Based on the Marvel Comics series by Jack Kirby, Eternals is the story of an immortal alien race who arrive on Earth to protect humanity from their evil counterparts as they reunite centuries later when the creatures known as Deviants have returned. Directed by Chloe Zhao and screenplay by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo from a story by the Firpos, the film is an action-adventure story about a group of immortal figures who deal with the aftermath of an event that brought half of the universe’s population back as well as evil forces where they all deal with their separation and the many lives they endured. Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Bryan Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, Kit Harrington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie. Eternals is a dazzling yet messy film from Chloe Zhao.
The film revolves around a group of immortal alien figures who arrive on Earth to protect humanity from evil creatures known as Deviants where the group reunite centuries later to deal with return of Deviants but also an event they have to ensure happens. It is a film that is about a family of sorts who all reunite centuries later as they live on Earth for a long time observing and interacting with humanity and civilization as the events of the Blip that lead to the return of half of the population who were wiped out five years before by Thanos suddenly lead to the return of the Deviants. The film’s screenplay does a lot of world building and establishing who the Eternals are yet it unfortunately takes up a lot of time for the narrative to have the entire team reunite but also deal with their own ideological differences, views on humanity, and their mission at hand as they have to serve the Celestial god known as Arishem (voice of David Kaye). The narrative for much of its first act also play into flashbacks into the lives of the Eternals including an event that lead to their break-up as well as other issues following their last encounter with the Deviants.
The titular group of consist of ten individuals each with a special power as they’re lead by their spiritual leader/healer Ajak (Salma Hayek) who is also the bridge between them and the Celestials. There’s also the empathetic Sersi (Gemma Chan) who can manipulate matter through physical contact, Ikaris (Richard Madden) who can fly and shoot cosmic beams with his eyes who is determined to finish his mission, the illusionist Sprite (Lia McHugh) who has the physical appearance of a 12-year old girl, the comical Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) who shoots cosmic beams with his hands as he’s become a Bollywood star, the weapons and technological inventor Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), the deaf Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) who possesses super-speed, mind-manipulator Druig (Barry Keoghan), the strongman Gilgamesh (Don Lee), and the goddess of war in Thena (Angelina Jolie) who can create weapons with her own powers. They all have something to offer but are broken apart by idealistic views on humanity and the decision to not interfere in human conflicts or events under Arishem’s rule. Upon the events of the Blip and the re-emergence of the Deviants, the team struggle to get themselves back on board due to various issues but also the fact that some of them have their own lives and are reluctant to take part in this conflict where the stakes are larger.
Chloe Zhao’s direction is definitely astonishing for the fact that it’s shot on various locations and its emphasis on realism about the evolution of civilization. Shot on various locations such as London, South Dakota, the Canary Islands, and Los Angeles, Zhao does create a film that does take place many centuries where the narrative flashbacks to the age of cavemen, Babylonia, the Incas, and the present world in the aftermath of the Avengers’ war against Thanos. Zhao’s usage of wide and medium shots to establish the locations and the world these characters are in as they interact with the world or observe the world around them. The way Zhao establishes the Eternals and how they impacted civilization early on does showcase moments that do play into their development but Zhao is unable to maintain that same momentum following their break-up as the reunion goes on for a long time.
While there are these moments that do play into the drama with Zhao’s usage of the medium shots and close-ups as it help audiences be engaged by the characters. There are moments where it drags too long for each member to reunite with one another as there’s also a lot of baggage from everyone in the team to deal with. Phastos is man with a son and a husband he loves as he had lost interest in creating new tech following a major historical event while Thena is a woman that is going through serious mental issues and memory loss due to centuries of fighting. For nearly two hours into the film, the two acts serve as not just to establish the team and who they are but also their reunion and the stakes of the mission as it could’ve been trimmed. Even as the third act reveal some revelations on Arishem’s motives as well as why the Deviants were created as it is clunky though there is some amazing action and drama that occur in the film. Overall, Zhao crafts an engaging yet extremely uneven film about a group of immortals trying to save Earth one last time following the return of their old foes.
Cinematographer Ben Davis does brilliant work with the cinematography with its emphasis on natural lighting for many of the daytime exterior scenes along with some low-key lighting for the exterior scenes at night and other stylish lighting including Kingo’s Bollywood film set. Editors Craig Wood and Dylan Tichenor do fine work with the editing as it has some style in the jump-cuts and allowing shots to linger though there’s moments where it does feel too long as the film could’ve trimmed 15 minutes from its running time. Production designers Eve Stewart and Clint Wallace, along with set decorators Pancho Chamorro and Michael Standish plus supervising art director Matthew Gray, do amazing work with the look of the Domo ship interiors as well as Ajak’s home in South Dakota, Gilgamesh and Thena’s home in Australia, Druig’s camp in the Amazons, and Phastos’ home in Chicago. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon does excellent work with the costumes from the casual look of the group in their non-hero suits to the design of the superhero suits they wear upon their arrival on Earth.
