Eternals Review: Baby’s First Adult Movie

Marvel’s Eternals is a film that you get the sense doesn’t want to be a Marvel movie. But it also doesn’t want to not be a Marvel movie. Truth be told, I’m not sure it knows what it wants to be but I don’t think it succeeds at any of it. Marvel movies all follow a similar formula but the very best ones use a particular film genre to elevate that formula. Winter Soldier is a 70s political thriller mixed with a Bourne film, Homecoming is a John Hughes movie, Guardians of the Galaxy is a Flash Gordon style space adventure. Eternals wants to be an adult drama, the kind that film snobs complain don’t get made anymore but then when one does get made like The Last Duel, they don’t see it. It’s a noble goal, to make a more mature thoughtful Marvel film, but the problem is that it’s still a Marvel film and it has to appeal to everyone. So what happens is that it plays like “Baby’s First Adult Movie”. The best Marvel films use a film genre to elevate the Marvel formula, Eternals genre sinks the Marvel formula and the Marvel formula sinks the genre, leaving behind nothing but giant pit of nothingness.

The Eternals are cosmic beings created thousands of years ago but the all powerful Celestials. They’re job was to protect humanity against bland CGI dog monsters know as the Deviants. After they wiped out all the Deviants, they stayed on Earth where they aren’t allowed to mettle in human affairs. If you ask me, Thanos trying to wipe out half of all life in the universe is more than human affairs but that’s the least of this movie’s problems. The Deviants return and it’s time for the Eternals to get the band back together.

There’s 10 Eternals and exactly 2 of them of interesting. 1 of those 2 is only interesting because Kumail Nanjiani is just so damn likeable. Simply put, this movie fails to make me care about any of these completely unknown comic book space gods. There’s simply too many of them to give anyone a proper character arc. The other Marvel movie that was based off a relatively obscure comic was Guardians of the Galaxy and that movie succeeded because it made us care about those characters. Perhaps because there were 5 less Guardians than there are Eternals but it also knew how to smartly and efficiently convey those characters to us. We learn more about Peter Quill in the opening sequence than we do about any of these character in 2 and a half hours. That movie gave a tree that only says three words a character arc. This movie thinks backstory is the same as character. This movie is 2 hours and 37 minutes and it’s filled with flashbacks to show the different characters at different points throughout human history. That’s great for giving an insight into a character but that’s the most surface level thing you can do.

This brings me to my original point. The whole movie plays like it’s “Baby’s First Adult Movie”. It treats the viewer like they’ve never seen a drama or a movie made for people above the age of 15. It wants to be a meditation on the nature of humanity but it explores that theme with the same subtlety as the movie Crash explored racism. Which is none. This is a film in which a character whose technological advancements lead humans to create the atomic bomb and after the destroy Hiroshima, that character says “What have I done” and we’re not supposed to laugh.

Does the film have some bright spots? Sure. As I said, Kumail is great and Gemma Chan is good as the only legitimately interesting character. There’s a diverse cast of characters which is nice to see in a franchise full of middle aged white dudes. The cinematography is good. Visually striking at times, it’s certainly the best shot MCU movie. But even that is in service of trying too hard to be taken seriously. For as gorgeous as some of the shot composition is, this is a dull looking film. The Eternals comics are bright, vibrant and wacky. Everything in this movie is muted as if a dramatic movie cannot possibly be colorful. Just another instance of the film looking down upon it’s audience, thinking “MCU fans will think it’s more serious and for adults if there are no interesting colors”

I’m not the biggest Zack Snyder fan but I respect him. I respect that he has his own style and he never compromises it. Every one of his films is distinctly his and while I might not always like his work, I respect that only he can make a Zack Snyder film. Well, Eternals feels like a Zack Snyder film made by someone who isn’t Zack Snyder and doesn’t understand him. It feels like they wanted to make a serious superhero movie and so they copied the man who made the most serious superhero movies in recent memory. That doesn’t work. Snyder’s DC films, Batman vs Superman in particular might have missed a lot of what they were going for, but they never felt like they were films that were fighting against their very nature and at least had faith that the audience could handle a more serious tone. They also had characters that were well known enough to care about no matter the flaws in the storytelling. Eternals doesn’t have that luxury. Eternals more than any other superhero film thus far had to make damn sure we cared about these heroes and it failed.

Eternals wants to be an adult movie that doesn’t trust that Marvel’s audience knows what an adult movie is. It’s drama is surface level, it’s character motivations smack you in face through constant flashbacks. There’s little subtlety and even less reason to care. This is Marvel’s Josstice League where 8 out of the ten characters are Cyborg.

Rating: Took a Couple Steps Towards Paddington Then Got Bogged Down in Exposition

This review used our old rating system, The Paddington Scale. To learn more please read this post

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