It seems the MCU’s biggest risk didn’t pay off.
Marvel Studios’ Eternals is one of the latest projects of the MCU and is currently the lowest-rated MCU movie and the lowest-grossing MCU movie. The movie’s gross can be attributed to the pandemic’s effect on the movie industry but the reviews can’t.
Despite being mauled by critics; Eternals is far from the worst thing to come out of the MCU. However, it does have some serious problems which hamper it from being as good as it could have been.
A common critique of the Avengers movies post Age of Ultron is the numerous characters that have to feature to make the story work. The runtime balloons out into eye-watering lengths to accommodate all of that needed character work.
But the previous movies do a lot of the heavy lifting. They create the characters, set up their motivations, and put them in the required places before getting to the Avengers movie. Whilst that format creates a movie that is weaker when viewed on its own, the sum created by all of the movies that culminate into the collaborative movie is greater than its individual parts.
Eternals boasts a large roster of characters but not the luxury of a meticulously crafted setup. They all have moments when they shine but none of them carry that charisma or swagger like Tony Stark or Steve Rogers. The more memorable characters are mostly due to the actors shining through with the material given to them. Unfortunately, that is just the minority. Most of the Eternals come off as bland and forgettable.
THE WRONG FORMAT
When the MCU doubled down on the small screen with projects like WandaVision, Captain America and The Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, etc., it gave them ground to go deeper with their veteran characters who haven’t gotten the spotlight as much as we like. The results have been mostly successful and future projects like Moon Knight are coming out in 2022.
Eternals is an epic that begins with the dawn of human civilization and ends in the current age of the MCU. It posits philosophical questions about life and death and what it means to the universe. It has numerous characters, some who change as the years go by and others who refuse to. These characters have differing opinions on the conflict at the heart of Eternals and the choices they make are shaped by it.
If there ever was a project that should have been on the small screen, it should have been Eternals.
It’s worth noting that Marvel has a cautionary tale regarding projects like this. But the failure of Inhumans was across the board in every way possible. Eternals had the potential to go even further if given the chance.
There could have been episodes dedicated to exploring each character’s unique life through the years and how they view the problem Arishem puts before them.
Instead, Eternals squeezes as much as it can into a fairly long runtime and still doesn’t have enough time to properly make its point.
Eternals is a sweeping epic, covering vast amounts of time in the movie. The flashback sequences tell the story of how the Eternals got to where they are in the modern age and how their conflict with the Deviants ended.
Unfortunately, the story of Eternals has two serious problems.
First up are the antagonists of the movie. The marketing portrays the Deviants as the movie’s villains and Kro as their leader but they are quickly shown to be a distraction at best. When the true purpose of the Emergence, the role of the Eternals and Celestials, and the true nature of Ikaris are revealed, the Deviants storyline becomes irrelevant. But because time was dedicated to that plotline, the others suffer because of it.
Then is the immediacy of the threat. When we catch up with Cersi, Sprite, and Dane in current times, the Emergence begins to affect their world and they are soon caught up in it. But it is never clear until the end when exactly the Emergence will take place. Without that tension driving our heroes forward, the stakes don’t seem as high as they should be. And, given how much time the Eternals take to have long conversations with each other and the meandering path they take to get the gang back together, they don’t seem stressed about the threat either.
Marvel’s Eternals isn’t a bad movie, it is a competently helmed movie with great visuals and intriguing themes that provides an enjoyable enough experience. But it is well below par from the house that produced masterpieces like Black Panther and Spider-Man: No Way Home.