Eternals Review

When the core group of Avengers assembled in their climactic battle for that classic shot from the 2012 film, it held power because we’d come to know them in previous MCU entries. By the time we got to 2019 as seemingly half of Hollywood was ready to take on Thanos in Avengers: Endgame, the same emotions were present. The mere fact that we were witnessing many members of Marvel’s extensive roster ready for action via high quality predecessors was impressive.

That’s a testament to what Kevin Feige and team had pulled off. For all the nitpicking about the franchise, it’s easy to forget the monumental achievement in bringing these heroes to life in 20 plus pictures and getting us back to care about them. That’s not an easy assignment and they pulled it off.

This brings us to Eternals, the 26th entry in the series. And it often feels like we are meant to feel the same sentiments that I’ve described above. There’s a problem with that. Chloe Zhao’s immersion into the MCU is tasked with introducing us to a brand new team of heroes in its 156 minutes. Most of them, quite frankly, aren’t very compelling. Comic book lovers may be familiar, but the masses aren’t. When Iron Man got the gang together nearly a decade ago, we knew the gang. Eternals, which loves it landscapes and sunsets silhouetting its protagonists, strains to properly introduce them. For a movie that feels long, it’s still short on character development and getting us to care about this team in ways we previously did. I admired plenty about this latest adventure, but it still stands as one of the MCU’s overall weakest experiences.

A prologue set in 5000 B.C. establishes the players. The Eternals are a group of immortals tasked with saving planets from Deviants, a lot of monstrous CGI creations. Their leader is Ajak (Salma Hayek), who takes her orders from the almighty Arishem. Each Eternal has their own set of powers. Sersi (Gemma Chan) can transform matter. Her love interest Ikaris (Richard Madden) can shoot freakin lasers from his eyeballs (think Cyclops). Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is the science nerd capable of advancing technology centuries ahead of time. And… we’re gonna be here all day if I keep this up, but a couple more. Sprite (Lia McHugh) can create illusions, but can’t hide the fact that she’ll look like a 12-year-old girl for eternity. Thena (Angelina Jolie) is capable of creating weapons from thin air. Yet she’s a weapon herself because she has a condition that causes her to turn against her counterparts and try to kill them.

The Eternals spend centuries on Earth taking on the Deviants and appear to achieve their mission in 1521. The band breaks up and they’re free to roam free on our Earthly soil, which Nomadland director Zhao frames in loving travelogue mode. Importantly, Ajak orders them not to interfere with the many conflicts that will transpire over the coming centuries. That means the Eternals are not involved when Thanos wipes out half the population in Avengers: Infinity War. They’re not showing up for house calls with Doctor Strange or assisting Hulk smash anything.

In present day, the Deviants resurface and they must assemble (!) again. Some have taken on unexpected careers. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) is a Bollywood leading man with a trusty assistant (Harish Patel). He’s been a superstar for decades with the public believing his dad, granddad, and so on were different people. The real function for Nanjiani is to provide some comic relief in a story that needs it.. The actor and the superb Patel are up to the assignment. They might be the two characters I’d be excited to see return in future MCU tales.

On the flip side, the failed romance between Sersi and Ikaris is a yawner. And familiar faces like Hayek and Jolie aren’t given enough screen time to register. Barry Keoghan, always a compelling actor to watch, is Druig. He can manipulate minds and his superpower runs counter to his orders. Druig has the potential for a fascinating character arc yet, once again, the packed nature of the screenplay prevents it.

The look of Eternals is undoubtedly different than the MCU sheen we’re accustomed to. It has more of a real location feel as opposed to video game extravaganza. Some of the action sequences are well constructed. Others fall into the confused CGI jumble that’s hampered even some of the finest franchise flicks.

Here’s the bottom line – Eternals is by no means bad (even the middling stories in this series are quite watchable). It feels unnecessary because it never fully succeeds at making us understand why we need to be invested. Ajak’s hideaway in the present day is in South Dakota. Nothing that happens here made me think any Eternal will be carved into the Mt. Rushmore of Marvel’s cinematic universe.

