'Eternals' Review: Chloe Zhao introduces new brand of flawed but relatable superheroes
Superheroes might be the ones to save the world from any form of threat there is, but they are not necessarily perfect. And sometimes that's the way it works. Chloe Zhao's 'Eternals' are the latest heroes foraying into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and they are just like the Avengers — flawed and relatable. What sets the film apart is the classic Zhao touch of making things larger than life, a raw display of emotions, and a grand setting that just mesmerizes throughout the film.
'Eternals' isn't about the classic good vs bad. It is a celebration of life. And considering all that the world has gone through since last year, there's no harm in just taking a moment to celebrate all those responsible for bringing in a semblance of normalcy in the world. In Zhao's work, the appreciation of the world's evolution to what it is now is admired by the Eternals who have watched the world war, celebrate, love, live, and laugh. They watched in silence as Thanos snapped half the world from existence. They watched Tony Stark make the supreme sacrifice, and they watched just about every piece of history that shaped the world into what it is.
Alternating between time periods that rock all the way back to the BC, 'Eternals' shows how the cosmic heroes created by Arishem, a Celestial have played their part in balancing the universe. And while they may be greater than Gods, they aren't immortal. The ensemble cast comprising Ajak (Salma Hayek), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Klingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan) and Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-Seok) all share enough screentime to provide a sense of knowing to their relatively unknown past.
Their abilities aren't out of the box. It's standard-issue — flight, laser beams, self-healing, fighting skills that can make Thor bleed, super speed, mental manipulation, and the works. And yet, they are complex beings that are just designed as pawns and not somebody who can make their own decisions. If anything, Zhao's Eternals are just peacekeepers watching over as the earth, their home for 7000 years will crumble to give birth to a new Celestial.
And when that realization finally dawns, they fight. They turn on each other, they bawl and cry for each other, but that's the best they can do, and it comes with consequences. There are deaths. Not all of the Eternals walk away damaged goods. But that said, the movie has an identity of its own. For a world that has seen a lot of Marvel's famed names over the last decade, 'Eternals' are the new breed, as ancient as their presence is. If 'Shang-Chi' sets the tone, then this cosmic flick shoulders the weight of expectations but does drop the barbell down at times.
There's a pinch of everything that goes in making a quintessential Marvel movie with Action, humor, and eye-captivating cinematography. There are also glaring mistakes. The writing gets clunky at specific points, the pace slows down to practically a walk, and characters fade in and fade out abruptly, but those are challenges of having an ensemble cast, something the Russo brothers have been quite adept at handling. There's enough to make it a non-Marvel movie what with the gay kiss (first of its kind) and a gentle sex scene that hides as much skin as possible.
But it's all good. Zhao locks in what she needs to and while there is enough going on in each frame, she never loses sight of the larger picture. The post-credits scenes are also part of the movie's storyline and do not necessarily branch out. The cast selection is justified with Madden playing Ikaris to perfection. Jolie's Thena oozes sexy in every frame she's in while Hayek is in a rather motherly role as opposed to her "Grandma casting" which does enough to dub her performance as nearly perfect.
McHugh, Tyree Henry, and Ridloff with Nanjiani evoke different emotions and do so without breaking into a sweat. There's more to Nanjiani's Kingo than just that jaw-dropping transformation for his role. His character brings in the much-needed comic relief even as she shoots crisp beams from his fingers when not showcasing his acting chops.
'Eternals' isn't a solid film, especially when compared to any of the top movies of the Infinity saga. But it isn't too paltry to be mocked either. This one takes time to grow, and when these heroes make a second and subsequent appearance in the MCU, the whistles and cheers won't dip. Surely.