Fresh off winning best picture and director at the last Academy Awards for her masterpiece “Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao delivers the most unusual Marvel film in some time. Unusual is a welcome diversion from the familiar superheroes, whose origin stories have been played out to exhaustion.
While the big question is how these “Eternals” fit into the Marvel Comics Universe, that concept becomes less interesting as we dive into this new, complicated superhero story.
“Eternals” gives “Game of Thrones” fans a reason to celebrate by reuniting cast members Richard Madden and Kit Harington, who played brothers in the series, along with award-winning composer Ramin Djawadi. Once you understand what Deviants are, who the Eternals represent and how Celestials are created, this vast world of beings starts to make sense.
Eternals, like their name, have been around for thousands of years, watching over planet Earth as far back as Mesopotamia in 5000 B.C. In present day, when Dane Whitman (Harington) learns of his girlfriend Sersi’s (Gemma Chan) real identity, he can’t help but ask why they never helped the Avengers. She explains they were instructed not to help.
After protecting Earth all these years, the Eternals, who have gone separate ways in the last few hundred years, must reunite as their true purpose finally comes into focus. The Eternals vary in their abilities as well as in the way they choose to live their lives. Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) has chosen the family life, Ikaris (Madden) has isolated himself from most of humanity and Druig (Barry Keoghan) chooses to directly interfere with the fate of local tribes.
What’s refreshing about Zhao’s entry into the Marvel world is that these superheroes can be defeated and killed without the kind of resistance and fanfare seen elsewhere. The playing field is leveled here, creating actual suspense in fight sequences.
Another aspect of “Eternals” that we rarely see anymore is super-beings interacting with regular humans, and the consequences their actions have on the everyday Joe or Jane isn’t ignored in this script. An eclectic and diverse cast of newer faces and seasoned professionals add to the intrigue.
While the group’s origins and purpose bloat the screen time to a typical Marvel film, Zhao manages to keep us mostly invested throughout, switching between comedy, action sequences and dramatic plot reveals.
While these characters stray from “Avengers” or “X-Men,” it’s the actors who elevate the film to something more. Keoghan, in particular, stands out as one of the most unpredictable in the group. The constant reminder we’re in uncharted territory is what keeps “Eternals” trudging along.
If you’re familiar with Zhao’s style and the way she perceives life through the camera, you’ll notice her signature touches embedded inside the multimillion-dollar film. While her less-is-more approach won’t be as valued here as in other projects, the way she chooses to look at culture remains the same.
Final Thought: Zhao’s “Eternals” offers an alternative approach to the repetitive Marvel movies.