**1/2 (out of four)

Eternals Box Office Prediction

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been unleashing product at a furious pace following COVID delays and that continues November 5th with Eternals. Arriving four months after Black Widow, two months following Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and a month a half before Spider-Man: No Way Home, this is the 26th MCU superhero tale in the massive series. Chloe Zhao, fresh off a Best Picture and Director win for Nomadland, directs with a cast featuring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie.

Originally scheduled for November 2020 before the pandemic altered Disney’s plans, this is the long anticipated adaptation of Jack Kirby’s comics that debuted over half a century ago. Surprisingly, initial buzz is mixed in a way Marvel rarely sees. The Rotten Tomatoes meter currently sits at 63%. That’s the lowest score of any MCU offering to date (just below Thor: The Dark World‘s 66%).

If there’s any franchise that’s teflon, it would be this one. Reviews shouldn’t matter too much, but the word-of-mouth could keep Eternals from reaching COVID era records. Venom: Let There Be Carnage has the best three day start of the period with $90 million. In July, Black Widow took in $80 million out of the gate. Over Labor Day weekend, Shang-Chi surpassed projections with $75 million from Friday to Sunday and $94 million when adding the Monday haul.

Had Eternals achieved the glowing chatter of Shang-Chi, I might be discussing an opening weekend of over $100 million. Now I’m skeptical. I believe it’s more likely that Eternals could debut on pace with what its MCU predecessor did during the first three days. That’s just fine, but it’s an adjustment down from what I would’ve figured even a week or so ago.

Eternals opening weekend prediction: $77.8 million

For my Spencer prediction, click here:

Spencer Box Office Prediction

Oscar Predictions: Eternals

Chloe Zhao was the big winner at the previous Academy Awards when Nomadland took Best Picture and she became the second female filmmaker to take the trophy for her direction. Her follow-up is a high profile one in Marvel’s Eternals, which opens November 5th and had its review embargo lifted today.

With an eclectic cast including Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie, MCU entry #26 is undoubtedly one of 2021’s most anticipated blockbusters. However, critical reaction is certainly mixed. The 74% Rotten Tomatoes score is on the lower side for this series. Just this year, Black Widow stands at 79% while Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings got to 92%.

Any thought of Zhao’s having two Best Picture winners or nominees in a row (or being mentioned again in Director) has fallen by the wayside. The one race where I did feel hope for Eternals sprung was in Visual Effects. That could still happen, but I’m not near as confident. Competition will be fairly strong. Dune is easily the frontrunner and will likely win. Other notable contenders include The Matrix Resurrections, Don’t Look Up, Godzilla vs. Kong, Nightmare Alley, Jungle Cruise, Finch, and Free Guy. And then there’s the other MCU rivals like Shang-Chi and the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home. 

There could still be room for Eternals in VE, but I’m thinking it may on the outside looking in. Even some of the reviews aren’t gushing about the visuals. Bottom line: Eternals took itself out of the running for the big races and could be iffy in the one tech competition where I thought it stood an excellent shot. My Oscar Prediction posts for the films of 2021 will continue…

The Green Knight Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Update (07/28): The theater count has been put out at approximately 2500, which is higher than I expected. Therefore I am revising my estimate up from $2.2M to $3.4M

David Lowery has become a favorite indie director of the critics with pics like Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and A Ghost Story. This Friday, he goes the bigger Arthurian medieval fantasy route with The Green Knight. Originally scheduled for May 2020 before its COVID delay, Knight stars Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, and Ralph Ineson.

A24 is handling distribution duties and early word of mouth is positive (as has been the case with the filmmaker’s previous efforts). How this translates to box office business is certainly questionable.

I have yet to see a theater count and that could alter my forecast, but my feeling is that this starts quite low as it struggles to find an audience.

The Green Knight opening weekend prediction: $3.4 million

For my Jungle Cruise prediction, click here:

Jungle Cruise Box Office Prediction

For my Stillwater prediction, click here:

Stillwater Box Office Prediction

The Killing of a Sacred Deer Movie Review

I’m not an attorney, but I’ve heard of the legal term known as Clean Hands. I might have heard it first from Judge Judy. Regardless, in layman’s speak, it means a defendant claims that a plaintiff can’t argue for equal remedy because they’re engaged in bad acts as well. I realize a lawyer might challenge my interpretation, but I’m reviewing a movie and I’m not on trial. Clean Hands could have been a more appropriate name than what I’m writing about, but instead we have the more pretentious The Killing of a Sacred Deer from director Yorgos Lanthimos.

