Welcome, World Travelers! The Eternals Is an Eternal Slog—Yet Still Entertaining!
by James Coulter
As I mentioned in my Spider-Man: No Way Home review, the hardest thing about reviewing Marvel movies is that most moviegoers are either already on board with the Marvel Cinematic Universe or they’re not. If you’ve seen every MCUfilm since Iron Man, chances are you’ve already watched The Eternals when it was released in theaters in September. Otherwise, you’re probably not even going to give it a chance now that it’s streaming on Disney Plus.
Regardless, the MCU’s longevity has been an undeniable cinematic achievement. At worst, these movies were above average popcorn flicks. Otherwise, they’ve all been record-breaking blockbusters with nary a “bad” movie among them. Still, the law of averages dictates the MCU will inevitably experience a flop, and The Eternals was long anticipated to be that flop. Even after it earned more than twice its budget in the box office (even despite the pandemic), the movie received mixed reviews from critics and fans alike. But does The Eternalsdeserve to be ranked alongside Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World as the “worst” Marvel movie?
The Eternals is a group of superpowered extraterrestrial beings sent to earth at the dawn of human civilization. Their mission, as given to them by a cosmic space god called a Celestial, is to oversee human development while protecting the fledgling human race from malevolent space monsters called Deviants.Nearly 500 years after the last Deviant had allegedly been destroyed, the now disbanded Eternals must reunite from across the globe after new Deviants emerged. What is the cause of these new Deviants? What can the Eternals do to stop them? And how does it all tie into their overall mission?
Let’s start with the positives. The movie has a very interesting premise. In the spirit of Chariot of the Gods or Ancient Aliens, the Eternals are extraterrestrial beings tasked with protecting humanity and overseeing their evolutionary development through history. This premise raises many interestingphilosophical quandaries and explores themes about war, peace, intervention, and progress.
The third act is also extraordinary. As with every other MCU flick, the movie ends with a climatic battle where all the good guys have to team up to defeat the villian, and the action scenes that result certainly live up to being the selling point of the entire film. The Eternals has a great beginning and end. The problem, unfortunately, is in the middle.
Sandwiched in between an intriguing opening premise and a dramatic third act is a very long, drawn out “getting the band back together”-style storyline where the main characters travel the globe to locate the other characters and solve their conflict. What follows is a very boring slog as the movie takes its sweet time developing each of the ten main characters—yes, all ten of them!
This movie is two-and-a-half hours long, and it certainly feels that long, if not longer! As with other MCU flicks, there’s plenty of engaging action and witty dialogue to keep you entertained, but the remainder of the movie is bogged down by scenes of lengthy exposition and flashbacks. As CNet’s Mike Sorrentino explained in his review, the “film crams in so many characters and subplot that it becomes tough to digest….You end up having to wait through the entire first half to actually see what powers these heroes are capable of.”
Honestly, this movie isn’t that bad. But it certainly would have worked better as a mini-series on Disney Plus than a theatrical film. A streaming series would have allowed the plot to progress more gradually and each of the characters to be better developed without rushing to meet the timeframe of a feature-length movie. And this movie has plenty of interesting premises and characters worth exploring. My favorite has to be the character who has been starring in Bollywood movies for nearly a century by pretending to be the descendent of each actor he pretends to be.
So is The Eternals the worst Marvel movie? No! Not by a long shot. Not when The Incredible Hulk exists. While it’s not perfect, The Eternals still has plenty of the exciting action, witty dialogue, and engaging character moments beloved in the MCU. So if you’re hoping for a good Marvel flick, The Eternals still has everything that makes Marvel flicks good. Just prepare to pace yourself and pause the movie when you need a breather.