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Rant and Rave: ‘Eternals’ explores a new family of heroes

After the epic conclusion of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) Infinity Saga, the franchise’s fourth phase continues to explore the mysteries surrounding celestial beings. Often, these aliens are considered as outlandish misfits or terroristic monsters, such as in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, Captain Marvel, or even Thor. However, in Eternals, the otherworldly beings don’t invade Earth. Instead, they protect it and foster a genuine curiosity and appreciation for mankind.

The film follows a group of immortal extraterrestrials who fight against the invasive Deviants, a race of aliens who destroy all life on various planets. But this isn’t the typical, action-packed MCU affair. Instead, director Chloe Zhao took her time in establishing each character and plot point. While the film does its best to explore everyone’s side, this doesn’t necessarily translate well in the finished product.

Heroes’ journey

Much like the other hero groups of the MCU, the Eternals operate as a found family. However, what sets them apart from other hero groups is that the audience gets to see the relationships blossom naturally, rather than being a group of preformed personalities who merely band together and save the day. 

That said, the action and the conflict don’t arise between the Eternals and their villains. In fact, similar to Captain America: Civil War, it is interpersonal. The immortal heroes’ clashing morals and values cause rifts in their bond. Surprising revelations and intense disagreements lead to the disjointing of the team, even after seven thousand years at each other’s side.

In terms of the story’s pace, however, Eternals is much slower than other MCU films. While Zhao could have used this to her advantage, there are little to no storylines for each Eternal as the movie focuses on their dynamic as a collective. Throughout its runtime, it becomes more difficult to keep track of all the characters and their powers. Had this been a Disney+ series, the pacing could have worked well. But the endless flashbacks and melodramatic moments ultimately made Eternals confusing and dull.

Family worth fighting for

In the film, relationships are given great significance. Whether romantic or platonic, these connections are integral to the plot of Eternals and are among the film’s strong points. Such is the case for Angelina Jolie’s Thena and Don Lee’s Gilgamesh. However, what makes their dynamic endearing is their immense care for each other, with Gilgamesh dedicating himself to protect Thena at all costs. This kind of selfless devotion made their relationship heartwarming and, later on, heartbreaking.

Speaking of couples in Eternals, the romance between Druig and Makkari has explosive chemistry. Barry Keoghan and Lauren Ridloff gave commendable performances, interpreting the heroes’ relationship in such a way that just oozes charisma. Ridloff, in particular, gave her all in her role as Makkari, whose superspeed scenes were unique in that they weren’t portrayed in slow motion, unlike other speedsters such as Quicksilver. 

But not every pairing is portrayed as sweet. Gemma Chan’s Sersi and Richard Madden’s Ikaris are strong characters on their own; the former plays another one of her empathetic and sophisticated roles while the latter irks the audience to punch him through a screen. Unfortunately, their relationship can be likened to Steve and Sharon’s fling in Captain America: Civil War or Sylvie and Loki’s in the Disney+ limited series: forced and displeasing. Their intimate scene—which made headlines as an MCU first—didn’t add any spark, resulting in a waste of screentime. 

Meanwhile, Salma Hayek’s powerful run as Ajak proves that the world is in good hands. Opposite her is the feisty and Peter Pan-like Sprite, an Eternal trapped in a childlike state. Lia McHugh’s endless quips are filled with great humor and juvenile vigor. But like any child, she still needs to go through a lot of development.

Equal playing field

While one would think a massive assemblage of characters in a film is questionable, the cast of Eternals did not disappoint. Not only did the MCU cast a star-studded lineup, but it also gave fans a set of superheroes that every person can look up to. 

This message of representation was portrayed incredibly well, especially compared to earlier phases of the MCU. Aside from the ethnically diverse cast, the movie also highlights the franchise’s first gay couple. Brian Tyree Henry and Haaz Sleiman play Phastos and his husband Ben with gratifying authenticity, free from any mockery or spite attached to their storyline. Simultaneously, Makkari finally broke ground as the MCU’s first deaf superhero—a title she narrowly snatched away from Hawkeye.

But above all, Hayek and Chan’s performances of compassionate leaders do not go unnoticed. As the MCU pushes for more female leads at the forefront—like Scarlet Witch and Captain Marvel—the film universe slowly turns into a more inclusive playing field for comic book characters. This advocates for the diversified representation of female superheroes in the MCU and beyond, one that treads away from putting them in skimpy, skin-tight suits and portraying them with little-to-no personalities as in previous flicks.

Breath of fresh air

Compared to the rest of the MCU, the cinematography in Eternals is second to none. Zhao’s signature style is clearly telegraphed in the film, with wide, dramatic shots of sweeping landscapes contrasting intimate moments. She bathes the Eternals in picturesque sunsets, forests at dawn, and the candlelight of the civilizations they protect. In addition, it’s clear that Marvel spared no money on acquiring real-world filming locations—a decision that adds to the film’s realism.

This cinematography is complemented by a strong soundtrack by Ramin Djawadi, best known for his work on Game of Thrones and Westworld. However, Zhao opts to use this soundtrack sparingly—either muted by loud action or a faint accompaniment to the actors’ performances.

This plays well with the film’s dramatic tone and lets moments breathe when they need to. Despite this, it would’ve been nice to hear more of the Eternals’ theme in the film since its inquisitive tone makes for an interesting leitmotif. While it doesn’t carry enough pomp to rival the iconic Avengers theme, it does suit the more intimate, character-driven nature of the film.

While the future is unclear for the Eternals, we know these immortals are more than just the Avengers’ replacements. These heroes took the time to live among people, falling in love with humanity and giving them a second chance at life. However, the story of Marvel’s Eternals is not over yet. With a prequel in development, along with mid-credit and post-credit scenes that leave questions unanswered, everything remains up in the air. The MCU fandom is assured of one thing, though—the Eternals will return.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

By Jasper Ryan Buan

By Lauren Sason

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