Reel Thoughts: Chloé Zhao’s “The Eternals” is better than you think


Graphic by Meher Yeda

The latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “The Eternals,” was released last Friday to poor critic reviews.

Rebecca Aizin, Print Managing Editor

Based on critics’ reviews, you might think the latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “The Eternals,” was a complete disaster. Rotten Tomatoes gave it the lowest score for any MCU entry — 46%. I’m not sure what movie they saw, but it certainly could not have been the same one I did.

After concluding the third phase of the MCU with “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” the franchise released an onslaught of television series, including fan favorites “WandaVision” and “Loki.” But to kick off the films in the fourth phase, Marvel premiered three movies so far this year. “The Eternals” ushers in a new era of superheroes who, dare I say it, may be more powerful than the Avengers ever were. Created by celestial creatures, the god-like, sort-of-immortal beings are so powerful, the Avengers don’t stand much of a chance against them.

Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao’s latest film follows 10 of these beings — and if that feels like a lot of names to remember, it is — as they come back together after separating over 1,000 years prior. A harrowing shock unites them and the ultimate plot twist divides them, but in the end they must work together to stop the demolition of all of mankind, because what could be worse than Thanos’ desire to end half of civilization? Ending all of it.

While that may be the broadest explanation ever, it is a necessary one, as the intricacies of the film reveal themselves as the story progresses. The movie explores relationships, including the first openly gay Marvel character, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), who has a husband and a child. It also features the first sex scene to ever grace the screen in a MCU film between a perfectly-cast, charming Ikaris (Richard Madden) and a shy but underrated Sersi (Gemma Chan). Chan takes the helm as the main protagonist of the film and gives a convincing, albeit unremarkable, performance as the master of matter transformation. She is the heart of the movie, the defender and lover of Earth and mankind.

But the real star of the movie is Kumail Nanjiani, who portrays Kingo, the ego-obsessed, self-proclaimed star of the Eternals group. Nanjiani adds necessary humor, breaking up heavy scenes with well-timed comedic jabs.

The film is the most progressive in Marvel history, with a diverse cast and the franchise’s first deaf character, Makkari (Lauren Ridloff, who is also deaf). Perhaps the most notable aspect of the film is the astounding cinematography that comes with Zhao’s work. She takes the film from the trembling walls of a crumbling Babylon to the dusty prairies of South Dakota, all with visuals that will leave your eyes glued to the screen.

One of the largest critiques of the film, however, is the sheer length — a two hour, 37 minute showtime is nothing to scoff at, especially considering only the culmination of the entire franchise, “Avengers: Endgame,” is longer. The movie tried to tackle too much, with over 10 characters to introduce the viewers to, so it realistically needed even more than the two hours it was allotted.

But with any more airtime, the length would have been ridiculous. Instead, the film should have been 30 minutes shorter, cut some of the exposition in the overly long and somewhat dreary first hour and committed to a few essential characters early on. “The Eternals” picked up somewhere around the hour mark, with a perfectly-executed plot twist that saved an otherwise boring villain from ruining the film entirely.

Though the ending of the movie was as corny as it gets, it was a welcome reprieve from the bleak ending 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” has had me expecting in every group hero film since then. I shed a tear, which is a good sign the film tugged at my heartstrings — granted, not a hard thing to do, but an accomplishment nonetheless.

So if the critics’ despondent reviews have you questioning the worth of seeing the latest star-studded, major blockbuster Marvel film, know that this critic begs to differ.

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Twitter: @rebecca_aizin

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