The aggrieved party in our story is teenager Martin (Barry Keoghan), whose father died three years ago in a surgery performed by Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell, reuniting with his The Lobster director). The two befriend each other after the incident and Martin is eventually ingratiating himself with the doc’s family – wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), teen daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy), and younger brother Bob (Sunny Suljic). Martin seems a bit strange and too eager to please, but his motives turn out far darker. He blames the doctor for his loss and plans to exact revenge.

Lanthimos isn’t interested with playing in the run of the mill revenge fantasy thriller genre. No family pet is harmed in the making of his screenplay with Efthymis Filippou, though there is one. Instead Martin wants to harm the family and any one of them will do. He also manages to capture the heart of Kim while he moves forward with his acts.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a dark and unsettling experience that sometimes struggles to earn the pain we go through watching it. From a technical standpoint, it’s often expertly rendered with a Kubrick like sense of clinical precision and a loud and evocative score. Farrell and Kidman (just seen together in The Beguiled) are just fine as the parents facing increasingly difficult circumstances and choices, but it’s Keoghan who electrifies plenty of his scenes. His misguided Martin gets under everyone’s skin, including ours.

That said, the style of Deer is frequently more potent than its subject and I struggled with whether it was worth it in the end. For all its bells and whistles, it kind of is a typical revenge fantasy with art house touches. Dr. Murphy may have made his mistakes, but there’s a Clean Hands defense when he discovers Martin’s bad acts. For this viewer, I offer a mixed defense of the picture itself.

**1/2 (out of four)

Dunkirk Movie Review

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk has moments and plenty of them which are simply breathtaking. We expect the director of The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar to serve up a visual treat as he enters the war genre and he does. Yet I didn’t quite anticipate occasional moments of emotional resonance and the tight running time that keeps it moving at a brisk pace. This is an often epic experience in a truncated frame. That decision by the director and his editors allow Dunkirk to capture the fierce urgency of warfare told from three perspectives.

The film recounts the Battle of Dunkirk in Northern France in 1940. The British and their French allies are on the losing side of this particular conflict with the Nazis and evacuation plans are underway. Nolan chooses not to tell the events in a traditional or linear manner. Three stories are highlighted – by land, sea, and air. I list them in that manner because the land piece develops over a week’s time. Our action on the water happens in a day. The air portion is a matter of just an hour.

On land, we meet a number of soldiers desperately searching for escape while trying to help their wounded fellow countrymen. We also listen in on the strategies of the military higher-ups, led by Kenneth Branagh’s sturdy commander.

On the water, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) answers the call to take his own boat to help pick up soldiers from the extraction area. He brings his son (Tom Glynn-Carney) and friend (Barry Keoghan) along with him. On their way to their destination, they come upon a lone soldier (Cillian Murphy) who is experiencing shock from a U-boat attack.

In the air, Tom Hardy’s Air Force pilot and two fellow fighters must furiously try to down Nazi planes bombing those waiting in the evacuation region, while keeping an eye on their own fuel.

All of this activity unfolds in just over 100 minutes in a picture you’d expect to run closer to three hours. Character development is at a minimum but that’s not a demerit. Dunkirk captures the hectic nature, uncertainty, and chaos of war. With Nolan at the helm and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema behind the lense, it’s also filled with beautiful imagery on a beach filled with soldiers, on the expansive ocean, and in the clouds. The screenplay gives us just enough focus on its characters to make certain situations emotionally resonant. This especially holds true with the sea portion and Rylance’s determined skipper and Murphy’s battle weary soldier.

The time jumping element is one that would make Tarantino proud. That aspect adds an often fresh perspective to the well-worn WWII genre and its glorious and inglorious tales. By its conclusion, we marvel at personal acts by humans caught up in impossible situations in the fog of battle. In a week, a day, and an hour, Dunkirk expertly shows it.

***1/2 (out of four)