With 25 films already out and more shows and films than you can imagine already on the way, Marvel has established a certain supremacy over the box-office. Their long awaited November release, delayed because of COVID, was supposed to be a success especially considering that Chloé Zhao, who won the Oscar for Best Directing in April, was at the helm of the project. Unfortunately for Marvel, Eternals was panned by critics and currently is their worst rated film with a score 47% on Rotten Tomatoes. So, is Eternals really that bad? Let’s find out!
Right out of the gate, I just want to say: No, Eternals isn’t a bad superhero film, nor is it a bad film in general. In fact, it might be one of the best (and by far the most profound) Marvel product we’ve had in years. Considering the scathing review that the film received, I was expecting a Thor: The Dark World level catastrophe but left the cinema utterly blown away by what I had seen. During the 2h37 minutes runtime (2nd longest film in the MCU after Avengers: Endgame), we witness the story of the Eternals, a super-race engineered that landed on Earth 7,000 years ago with the sole purpose of protecting us puny humans from the evil Deviant race and help us prosper. We follow their journey through centuries of violence, love and hardship up to the present day where they have seven days to save humanity from an impending life-ending catastrophe.
What makes Eternals so special is the care given to the characters. The heroes we’re presented with not only all have different powers (ranging from supersonic flight to matter manipulation) but also different goals, personalities or attitudes towards the human race. Their decisions throughout the film are often fascinating because they feel like clever, justified ones. It almost feels like the first mature Marvel film, one that shows heroes as complex beings, one that surprises the audience with genuinely brilliant twists, one that finally dials down on the humour to offer a shocking and compelling spectacle. It definitely helps that the cast of the film is so insanely talented. Whether it’s Angelina Jolie, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek or Richard Madden, they all do a fantastic job at portraying those god-like characters struggling with the task they were given. But special mentions must go to Lauren Ridloff, the first deaf actress / character in the MCU, whose speedster Makkari is by far of the strongest member of the team.
Eternals is also the first Marvel film to truly commit to representation, whether it is in its diverse international cast or its decision to include an openly-gay couple and their adorable family. And while it is a long time coming from Disney, who has constantly disappointed the LGBT+ community with queerbaiting and awful representation, it still deserves praise, especially considering Marvel has decided to not remove the first gay kiss scene in countries where it faced backclash. The Eternals are universal, flawed characters. They represent all that is beautiful and all that is wrong with humanity, making their adventure all the more thrilling to watch.
Watching Eternals makes sense why Marvel would approach Chloé Zhao to direct this unique film. Her ability to understand characters, cinematography and filmmaking (like she had shown in Nomadland) shines throughout the film as she masterfully directs quiet, intimate moments of love just as well as the bigger action set pieces. Her decision to film only using natural lighting also really helps setting the film apart from other MCU projects, giving it a je ne sais quoi that truly elevates it above the rest. Perhaps it is why it’s so hard to rank Eternals amongst other MCU projects, because it feels like no film you’ve seen before.
Technically, there are so many things that also make Eternals a stand-out. Throughout the film, Ramin Djawadi’s ethereal score really helps sell the or the weight of the story. Tracks like Celestial, Eternals Theme, The Domo or Across the Oceans of Time truly convey the beauty of those everlasting beings, and I find myself listening to them daily even two weeks after the screening. It is no wonder that the man behind the Game of Thrones soundtrack would deliver, but his work is so good that it deserved a special mention. Ben Davis’ cinematography, full of real-life locales, is a wonderful addition just like Sammy Sheldon’s gorgeous costumes.
If anything, Eternals’ critical failure isn’t necessarily one for Marvel but far more a failure for the critics who failed to appreciate the first MCU movie that tried to go above and beyond what’s expected from superhero films. Destroying it the way critics have will only push Marvel to hire talentless yes-men that will deliver soulless, generic action films, making sure any creativity, boldness and representation gets shelved for a long time. As usual, don’t listen to the haters and go watch Eternals to make your own opinion!