentionally shoved in to capitalise on South-Asian audiences and yet there is only one Indian actor in the movie.
It is very disappointing to see such regressive depictions of our culture and people when clearly, there is a lot more to us.
Bollywood is no longer just about singing and dancing, but sadly, this is never acknowledged in movies by the West. With Hollywood films attempting to be ‘woke’ nowadays, visuals in Eternals only prove that Indians have a long way to go for equality within the industry.
Performances by the cast, especially Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Lia McHugh and Lauren Ridloff, stand out the most (though I wanted to see more of Angelina Jolie).
Given that Ridloff plays Makkari, the first mute and hearing-impaired superhero, she is absolutely formidable and marvellous to watch.
Furthermore, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos is the first superhero to be depicted as gay in an MCU film. To see a same-sex kiss in a movie of this calibre is a very endearing and progressing sight, which goes to show that Marvel films can instil social change, should they wish to.
Eternals might have the style, sets and special effects but lacks punch. The approach is lacklustre and could’ve been a much more engaging watching watch.
Might need a superhero to save this one.
.5 (2.5/5 stars)