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…

Oscar Watch: Raya and the Last Dragon

As we await the five nominated pictures in the 2020 Animated Feature race at the Oscars, a legitimate hopeful has already emerged for 2021. This Friday, Disney’s traditionally drawn Raya and the Last Dragon debuts in theaters and on Disney Plus. The action fantasy features a mostly Asian American voice cast including Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Daniel Dae Kim, Gemma Chan, Sandra Oh, and Benedict Wong. Directing duties are handled by Don Hall (whose Big Hero 6 landed an Academy nod in 2014) and Carlos Lopez Estrada.

Reviews are up and they’re very solid at 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. Unsurprisingly, Disney has been quite the player since the inception of the animated category back in 2001. As is often the case for the studio, the Mouse Factory may well compete against itself with Pixar’s Luca slated for release this summer. That will probably occur this year with Soul and Onward as likely nominees.

Bottom line: the critical reaction for Raya (even this early in the calendar) establishes it as a sturdy contender for recognition already. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Raya and the Last Dragon Box Office Prediction

A totally different kind of COVID test arrives in theaters March 5 with the release of Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. It’s the latest traditionally animated feature from the Mouse Factory and it hits multiplexes and Disney+ on the same day. The fantasy adventure is co-directed by Don Hall (who made Big Hero 6 for the studio) and Carlos Lopez Estrada (maker of the decidedly non Disney pic Blindspotting). The predominately Asian-American voice cast includes Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Benedict Wong, and Alan Tudyk.

Raya marks the highest profile release of 2021 thus far on the big screen. The question is whether family audiences will mostly opt to shell out thirty bucks to watch it on the tube. All things considered – that’s probably less money than a night out for a clan of four to view it. And the Disney+ model is already familiar to subscribers with recent products such as Mulan and Soul.

In these uncertain pandemic days, it is difficult to find any real comps for opening weekend estimates. The Croods: A New Age debuted over Thanksgiving weekend and took in a better than anticipated $14 million over the five-day frame with nearly $10 million of it from the traditional Friday to Sunday portion. Yet that’s not exactly a reliable comp as Croods was a sequel to a well known property out during a holiday period. Still… this is Disney…

As I’ve said repeatedly with any box office guesstimates for nearly a year, we are in unpredictable territory. However, I’ll say Raya makes between $11-$14million and I’ll go a bit on the higher end of that range.

Raya and the Last Dragon opening weekend prediction: $13.2 million

For my Chaos Walking prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/02/24/chaos-walking-box-office-prediction/

Oscar Watch: Let Them All Talk

HBO Max (which is certainly in the news today for other reasons involving Warner Bros) has teamed with Steven Soderbergh and Meryl Streep for the streaming debut of Let Them All Talk on December 10th. The dramedy casts 21-time Oscar nominee Streep as an author taking a cruise with friends including Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest. Lucas Hedge and Gemma Chan round out the supporting cast.

The review embargo is up today and based on a dozen write-ups, it actually sits at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, its Oscar chances seem iffy and that’s probably being generous. While some critics are quite positive, many of their takes do not indicate this will be any sort of awards hopeful. In fact, Streep’s 22nd nod is more likely to be in Netflix’s The Prom, which debuts just one day after Talk. 

Soderbergh and Streep had another collaboration in 2019 with The Laundromat. It was long thought of as a potential Academy player until mixed reviews sunk its prospects. With this teaming, it was never really thought of as a contender and that should hold true. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Captain Marvel Movie Review

By the time the strains of “Just a Girl” blare over the speakers during a climactic fight scene, there is no doubt that Captain Marvel has adequately placed itself as a bridge between Avengers epics. That’s not an especially high bar in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it answers the most important question needed before April’s Avengers: Endgame – who’s this new heroine that’s going to help the team we’re accustomed to seeing?

That would be Brie Larson as Vers. She’s part of the Kree alien race with persistent flashbacks to an old life on C53, a planet otherwise known as Earth. Her mentor is Yon-Rogg (Jude Law), who helps her hone her mysterious superpowers. The flashback mentor is Mar-Vell (get it?) and she takes the form of Annette Bening as an all-knowing being who may have taught Vers in a previous life that’s fuzzy to her.

Since this is the MCU, we correctly suspect that purported good guys may become bad guys and vice versa. Vers and her team are battling another race called the Skrulls, led by Talos (Ben Mendelsohn, always solid). They can take the form of any being they wish, so we see Mr. Mendelsohn in his bespectacled British form and in impeccable creature makeup.

