By Marc S. Sanders
Was I dozing on and off during Marvel’s latest film, Eternals, or was I becoming interested and uninterested during a bloated running time of two and half hours?
As an avid comic book reader during the 70s and 80s, especially Marvel comics, I must admit I don’t know much about the team of gods known as The Eternals. So, I went into this film kind of blind. Reader, I don’t feel any more educated having seen the film. These expressionless number of characters arrive on Earth 7000 years ago and apparently, they are assigned with protecting the planet’s course of events through history by fending off CGI monsters knowns as the Deviants, and that’s all they are supposed to do. Allow the dinosaurs to perish. Let Hitler do his thing. Have Thanos snap his fingers. Just take care of the Deviants.
You know what the Deviants look like to me? An early stage of computer graphics that we would see on a behind the scenes DVD documentary contained on the second disc of a Jurassic Park 25th anniversary edition. The geeky visual effects wizard would show this deviant on his lap top as an early concept of a raptor or T-Rex. I dunno. Maybe it was the screening I saw at a Regal Cinema that soured me on the visuals in Eternals. Everything seemed so dim and unlit at times. When the Eternals are taking refuge in a woodsy campsite, that looks as simple as the Honey I Shrunk The Kids playground in Disney World, and a dino like Deviant roars and picks up a character with it’s tentacles only to toss the person into a wood shed, I felt like I was watching one of those 3D amusement park rides. The computer animation blended with the human actors never flowed convincingly in this film. This is maybe the worst looking special effects film in Marvel’s library of films. Nothing looks natural here.
A small sect of the characters is interesting. Most are quite boring actually. Take Ikaris for example. This guy, played by Richard Madden, flies and shoots powerful yellow laser blasts from his eyes. Otherwise, there’s nothing I can say about his background. He’s so unentertainingly morose and blah. Sersi (Gemma Chan) is just the same, and yet she’s supposed to be more optimistic. Almost twenty-four hours later and honestly, I forgot her powers or what she’s about.
Angelina Jolie is here too. Moving on. Salma Hayek is here as well, and yeah, moving on.
The most interesting character is the one causing controversy in the news over being the first Marvel super hero to have a gay kiss. That’s only a fleeting moment and truly unworthy of causing any kind of uproar. (Find something better to get pissed about people! Men fall in love with one another. This is nothing new.) Brian Tyree Henry plays Phastos, who specializes in advancing technology over time that somehow becomes knowledge to the humans of Earth without him taking credit for it. Phastos has a funny situation as he balances being a god on the planet for the last 7000 years, while also being a current day family man. More so, he’s a tragically sad character. The best moment (not scene, because regrettably it is not explored long enough) depicts Phastos gazing upon Hiroshima in 1945 following the dropping of the atomic bomb. He can not help, as a god, to feel responsible for this outcome, while being consoled that this is not his responsibility to accept. Remember Phastos, you’re just here to fend off dumb looking, unfinished monsters.
The other good character is Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) – the god who eventually goes on to be a conceited and well-loved Bollywood actor/director. Nanjiani is best used as the humor factor of the film with his tag along assistant cameraman (Harish Patel) who films all of the ongoing action for a possible documentary. This is a good setup for a joke that doesn’t materialize well enough.
Marvel lent too much responsibility to its director Chloe Zhang, who to my knowledge does not have much experience with the big budget extravaganza films that’s expected of these installments. Zhang was a large contributor to the script. I’m going to take a guess and presume she’s not the comic book expert that say, Sam Raimi or Kevin Smith are. She’s an Oscar winning director (Nomadland) who is a master photographer, but a film like Eternals tells me that if you take her out of the natural environments and put her in fantasy land computer graphics, you are not going to get the same thing. This is like asking a guy who flips burgers at McDonald’s to prepare a $200 well aged Filet Mignon. With Zhang directing this film, reader you are just not getting your money’s worth.
Everything seems very flat in Eternals. The script is repetitive. The narration of the story is that the team gradually reunites with one another following the unexpected death of one of their members. When the characters do meet up with each other though, they explain the same news again and again and again. This might be the way it is in real life when your 99-year-old grandfather kicks the bucket and you make one phone call after another. However, in a film that luxury is not necessary to move the picture along. Audiences are much more intelligent than this film gives credit. They’ll make the safe assumption that when Phastos comes on the scene, he’ll have been caught up to date. Yet, the picture ignores that opportunity of convenience, and just needlessly stretches the running time.
Eternals is not The Avengers. These guys are boring. They are written boring. For the most part, they are acted boring. There’s no sarcasm or biting insults among them. There’s hardly any affection among them either, or even hate. Think even beyond the Avengers for great team ups. Consider Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint in the first Harry Potter film, or Han, Luke and Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy. There’s a chemistry to those characters that’s not in the Eternals; a love/hate relationship of jabs and hugs among the peers. Even when they sit around a table for dinner, the most interesting thing the Eternals can talk about is who is going to take over the Avengers now that Iron Man and Steve Rogers are no longer around. These folks have been separated from themselves for the last couple of thousand years or so. Don’t they wanna catch up with one another, and maybe talk about themselves and what they’ve been up to?
The other issue with the film is the constant time jump from the times of B.C. to present day back to B.C. to early 20th century to present day and on and on. This isn’t a Quentin Tarantino film where the fun is in piecing these moments together. These time jumps have no impact. I’d argue that it might have been more effective to just begin at the Eternals’ arrival on Earth and go through time chronologically. Take me on a 7000-year journey. Let me see what I can uncover. For an observational director like Chloe Zhang, this is a missed opportunity here. She could have demonstrated how the Eternal characters develop over time and get mixed up in side stories like becoming a private school teacher, or a loving dad or a film maker. Then you have an arc to each of these misfits. You’ll even have an arc to the planet Earth, and that could be very cool. Don’t know what I mean? Look at Zhang’s Nomadland from last year or Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, or even Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Eternals could have better demonstrated how history has an impact upon itself.
Within the Marvel lexicon, this is not a necessary film. It quickly dismisses the biggest story that came down the pike with the Thanos character causing all kinds of trouble, and then settles into its own mire. In other words, who asked for this picture? I have to wonder if Marvel films are finally jumping the shark or crawling from under the dumpster (remember Glenn from The Walking Dead). Have they used up all of the hot properties, that Disney owns at least, and are now settling for these minor characters? Maybe or maybe not. After all, the best parts of Eternals, for this comic book reader at least, were the post credit scenes. Still, I didn’t pay $12.00 to wade through two and a half hours of sleep-inducing material just so I could catch a glimpse of two vague teaser moments either.