Speaking of the MCU, Eternals distinguishes itself from its 25 cousins by rarely invoking any of them. Brief, passing mentions are made of Thanos, the Blip, and the Avengers, but this is a standalone film and a mini-universe within the larger canon, right down to the mid-credits and post-credits scenes (both are Amazed you over deep cuts, one pretty good and the other feels more like a cheap stunt). How and whether the Eternals will interact with the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, or anyone else in the MCU is a question likely to be answered in the coming movies.
The movie at hand certainly plays out more like a relationship melodrama than a superhero action ride, with a majestic sweep, less of the usual funny dialogue, and a few daring moments like a real (albeit still modest) love scene with two naked adults. . The film also features, in a different order, the MCU’s first gay kiss. And here, unlike a similar moment in The Rise of Skywalker, that kiss feels at least somewhat deserved and organic, again thanks to the cast and Zhao’s way of simple human interaction.
Chan, Henry, Barry Keoghan (as the mind-controlling Druig), and Madden are all quite strong, with Chan bringing Sersi’s love for humanity to the fore, and Madden adding imperfection to essentially the Superman of the group. The best is Nanjiani, who takes his usual comedic persona in a dramatic direction as he grapples with a painful existential conflict and shoots energy from his hands. The weak link is Jolie, who as Thena does have a few good moments, but as usual seems to be posing more than acting. Much better is a sincere Don Lee (Train to Busan) as her loyal friend, the super-strong Gilgamesh (in another first, the first Korean superhero in a Hollywood movie).
The entire cast looks really good in their Eternals costumes, guiding their characters in effective mixes of the humane and the almighty. Zhao lines them up in some stunning shots throughout the film, giving everything a colorful, widescreen texture that you should see in a large theater. The presence of the great Kirby can also be felt throughout the geometric designs that permeate the technology of the Eternals and the places where they left their mark on human history.
Eternals itself is far from perfect, but – as with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and show like WandaVision-it does indicate that the Marvel film factory isn’t content to rest on its already massive laurel wreath. Introducing a large new cast of mostly unknown characters, giving them a complex, time-spanning backstory and making the central conflict more personal than usual, Eternals isn’t exactly the arthouse fare we’ve seen from Zhao before, but it isn’t your typical superhero tent pole, either. When it finds the sweet spot between the two, it works best.
Eternals is in cinemas from November 5.
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