Vers’s interactions with the Skrulls involves a crash landing in Los Angeles. Not today’s L.A., mind you, but 1995 L.A. where relics of the past like Blockbuster Video and two-way pagers exist. This time frame is mined for humor and its soundtrack that includes Nirvana and Salt n Pepa. We also meet Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in his pre eyepatch days and a rookie Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg).

The Earth bound action gets us to a place where we can call Vers the Captain now. And clad in her Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, it get us one step closer to her joining Captain America, Tony Stark, and others decades later.

Captain Marvel is yet another origin story and it follows the tried and true MCU blueprint. Luckily for us, that familiar path includes picking directors (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck) that are unconventional choices (they’re known for indie dramas like Half Nelson). It includes humorous touches that work and plenty of them come in the feline form of Goose, who steals some sequences.

Have there been stronger intros in this franchise before? Absolutely. As the first female MCU hero with a stand-alone tale, Larson is spirited. Is her back story as inspiring as what the DCU provided in Wonder Woman? I’d have to say no. And like many MCU pics before it, the villains here are standard – even with fine actors playing them. We will see if Larson’s character can become a fan favorite in this vast world. I’d say the jury is currently unsure. At the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War, we learned she was needed. Captain Marvel provides some decently entertaining history as to why.

*** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Captain Marvel

The MCU appears poised to have another blockbuster on their hands this weekend with the release of Captain Marvel. Reviews were embargoed for a little longer than usual for the multi billion dollar franchise, but they’re out and critical reaction has been fairly solid. The Brie Larson led pic stands at 84% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s just a percentage point behind last year’s Avengers: Infinity War – while nowhere near the 97% achieved by Black Panther.

It was, of course, Panther that became the first superhero flick to nab a Best Picture nomination from the Academy. That won’t happen here. The storyline as far as this MCU title’s awards chances is the same as most of them and that’s Visual Effects.

Nine MCU entries have nabbed nods in Visual Effects. Interestingly, none of them have won. Competition this year will be stiff. There’s another franchise effort (Avengers: Endgame) that likely has a better shot. That’s in addition to expected players such as the next Star Wars, The Lion King, and Alita: Battle Angel, to name just some.

Bottom line: Captain Marvel will bring audiences in. Awards chatter is more of a reach. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Captain Marvel Box Office Prediction

Captain Marvel pilots into theaters next weekend with the highest opening of the year thus far easily in its sights. The latest entry from the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes after a banner 2017 from the studio that saw Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War both earn over $675 million domestically. Brie Larson stars as the title character alongside Samuel L. Jackson as a younger Nick Fury as the tale takes place in the mid 90s. Other costars include Jude Law, Annette Bening, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lace, Gemma Chan, and Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, known for making small pics like Half Nelson and Mississippi Grind, up their budget game here behind the camera.

The newest MCU saga serves as a bridge between Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, as was hinted at during the end credits of the former. That alone should provide it a substantial opening. As mentioned, it should have zero trouble posting the year’s largest debut and should hold that designation until the Endgame arrival in late April. How much that specific number is lies within a wide range. On the low-end of projections, we could see a debut in the vicinity of the $117 million made by 2017’s SpiderMan: Homecoming. The high-end could approach the friendly neighborhood of $180 million.

If Captain Marvel makes it to that level, we could be looking at an all-time record for the month of March. That mark is currently held by Beauty and the Beast at $174 million. I’m not sure it manages to get there, but it’s dangerous to underestimate the MCU. I think a more likely scenario is the #3 biggest March debut – currently held by The Hunger Games, which made $152 million out of the gate. I’ll put it just over that.

Captain Marvel opening weekend prediction: $154.4 million

2018: The Year of Crazy Rich Asians

Over 16 years ago, My Big Fat Greek Wedding unexpectedly became the highest grossing romantic comedy of all time with its focus on culture and love. That chord was struck once again in the summer of 2018 with Crazy Rich Asians. Based on the bestseller by Kevin Kwan and directed by Jon M. Chu, Asians received rave reviews and audiences turned out to the tune of a $174 million domestic haul.

The film made a little history along the way by becoming the first major Hollywood studio production to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. This allowed for star making roles for leads Henry Golding and Constance Wu, as well as actress/rapper Awkwafina. For veteran Michelle Yeoh, best known to stateside moviegoers for Tomorrow Never Dies and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, her potential mother-in-law role garnered awards chatter.

Asians certainly achieved its status as the summer’s giant sleeper and is the largest earning rom com since 2005’s Hitch. It also changed the faces we normally see in the genre (like Greek Wedding) and that earns it a place atop the year’s major cinematic stories.