It’s the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to receive genuinely bad reviews; at the time this review was written, Eternals sat at 47% on RottenTomatoes. I wouldn’t say it’s the worst film of the MCU, it’s not even one of the worst, but it’s definitely a bad movie. That alone doesn’t make this distinct from the rest of the films, because almost all the movies churned out by Marvel are bad. So why does this get the special amount of scorn? Well, let’s see…
A core component of the film is the way it tries and fails to question the morality of the Eternals not helping in every major war in world history, possibly because none of the actors playing these “heroes” ever act heroic, in fact, they don’t act like anything at all besides monotone- even in scenes of chaos. Yet a greater reason for the failed themes of the Eternals’ morality is due to the bullcrap excuses it gives as to why they weren’t in Infinity War, as described in lazy Q&A fashion. It’s like that is the entire reason this movie exists: to fill in a plot hole pointed out by fans of the Marvel comics. Going with the motion picture’s confused morality, one of them, Ikaris, uses his superpowers to turn a falling bus into flower petals, in turn killing everyone inside, which contradicts the film’s intent on showing why the people are worth protecting.
Though in complete fairness, director Chloé Zhao does give a good sense of scale in the climax so that it makes the most of the IMAX screen. It’s surprising to think that Zhao’s film before this, Nomadland, was famous for how low scale and intimate it was. I think this movie proves that she does have the true talent as a director to do films of all shapes and sizes. But then again, she also was forced under studio control, who prioritized the recognition of the actors over her creativity. I don’t think someone like Zhao would want to put in a random Bollywood number lead by Kumail Nanjiani, a scene so bizarre in its existence that it only could be there for the purpose of establishing humor as the entire basis of Nanjiani’s character.
The acting in this movie really is an abomination: Brian Tyree Henry breaks the flow by overacting as he shouts, until Barry Keoghan brings it back into balance with his absence of emotion. The horrible acting is made much more unbearable by the even worse CGI that looks like it came from ten years ago, from Richard Madden flying to the cartoonish lightning, every last pixel is a Hollywood abomination. But hey, at least the hideous graphics don’t hurt the cool designs of the monsters.
Yet I certainly cared a lot more about those creatures than I did about anyone in the Eternals, not once did I ever feel that they were a family like they claimed to be, and the screenplay even seems to forget that two of the members have been married together for centuries! Another one of those male members also is married to another man, and they share the first homosexual kiss in the MCU. This supposedly huge landmark moment instead just felt forced, clearly an act of pandering to what people want to see. It’s not as cringey as the “girl power” moment in Avengers: Endgame, but it’s pretty close. The only one in the Eternals who could pass as a believable character is Sprite, who creates the film’s saddest moments as someone who’s more than just an annoying kid.
In fact, this screenplay’s sole strength is its surprisingly strong character arcs. The greater half of the Eternals have their own development and their own obstacles to overcome, which makes it so this superhero movie has no real main bad guy, and the end product benefits a bit from that. Don’t get carried away though, that’s just a small detail overshadowed by the mess of a plot structure. This whole movie jumps across different centuries and millenia throughout world history, all of which the immortal, unaging Eternals were there for. It starts in Mesopotamia 5000 BC, and the missions include trips to Babylon in 57 BC and the Gupta Empire—without a smidgen of historical accuracy. Try being a casual moviegoer attempting to follow a narrative structure that transcends time and linearity the same way Christopher Nolan experiments with.
As much as the overall end product tries to be big and exciting, this dull addition to the dull cinematic universe falls into the trap of imitating what other classic films have done, but in a lazier way. That includes the opening crawl done in the fashion of Star Wars, that includes a monolith right after that moves toward the sun like it were 2001: A Space Odyssey, and that includes a significant other for the leading female who, aside from being a terrible actor, has no plot purpose whatsoever. Oh, I should also mention this movie is inappropriate for kids. Now, I know these movies have all been PG-13, but it’s no secret that parents have still let kids at least aged six and older watch these pieces of garbage. For the most part, these films have only earned their rating for a little violence and filthy language, but this time, it actually warrants the rating because of an unnecessary sex scene on the desert sand. I imagine watching that would make some younger viewers, and even teenagers, feel uncomfortable.
So with that, I think we can conclude that the reason why Eternals is the first MCU film to be legitimately slammed by critics is because they’re finally getting sick of it. The series peaked with Avengers: Endgame to the point it’s now impossible for them to top what they did there… unless, well, they actually made a good movie for once. But we all know that isn’t going to happen, because that would require them to actually try. So now, in between Spiderman: Far From Home and Black Widow, a two-year hiatus between films, and a global pandemic to make people realize their priorities, they began to grow weary of this repetitive pattern, which now has lost all its charm without Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Evans around. But really, that’s just what the world needs: for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to slowly crash and burn at last.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!