Hair/makeup/prosthetics makeup designer Frances Hannon does fantastic work with the look of the characters as it play into the different periods with Thena having a unique look of her own as does Ajak. Special effects supervisor Neil Corbould and visual effects supervisor Stephane Ceretti do incredible work with the look of the Deviants, the exterior of the Domo spaceship, and other effects as the mixture of practical and computerized effects as it is a highlight of the film. Sound designers David Farmer and Addison Teague, along with sound editor Daniel Laurie, do superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as some of the sound effects into the powers that the Eternals have. The film’s music by Ramin Djawadi is wonderful for its orchestral-based score as it play into elements of bombast for some of the action and suspenseful scenes along with low-key string-based pieces for the dramatic moments while music supervisor Dave Jordan create a soundtrack that features different array of music that include pop, country, rock, hip-hop, Bollywood-based music, and others that feature contributions from Lizzo, BTS, Skeeter Davis, Foreigner, and Pink Floyd.
The casting by Sarah Finn and Anna Tenney is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Haaz Sleiman as Phastos’ husband Ben, Esai Daniel Cross as Phastos’ and Ben’s son Jack, Zain Al Rafeea as a villager who first meets the Eternals after being saved from a Deviant, Bill Skarsgard as the voice of an evolved Deviant in Kro, and David Kaye as the voice of the Celestial God Arishem. Harish Patel is terrific as Kingo’s manager Karun who films everything for Kingo’s documentary on the Eternals as he provides some humor but also some nice insight on his view on the group. Kit Harrington is superb as Sersi’s boyfriend Dane Whitman who works at the Natural History Museum in London as he is hoping to commit to her.
Lauren Ridloff and Barry Keoghan are excellent in their respective roles as Makkari and Druig with the former being a deaf yet funny Eternal with super-speed as she communicates through sign language while the latter is a sarcastic yet passionate figure with the power to manipulate minds as a way in wanting to stop conflicts in the hope he can save humanity. Brian Tyree Henry and Salma Hayek are brilliant in their respective roles as the technology inventor Phastos and the group leader/healer Ajak as the former being someone who hoped to create things that would help civilization only to retreat after catastrophic events to become a family man while the latter is a spiritual figure who communicates with Arishem where she never questions his motives until the return of the Deviants as she begins to question him as well as having a change of heart about the mission at hand. Don Lee and Angelina Jolie are amazing in their respective role as the super-strongman Gilgamesh and the warrior goddess Thena with the former being a man who is powerful but also someone with a lot of heart and patience in taking of the latter where Jolie displays a woman who is suffering from serious PTSD and weariness while also dealing with memory loss as it relates to her life fighting against Deviants.
Kumail Nanjiani is remarkable as the powerful yet witty Kingo who spent almost a century being a Bollywood film star as he brings a lot of humor but also questions about the mission at hand where he isn’t sure of being involved in something that would break up the team again. Lia McHugh is incredible as Sprite as a master illusionist who can create things yet has the body of a 12-year old girl who can’t age where she laments not being able to grow up while having her own feelings for Ikaris. Richard Madden is marvelous as Ikaris as a Superman-like persona who can fly and shoot cosmic beams with his eyes as a figure who is intent on wanting to finish his mission as well as reunite with his former flame in Sersi in the hope they can stay together after the mission. Finally, there’s Gemma Chan in a phenomenal performance as Sersi as the empath Eternal who can manipulate matter through physical touch while discovering new powers as a way to deal with the Deviants while lamenting over her love for humans and the stakes of the mission itself where she has to take charge in the film’s climax.
Eternals is a stellar yet wildly uneven film from Chloe Zhao. While it features a great ensemble cast, dazzling visuals, a cool music soundtrack, and some amazing action scenes. It is a film that is ambitious yet is hampered by wanting to be both a superhero film and an art film as it never found its balance despite some exciting moments. In the end, Eternals is a good film from Chloe Zhao.
Chloe Zhao Films: Songs My Brothers Taught Me – The Rider - (Nomadland)
Marvel Cinematic Universe: Infinity Saga: Phase One: Iron Man - The Incredible Hulk - Iron Man 2 - Thor - Captain America: The First Avenger - The Avengers
Phase Two: Iron Man 3 - Thor: The Dark World - Captain America: The Winter Soldier - Guardians of the Galaxy - The Avengers: Age of Ultron - Ant-Man
Phase Three: Captain America: Civil War - Doctor Strange - Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 - Spider-Man: Homecoming - Thor: Ragnarok - Black Panther - Avengers: Infinity War - Ant-Man and the Wasp - Captain Marvel - Avengers: Endgame
Phase Four: Black Widow (2021 film) - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings - Spider-Man: No Way Home – Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – (Thor: Love and Thunder) – (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever) - (Ant-Man & the Wasp: Quantumania) - (The Marvels) – (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) – (Fantastic Four)
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