I have never been more disappointed leaving a movie than I was leaving ETERNALS. Not because of the movie — in fact, it was because the movie was astonishingly great that I felt this way. I was disappointed because I have never seen such an instant and passionate hatred online for a movie, and for no concrete reason that I can discern. ETERNALS is perhaps the best MCU film since Avengers: Endgame, and is the most ambitious superhero film I can think of in the past few years. Every minute looks gorgeous and is a visual feast. Director Chloé Zhao dares to go thematically where no Marvel movie has gone before. This is a brave and different big-budget tentpole movie that finally gives fans the deeper experience that many have been craving from the MCU, so it’s only natural that critics are tearing this movie to shreds for being “boring” and “dry” while praising Dune in the same breath.
Eternals is, admittedly, a lesser known Marvel comic that only hardcore fans are likely to know in detail.. However, the plot is simple: the Eternals are immortal beings that have been residing on Earth for centuries and have seen it through each stage of human development. Their goal is to rid the Earth of Deviants: monsters who ravage planets and the life that resides on them. The film transitions between present-day and important events during the Eternals’ history on Earth to effectively tell their story. In the present day, the Eternals begin to realize that the Deviants are returning for unknown reasons and planning something terrible for humanity. However, some truths that the Eternals have taken for granted are not what they seem, and the truth may reveal a more complicated reality that will unearth some uncomfortable revelations.
From the very start, the look and feel of ETERNALS is different from any other superhero movie, and that is almost entirely attributable to Chloé Zhao, who directs this big-budget Marvel blockbuster like an indie film. Most directors, when they are sucked into the MCU, are forced to water down their artistic tendencies and cater to the formula that Disney has established for their superhero movies. While Zhao still includes many of the trademarks Marvel fans are used to seeing, the general approach is different and more ambitious than the traditional origin story. ETERNALS is an epic of gargantuan proportions that has to not only develop each character at a personal level, but has to relay the story of how the universe was created and why life exists. Zhao does all of this with an auteur’s creativity and expertise, and always manages to connect every aspect of the story to the deep human emotions ingrained in the plot material. Along with this, it examines some of the most existential and essential human issues one can explore — it shares many themes with Zhao’s previous films but on a bigger scale.
Zhao also adds her visual flair to ETERNALS, making this far and away the most visually impressive MCU film yet, which is saying quite a lot when Shang-Chi, Thor: Ragnarok and many others exist. Sure, the movie doesn’t have as vibrant a color palette as, say, Ragnarok does, but, similar to Nomadland, Zhao constantly has an eye for the natural light and the beautiful Earthy background, which, in this case, adds to the sentimentality the Eternals have for the planet they’ve called home for thousands of years. The wide shots in this movie are gorgeous and shot in a way that no other director could, and that alone makes this film stand out from other superhero films. Some have pointed out the shotty CGI in one or two scenes, however I did not notice these while viewing but only when people complained about them on the Internet. Almost every scene in this movie has impressive visual effects, so one or two scenes where the effects are noticeable failed to take me out of the narrative.
The narrative is constantly engaging and emotional, and develops more layers as it progresses. A common complaint I have seen circling around film conversations is that all of the characters are dry and boring, and that the movie drags on because nothing is interesting. Not only do I disagree wholeheartedly with these thoughts, but I think these are some of the most complex, human and yet larger-than-life characters the MCU has introduced in a solo movie. Much of the details regarding each character’s arcs are somewhat spoilers and were not revealed in any promotional material for the film, so I won’t go into too much more specifics here, but the ethical dilemma that the Eternals have to face regarding the fate of humanity is one that even I was struggling to decide upon.
Sure, I understand ETERNALS is not going to be for everyone, but there is something about the reaction of this movie that seems off-putting to me. Not often do I see a movie regarded by all as being a complete failure before many have even seen it, especially when said movie is a fantastic and well-made film that stands out from the pack. The acting here is all top-notch, with not one weak link throughout (Richard Madden as Ikaris was perhaps my favorite, although there are many great performances), and there was never one scene that struck me as even getting anywhere near the definition of the word “bad.” While this does not make the movie good on its own, I find it odd how Marvel fans have been clamoring for both a movie that breaks from the formula and a movie that showcases diversity, and when one that covers both comes handed to them on a silver platter, it becomes “the worst rated MCU movie ever made.” All I know is that ETERNALS deserves far more attention than critics seem to be saying, and I genuinely believe that in years to come people will begin looking back at the initial reception of this film as being erroneous and misguided. The ideas it has are far more interesting and contemplative than the reviews seem to be saying, and the clear amount of effort and passion put into every shot tell a story of success and creativity.