“Eternals” aims high but shoots low.

Chloe Zhao’s “Eternals” is the 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the franchise’s third film of the year. Coming off the financial and (mostly) critical success of “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” “Eternals” introduces a new batch of characters and lore to the MCU.


After seeing the trailers, I had high hopes for this film. Its scale was large, the visuals looked different, and Chloe Zhao, who just won pretty much every Oscar for “Nomadland,” seemed to have a unique vision for it. After “Black Widow” and “Shang-Chi” failed to go beyond the traditional MCU requirements, “Eternals” looked to be the palette-cleanser the franchise needed.


However, the film that we got shows the same studio interference the last two films in the franchise did without the heart that made the pre-Black Widow films so good. “Eternals” learns the wrong lesson from previous successes and will teach the studio the wrong lesson for the future.


The visuals of Eternals are hit-or-miss. I commend Chloe Zhao and Kevin Feige for making an effort to make this film different from the rest: a lot of the film is shot on location and the VFX designs are pretty unique. Unfortunately, a lot of this film falls into the same MCU traps. 


The VFX is really good in small doses: the Eternals and Deviants look great and the action scenes are extremely good with all the different powers at play. But often, these shots and scenes become caked in jarring CGI, breaking my immersion. Certain other scenes, without action, are weighed down by distracting green screen. As much as I thought it would, “Eternals” does little to break the visual rules that almost every Marvel movie seems to follow.


My biggest issue with the film is the writing. The first half of the film is repetitive, bland exposition about who the Eternals are, what they’ve been up to, and why they need to reunite now. The film opens with onscreen text that tells us the same thing we will hear 3 more times in the next 30 minutes. 


The overall plot of the film is very intriguing with an interesting moral question at its center, but it takes so much time “getting the band back together” and setting up an unfulfilled villain plot that what could have been great becomes just decent.


Where it really fails in its writing is in its characterization and Marvel’s dreaded one-liners. Although many of the films can feel the same, the MCU has always done a great job of developing its characters and getting you to care about them. The 11-year dual arc between Iron Man and Captain America is one of my favorite examples of long-term planning and good character writing. 


Marvel’s signature one-liners and small attempts at humor, which Disney sees as crucial to the Marvel formula, make sense when it is built into characters like Iron Man and Ant-Man. However, when this formulaic humor is a studio requirement, it can be hard to create newer, more serious characters as this film tries to do. 


Introducing and characterizing ten new characters is hard on its own without the unfit jokes that just confuse them. Characters like Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo work because his experience as a comedian makes him a good comic relief but half of the Eternals don’t work as much because they go from seriously worrying about the fate of billions to playing with a Snapchat filter in the span of minutes. 


If Marvel continues to make every film fit this established formula, not only will they get blander and blander but they will lose the heart of the Infinity Saga without the ability to develop dynamic characters. The best Marvel films are those that either know how to navigate their obligations to the studio, like the Russos’ work, or those that lean into them by being comedies, like “Guardians of the Galaxy.” 


As someone who loved the Infinity Saga, this worries me for the future of the MCU. Disney seemed to have given more creative control to Zhao than they do most of their filmmakers but now that the film is being received badly for unrelated reasons, I am genuinely worried that Disney will continue to limit artists’ abilities until each of their films are exactly the same.


“Eternals” had some standout moments and characters but its misguided writing and obligations to the franchise hold it back from being a notable addition to the MCU.

Rating: 2.5/5