An ambitious and unique film, “Eternals” might be one of the most divisive installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Disney film, which introduces nearly a dozen new major characters into the canon, has received predominantly positive reviews ahead of its release next week. However, its attempts to build lore, flesh out its main heroes and connect back to previous films in the series, leaves the film feeling overstuffed, critics say.
Directed by Academy Award winner Chloe Zhao, “Eternals” introduces 10 members of a race of immortal beings who have spent 7,000 years on Earth defending it from beasts known as Deviants.
In present day, these beings are scattered in different regions, with Sirse (Gemma Chan) working as a museum curator in London. She has carried on a love affair across the centuries with Ikaris (Richard Madden), but is currently involved with a human named Dane (Kit Harington).
Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) is a popular Bollywood star, Gilgamesh (Don Lee) is a strong-man living in isolation in the Australian outback and Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is a living in suburban Chicago with his husband and son.
Sprite (Lia McHugh) appears as an androgynous preteen with the ability to create illusions and Druig (Barry Keoghan) has distanced himself from the rest of the group because he disagrees with how they’ve interacted with mankind over the centuries.
The other Eternals include Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), who is deaf and possesses super speed; Thena (Angelina Jolie), a fierce warrior who is struggling with a mental condition that comes from having too many memories; and Ajak (Salma Hayek), the leader of the group, who is guarding a secret about why the team was sent to Earth in the first place.
“Their free-flowing, all-for-one unity extends, in spirit, to the diversity of the characters, which is something the film presents with a no-big-deal effrontery that makes them a winning prototype of a more dynamically inclusive superhero world,” wrote Owen Gleiberman in his review of the film for Variety. “Four of the Eternals are white, three are Asian, two are Black, and one is Latina. One is gay, one is deaf, and one is an androgynous tween who never grows up.”
For some critics, Zhao’s direction coupled with a “refreshingly diverse” cast is enough to make “Eternals” stand out from other entries in the MCU. Others are less convinced, disappointed that film ultimately slips back into Marvel’s traditional formula.
“You walk out in the depressing realization that you’ve just seen one of the more interesting movies Marvel will ever make, and hopefully the least interesting one Chloe Zhao will ever make,” wrote Justin Chang in his review for The Los Angeles Times.
Currently, the film holds a 62% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 107 reviews. This percentage could change over the next week as more reviews are added to the site.
Here’s what critics thought of Marvel’s “Eternals” ahead of its Nov. 5 theatrical release:
Esther Zuckerman, Thrillist
“Marvel has gotten the reputation for hiring fantastic filmmakers and flattening their styles, and while ’Eternals’ certainly doesn’t play like anything else Zhao has done, it also doesn’t mute her vision,” wrote Esther Zuckerman in her review of the film for Thrillist.
“Amid all the magic and skin-tight costumes, Zhao has made a movie that’s both humane and earthy, but also wonderfully weird, one where the internal debates between superhumans are more interesting than the punches they throw,” she said.
Zuckerman noted that film is a bit messy and packed to the brim with plot points that bog down and overcomplicate the overall narrative.
“‘Eternals,’ of course, is part of a bigger plan, as evidenced by the much-discussed post-credits scenes that were not shown during the New York screening I attended, but immediately spoiled by some in Los Angeles,” she added. “It’s a movie that’s best when it’s floating in a more primordial space, disconnected from what came before.”
John Nugent, Empire
“Eternals” is storytelling on an “epic scale,” wrote John Nugent in Empire’s review of the film.
The film spans from 5,000 BC to present day, relying heavily on flashbacks to explain what the Eternals have been up to for more than 7,000 years.
“Playing on such a colossal stage, it’s inevitably challenging to keep the focus at the (super)human level,” he wrote. “Zhao takes her time introducing everyone properly, devoting much of the runtime (at 157 minutes, this is the MCU’s second-longest film after ‘Endgame’) to getting the team of ten back together, after centuries apart.”
“It’s undeniably refreshing to see such a mix in the line-up — these ancient immortals talk in Irish brogues or American Sign Language without ever feeling the need to address it — but some characters leave more of an impression than others,” Nugent added.
He pointed to Nanjiani as a standout in the film, but noted that other characters like Sersi and Ikaris are saddled with generic dialogue and “smothering earnestness.”
Mick LaSalle, Datebook
Much of Marvel’s latest film revolves around Sersi traveling the globe to collect her colleagues and convince them to join her to save the planet, Mick LaSalle explained in his review for Datebook.
“Some do, some don’t,” he wrote. “Some have to be talked into it. Some really don’t care either way. ‘Eternals’ is like a movie about a horse race that concentrates all its attention on characters that neither own a horse nor like to gamble.”
“It takes a special kind of movie anti-magic to make an entire audience indifferent to the potential destruction of Earth and every living thing on it,” LaSalle wrote. “‘Eternals’ manages it.”
Johnny Oleksinski, New York Post
“Seriously, what a snooze,” Johnny Oleksinski wrote in his review for the New York Post. “Fresh off of winning the Best Director Oscar for ‘Nomadland,’ Chloe Zhao has upchucked one of the MCU’s worst movies in ages.
“Angelina Jolie’s Thena has the personality of a bar of soap and an accent that suggests her semester abroad in London was the best four months of her life,” he wrote.
“All the characters are similarly bland,” he said, criticizing the superhero team for being generic and not well fleshed out. While each member of the Eternals has a special power, they do share similar abilities like super strength, invulnerability, accelerated healing and flight.
“Yet here you go, ticket buyers — another far worse, uniformed collective of super-beings with conspicuously similar powers and a vague, grandiose mission to save humanity,” Oleksinski wrote. “Well, where were our amazing protectors when several hundred innocent people walked into a lousy, two-hour, 37-minute movie Monday night?”
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.