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Eternals ★★★



Director: Chloé Zhao

Stars: Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, Dong-seok Ma, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Kit Harrington

Released: 5th November 2021 (UK)

Eternals feels like a film that was made on the third version of the script when a couple of more rewrites could have given it the definition and character it’s aiming for. Without that fine-tuning, the movie feels every minute of its 2 hours 37-minute runtime. That can’t bode well for the restless younger audience it has to draw in to be a big hit. The ‘surprise’ appearance by a certain star at the end suggests that they do want that young audience, as well as a sequel. But they’ll have to entice that demographic in on opening weekend, get them to sit through the almost three hours and then sell it hard to friends in the following weeks to establish a demand for Eternals 2. This may prove a challenge. But it’s not just the younger audience it has to draw in to join the upper ranks of Marvel hits. The film has an eye to this and has covered many bases with its multicultural, diverse age range cast and story. However, what could be a strength also has the potential to be a weakness. It’s not clear which audience is meant to keep this movie afloat. In trying to offer something to everyone, it has risked failing to offer much to anyone.

The film is not lacking in global ambition. It takes us everywhere from present-day London and Mumbai to the Amazon jungle and ancient Mesopotamia via Dakota and Babylon. The superhero universe is bigger than New York, and the USA is the clear message. The large cast covers every nationality and accent that can be squeezed into two and a half hours. Director Chloe Zhao’s signature sumptuous vistas are a visual treat, and the themes are big; torn loyalties, betrayal, identity, the impotence of being unable to intervene in humanity’s self-destructive barbarity. It’s clear Zhao seeks to leave her imprint on the Marvel landscape.

The basic story is that the Eternals, immortal Godlike beings created by the celestials, were sent to earth by Arishem thousands of years ago to live amongst humans. Once scattered across the globe, the group of ten now have to unite to protect humanity from the Deviants (the evil counterparts of the Eternals) who have risen again. The scope of the story is big.
And yet, the CGI is bad for all the epic vision, the journeying through history, and the Olympian powers on display from the Eternals. The costumes and sets have a curiously dated, low budget vibe and the film never inspires awe. The word that kept occurring to me as I watched it was ‘lacklustre’.

Even tried and tested elements never quite catch fire; the central love triangle in which Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington), a present-day professor, pine for the charms of Sersi (Gemma Chan) doesn’t even reach Twilight levels of tingling frisson despite the first-ever MCU sex scene. Chan and Madden seem to be in two different films. Chan emotes like she’s suffering in a bleak drama while Madden appears oddly detached as if he’s in an undemanding rom-com distractedly wondering whether he should take the Bond role if he’s offered it. And Harington is in a ‘blink, and you’ll miss him’ role intended to be developed in a sequel.

Sersi appears, at several points, to be on the verge of emerging as a hidden force but never quite goes anywhere.

Then there’s Lara Croft herself, aka Maleficent, back on the big screen after a long absence. Angelina Jolie brings her post Brangelina pout to the role of Thena, a fierce warrior who can create weapons out of cosmic energy but has a troubled psyche (Marvel touching on mental health issues ). Surely she will set things ablaze? Jolie still has tremendous screen presence and adds star power to the film. Still, apart from a couple of exciting scenes, she and her unattractive wig essentially stand around, arms folded disapprovingly because she has so little to do. In an equally bad headdress, Salma Hayek is miscast as the wise, ancient being, spiritual leader of the group Ajak. Overall, there’s a distinct lack of chemistry between the Eternals. Even with the storyline of tensions between individuals in the group and the disparate personalities within it, they never seem like a cohesive unit in the way that even a ragtag group like the Guardians of the Galaxy can manage to do. Again, there’s that sense of disconnect between the actors as if they’re all in different movies. That’s both unfortunate and surprising because the characters are all individually interesting and should create sparks together. For me, the only two who reach their potential are Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, who is enjoying his human life as a self-absorbed Bollywood star a little too much, and Lia McHugh as the androgynous eternal kid, Sprite, who longs to be an adult. Nanjiani is not someone I usually enjoy watching, but he brings much-needed levity to the ponderous stretches in the story.

To say the Eternals is the Marvel movie that 2021 deserves would be unkind. Ultimately the Eternals is neither a bad film nor a particularly good one. It’s a perfectly adequate piece of entertainment. It just doesn’t live up to its name as something to remember forever.

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