Eternals Review: Chloé Zhao & Marvel Studios' unconventional allegiance leaves you in a conundrum

Updated on Dec 21, 2021 10:40 PM IST  |  463.3K
   
Eternals Review
Eternals releases on November 5.
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Eternals

Eternals Cast: Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani, Kit Harington

Eternals Director: Chloé Zhao

Eternals Stars: 3.5/5

Eternals Review 1

We know we were in for something uniquely different from the Marvel Cinematic Universe "status quo" the minute it was announced that Oscar winner Chloé Zhao was undertaking the behemoth task of bringing Eternals to the big screen. Moreover, given how the MCU Phase 4 movie is jam-packed with diversity in terms of its talented ensemble, as a direct response to the criticism the studio has received over the years for the lack thereof, it left fans genuinely curious about what to expect. But did Chloé and Marvel Studios' unconventional allegiance work? Let's find out!

Stemming across seven millennia, the immortal race known as the Eternals, Celestials' creation, have been humankind's saving grace against their evil counterparts, Deviants. From Babylon to the Gupta Empire and even modern-day London, Chloé's extravagant, natural landscape as seen in her classics like Nomadland and The Rider is also very prevalent in Eternals as is the prominent pull of human emotions disguised within the celestial beings. After having successfully wiped off all Deviants, the Eternals go their separate ways, some in two folds.

However, they're obliged to reunite with the return of the Deviants in present time, years after Thanos' snap and the return of half the population, now even more powerful with their target aimed to be the Eternals, themselves. Leading the reunion is Eternals' leader Ajax (Salma Hayek), who is in direct contact with Arishem, Celestial Judge (David Kaye) and is harbouring a secret (No spoilers from me!) that could wreak Eternals' once upon a time united force. Other key players include Sersi (Gemma Cham), who quite possibly is the most empathetic Eternal and has come to consider humans as family, especially boyfriend Dane Whitman (Kit Harington). However, the thorn in the love triangle is Sersi's ex of a few thousand years, Ikaris (Richard Madden), who also happens to be the strongest Eternal.

Eternals Review 2 

While Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo (with Harish Patel playing his trusted manager, Karun) takes on Bollywood with his immortal skills, the exceptionally strong Gilgamesh (Don Lee) takes on the responsibility of shielding Thena (Angelina Jolie), an elite warrior Eternal, from her own mental anguish that could prove to be a threat to other Eternals. Lia McHugh plays Sprite, an elderly in the physical body of a 12-year-old girl with powers of illusion while Brian Tyree Henry plays Phastos, the scientific mastermind who is also the first MCU superhero to be gay. Speaking of firsts, we have Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), MCU's first deaf superhero and finally, the recluse Druig (Barry Keoghan), who is riddled with the burden of human exploitation for the Celestial's hidden purpose.

Eternals may seem like we're invested in too many characters at the get-go, like all 21 previous films before Avengers: Endgame wrapped up in one with an eternal duration of 156 long minutes. To be noted is how the crowd going to theatres now have been consumed overwhelmingly by OTT platforms, for a few years thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the convenience of pause and skip. Given Eternals' vast mythology, the almost limitless space and time covered are exponentially expanded and the jargon can get a bit over your head unless you do a repeat watch like me. Especially the Star Wars-style introduction of the Eternals' history!

In comparison, while another highly-awaited release, Dune was moderately criticised for leaving out the actual adventure to its confirmed sequel, Eternals tries to tell you everything at once while also leaving room for future instalments. As an MCU lover, Eternals is unlike any other film we've come to expect from the franchise. And that's mainly because of Chloé's elegant, non-compromising storytelling style, where even the action is orchestrated as per the natural elements and interlaced with the Eternals' individual mental state of mind, varying in different shades of grey. This is especially witnessed in the climax sequence which is baffling with huge elements but yet, feels intimate. It's not as crisp, fast-paced as Avengers (albeit Makkari's fight skills are enthralling!) or as comedic, stylised as the Guardians of the Galaxy (albeit Kingo is hilarious at parts!). Eternals isn't going to be everyone's palette of choice and that's understandable because Eternals was made with a purpose, to expand the horizons of how we view the MCU.

This is strikingly clear in its elaborate ensemble. Some scene-stealing performances come from Brian, who was given some heavy lifting acting to do in the latter half of Eternals as do Salma, Lauren, Barry and Lia equally impress. Ridloff and Keoghan's unconventional dynamic was a sassy and very welcome surprise! Also, unsurprisingly good were Gemma and Richard, with Chan's Sersi taking charge of the narrative with vigour and Madden adding a twisted depth to Ikaris, while Angelina and Don's limited screen space as Thena and Gilgamesh was disappointing. Notably, it's Richard, Angelina and Lauren, who received a lot of claps from the audience for their kick**s powers! As good as Angie looked in her gold suit and the minimal action set pieces, it was criminal not to have her in focus, with her and Richard having insane electric chemistry in some minor scenes.

Moreover, Madden and Chan's chemistry had a bit of an awkward touch to it in the beginning, especially with the knowledge of how their characters have dated for thousands and thousands of years, but they slowly pick up steam. In fact, it was Kit's charming persona (again, very minimal!) and easy chemistry with Gemma which was a personal favourite for me. For the global MCU audience, Kumail's performance is the comedic relief we've come to expect from the patented MCU brand of humour with Harish as his desi sidekick, but the Indian elements, especially the Raj Koothrappali-style Bollywood dance number, attached are more Americanised than being authentically Indian. Even the clever wittiness of Marvel Studios movies is somewhat lacking with its repetitiveness in-jokes. The constant Avengers references hit their boiling point and become stale pretty quickly.

Nevertheless, it's especially delightful to see such a fresh, even though the word is repeated but, diverse cast leading the way in the MCU with Eternals and even though the talent is mismatched in terms of screen space, the overall ensemble performance is still strong. Moreover, the twists attached to some of the main characters will genuinely surprise you.

Chloé Zhao is amongst those once in a lifetime filmmakers who enable us to see cinema at its rawest, and with the glitches of trademark Marvel movies, the director still manages to leave you engaged in most parts, in spite of the two hours and 36 minutes duration. Most impressive is Eve Stewart and Clint Wallace's carefully curated to the minutest of details production design which is breathed life into by Ben Davis' larger than life cinematography and Dylan Tichenor and Craig Wood's expert editing. The visual effects, too, are on par with Marvel Studios' standards and add the Chloé charm in multifold. MCU veteran composer Ramin Djawadi adds an authentic traditional touch with his score with some trendy bops interlaced (Yes, there's a BTS song too!) that balances out the various time and space periods the Eternals find themselves in, between the past and present.

ALSO READ: Angelina Jolie REVEALS how her children think her Eternals character Thena is 'the most like' her

At the end of the day, Eternals is a lot to take in one showing. Those expecting a fast and furious dramatic overflow like Avengers: Endgame will be deeply disappointed. For me, I went to the cinema halls expecting a Chloé Zhao makeover of the MCU and that is what was delivered to me. I was both thoroughly satiated but also terribly distracted. There was no common ground.

P.S. As for Eternals' post-credits sequences, one of which was rudely revealed early on during the LA premiere, it will definitely leave you tingling with excitement for what's to come!

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