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…