Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 36 minutes, Director – Chloé Zhao
A group of immortal superhumans known as Eternals reunite as a race of thought-to-be-extinct aliens, called Deviants, re-emerge amongst discussion of the end of the Earth.
Director Chloé Zhao’s name was perhaps one of the biggest points of interest when it came to the 26th, and latest, entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eternals. Her visual style is certainly on display in plenty of scenes and it forms an image different to that of other features produced by Marvel Studios thus far. However, the view is often distracted, rather interrupted, by extensive sequences of CGI fights, battles and spectacle – often causing a confliction between the locations and the visual effects that doesn’t completely sit well visually. There appears to be a slight rivalry throughout between the progressing narrative and the titular Eternals themselves.
With ten characters they each need time to form a connection with the audience and get across who they are, what their powers are and help to push the plot forwards. Leading the group of immortal superhumans sent to protect Earth from an alien race known as the Deviants is Ajak (Salma Hayek). Keeping the group in order as they try to fulfil their mission and reason for being on the planet, influencing human and societal evolution along the way. Largely we see the film’s events through the eyes of Gemma Chan’s Sersi, formerly in a relationship with fellow Eternal Ikaris (Richard Madden), but now happy – although not revealing her true identity – seeing colleague Dane (Kit Harrington) in modern day London. As the Deviants become a returning presence she must travel around the globe, with Ikaris and youthful, yet shapeshifting, Sprite (Lia McHugh) to find the reassemble the group.
Through various flashbacks we learn about the past of the Eternals and just how close a group they were in enforcing the task set upon them by rocky, red, six-eyed Iron Giant Arishem (David Kaye). It forms various introductions and contexts to each figure, who we are then re-introduced to later in the film when finally arriving at their respective locations. The film jumps back and forth both in time and location making it feel considerably busy, and causing it to reach a lengthy two and a half hour plus run-time. It feels like more than half of this time is spent simply meeting and re-meeting members of the titular team, all while trying to find space for fights with the creatures that they’re hunting down and battling. There’s certainly a lot going on within the film, creating certain elements of conflict between its focused elements and creating a slight sense of disorder. It’s a surprise when even Angelina Jolie doesn’t appear to get a great deal to do during her somewhat short amount of screen time.
It all leads to much repetition as instead of moving on and assuming that each new character has been told what’s already happened we essentially get told the plot all over again. It feels like the result of multiple hands involved in the writing of the screenplay. And while the Eternals are already aware of their powers and this isn’t an origin story there’s a fair deal of work going in to building all of them up as if characters that we’ve spent multiple films with already – almost like an Avengers style team within their first film, although the feeling doesn’t overly come across. You don’t even always get the united group style eventually found in James Gunn’s Guardians Of The Galaxy, although that only had half the amount of core members.
Once the elements have come together and the third act finally arrives the final battle is all set up. It’s here, once it seems the build-up is out the way, that things properly come together. We’ve had glimpses beforehand – the film builds itself up and improves however slightly knocks itself back with each new flashback – and generally the film has a number of elements that work in its favour to keep the audience engaged and involved, however as the final fight pans out this is where what is perhaps the highlight of the film lies. It no longer feels bogged down by repetition and greetings, instead getting on with the task at hand and providing some fairly decent fight action while at it. The less cluttered feeling helps and it actually allows for a handful of characters – particularly Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari – to have that bit more to do, while allowing their unique powers to also take a role in the team course of action.
There’s a long and slightly uneven path on the way to Eternals’ finale. While it occasionally builds itself up with new pieces of detail and an improved flow it soon feels knocked back by jumping to a new location for another character introduction, or to an extended moment and idea in the past. It pushes the run-time to beyond where it should be – closer to two hours than three, or rather two and a half. Yet, despite the conflicting nature of some elements there are those moments where the flow and tone improves and you manage to find yourself caught that little bit more in the piece and the world that has been created. It might not always be for long, but it helps make the third act an enjoyable finale in the wake of the clutter that comes before it.
Much like the titular team themselves, Eternals eventually comes together, and does so bit by bit over the lengthy run-time. However, it feels very busy and a bit all over the place beforehand.