January 24, 2022
Disney has finally done it. It has wrung the Marvel universe dry, extracting every conceivable drop of marketable superpower. Its preliminary characters, such as Iron Man, Spider-Man, or Captain America, have already leaped beyond the bounds of their comic book pages and penetrated pop culture.
Now, having exhausted its crop of big-name heroes, Disney has begun exhuming the deep cuts of Marvel’s catalog. Hence, we’re introduced to the Eternals: a coterie of immortal super-beings created to live among humans without interfering in their affairs. That is, except for when Deviants, the Eternals’ odious and destructive complements, are involved. Predictably, the Deviants — creatures animated as giant, menacing clogs of CGI — appear and threaten the survival of the entire human species (the apocalyptic specter we’ve come to expect from every other movie these days).
For years, the action movie genre has raised the stakes higher and higher. Small-scale, localized crime just doesn’t sell tickets anymore. Even in the latest Fast and Furious film, a franchise ostensibly about stealing cars and racing, Vin Diesel and crew ventured out into space to save the planet. The stakes have been raised to such levels that a mere neighborhood Spider-Man can no longer exist. Instead, Spider-Man crosses worlds and dimensions, combating alien belligerents.
Essentially all superhero films follow the same formula. The entire world (or universe) is threatened by some alien and its horde of minions. Then, through enervating CGI sequences, occasionally seasoned by some corny jokes, the protagonists mow down reams of CGI minions before facing off against the big, bad CGI punching-bag boss. Rinse and repeat for about a dozen sequels.
Eternals follows this same template, introducing over 10 new characters to the Marvel cinematic roster. They’re as diverse as a United Nations panel and about equally as entertaining on-screen. Despite acting talents such as Angelina Jolie and Selma Hayek, the writers fail to give any of the characters enough backstory to make them compelling.
Not only that, but for superheroes, none of the characters are the least bit inspiring or even likable. In one scene, at the site of the Hiroshima bombing in 1945, one of the Eternals, bearing a despondent countenance, claims he believes humanity to be irredeemable.
This is an odd choice: picking the retaliatory strike that ended World War II and prevented millions of deaths as the nadir of human morality as opposed to, say, the indiscriminate mass murders at Auschwitz that had been happening for years at that point. You’ll have an easier time finding characters to root for reading Wuthering Heights.
Moreover, the extent of the Eternals’ powers isn’t fully explained, nor is how they compare to other Marvel heroes. Despite the tersely described lore suggesting the Eternals are borderline gods, they don’t appear any more powerful in combat than the Hulk or Thor.
Its characters aside, Eternals is further hampered by poor pacing. The title could fittingly serve as a reference to the film’s run-time. At two hours and 36 minutes, Eternals is longer than any of the first three Avengers while offering a fraction of their substance. Scenes cut from characters aimlessly sauntering around cinematic landscapes to barreling into CGI-fueled action sequences against green screens.
Visually, much of Eternals feels more like watching a video game than a movie. Everything is either draped in or generated by computer software. The Screen Actors Guild best watch out, as the growing obsession and reliance on CGI may soon put them all out of work.
If you’re a Marvel completist with an obligation to consume every piece of content to leave Disney’s corporate conveyor belt, you’ll be trudging through this dirge irrespective of its merit. For anyone else, the film’s director, Chloé Zhao, wrote and directed a far more interesting film, Nomadland, in 2020 — watch that instead.
Originally Published at The Washington Examiner