ETERNALS (2021) brings something new to the MCU with an engaging character-driven narrative

From Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao comes Eternals, a Marvel film that doesn’t feel like anything we’ve seen before in the MCU, but also still delivers the kick-ass action and engaging narrative we expect. This adventure follows the Eternals, a group of immortal beings who’ve lived on earth for centuries, protecting and guiding civilisations through time.

One thing that sets Eternals apart from other MCU entries is that it feels like a piece of epic storytelling different to what we’ve seen in other Avengers-level MCU epics. Similar to those Avengers films, this is on a grand scale with a large group of characters, however the narrative here spans centuries and feels a lot more focused on the characters than massive action set-pieces. Eternals is certainly ambitious, aiming to set up a whole new team of characters, tell an isolated story and expand the MCU into areas that had only been hinted at previously – all in the span of a single film. Astoundingly, to an extent, they achieved exactly that. There’s no doubting that Eternals doesn’t necessarily rush towards a finale, rather it focuses on setting up the history of these characters, the roles they’ve played over time and what has gone into making them the people they are today. Not all of this content hits the right note, but the majority works in fleshing out these characters pretty well and making them interesting to watch.

Overall, the story of Eternals is a really good one. There’s some neat twists and turns, a couple of great reveals, and it mostly feels quite original in its approach. It’s a pretty fresh take on a superhero story and much of that has to do with the mark Chloé Zhao has left on the film. I will say though, despite the fact that I enjoyed the story and was certainly engaged in wanting to see where it all went, there are some sequences through the second act that feel as though they’re dragging the film down. It’s a bit of a win/lose scenario, as some of these scenes focused on establishing backstory and relationships are necessary, but they also feel like they’re slowing things down just a little too much. You could cut the runtime down 15 minutes or so in the middle to make it a little tighter, but then you may not get the impact of the slowly building and unraveling narrative. It’s one of the challenges of a film this long, but it’s still handled well and doesn’t hinder my overall enjoyment all that much. In fact, in the grand scheme of everything going on, they’re not the most memorable scenes, so you’ll most likely forget about them a day later.

When it comes to a movie with this many characters, balance is crucial. Ensuring each character is fleshed out relatively equally is important since it helps convey the whole team dynamic vibe without making it feel like it’s really six members of the Eternals with another four just there as scene fillers. Chloé Zhao manages to nail the balance with all the characters pretty well. Of course you’ve got Gemma Chan’s Sersi and Richard Madden’s Ikaris, who are both going to have more focus placed on them as they’re the top billed actors, but it isn’t an extreme gap in screen time that makes anyone else fall into the background. Each character is given an intriguing quality and something that not only makes them unique, but integral to the journey we’re on.

Speaking of balance, there’s a tad more successfully comedic moments than I thought there were going to be, which is a good thing, and it creates a bit more balance with the generally more serious tone that the bulk of the film adopts. There’s nothing on the scale of the jokes you’d see in a Taika Waititi directed MCU film, but it’s enough to create a bit more of a lively atmosphere rather than it all just being serious. A great deal of the comedy is delivered through Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo, which isn’t much of a surprise considering he’s naturally a comedic actor, and basically all of his moments hit.

In terms of the performances, no one really stands out with an incredible performance, rather this a great example of an ensemble cast that complement each other really well. I’d say everyone in here was good, leading to me liking every single member of the Eternals, and the chemistry they shared felt authentic, which helped with remaining engaged in each respective character. To name a few – Gemma Chan was great in the lead role, Lia McHugh made an emotional impact on the story, Salma Hayek had some powerful scenes as is expected, and Barry Keoghan bought some depth and variety to the film.

In the end, I don’t see where the negativity towards Eternals could be coming from. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and yes there are some slower moments through the middle of the film, but nothing that indicates it being anywhere close to a bad film. It definitely takes on a different approach to its storytelling than other MCU entries, feeling like a bit of a slow-burn epic style of film, which may have thrown many people for a loop. However, Chloé Zhao has made her first foray into the MCU a memorable one – successfully introducing us to an array of characters who we will no doubt see more of in the future. She spends a great deal of time introducing them with plenty of character-centric moments intercut with fast-paced action sequences. It’s fun, engaging and makes me want to see more of the Eternals and Chloé Zhao going forward.

7.6/10

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