By Lynn Venhaus
Trying to save the world shouldn’t be boring, but “Eternals” is one big giant yawn — and easily the worst film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Eternals are immortal beings from the planet Olympia, who came to Earth 7,000 years ago, shaping history and civilizations—but are not to interfere with any conflicts or alter human events — unless it’s their nemesis, the Deviants, so says their creator, Arishem, a Celestial.

After what transpired in “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019, these ancient aliens, who have been living in secret, must come out of the shadows and reunite to battle Deviants, their ancient ferocious winged enemy that they thought was vanquished but has reappeared, more vicious than ever. The lines blur between who is good and who is evil.

A cumbersome, confusing, and unexciting plot sets up a battle for world domination, attempts to explain why this course of action is necessary and tries to assert itself in a superhero world.

Question: if they didn’t help when Thanos wreaked havoc, but name-drop Avengers, then why aren’t any of our beloved ‘other guys” there? As they zip around through time, space and continents, The Eternals explain their places and fix things, as rivalries and romances emerge. However, it’s a lot to absorb, and are we caring by now?

The story is based on comic book characters created by Jack Kirby in 1976, and follows the same trajectory of the familiar debates of destiny and free will, and is living forever a blessing or a curse – or both?

The main problem, besides this overblown spectacle feeling average, is a too-large unnecessarily complicated cast that appears based on Greek gods, with riffs on those names. Sersi not Circe, Ikaris not Icarus, Ajak not Ajax — get it?

These generic characters, in various shades of virtuousness and villainy, are created from a grab bag of qualities and mass produced in a comic book assembly line. To its credit, Marvel has assembled its most diverse cast yet, including a gay character who is in a same-sex marriage.

While the ensemble has some very talented and interesting performers – including the versatile Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, a genius scientist, and the poorly used Barry Keogan, so creepy in his breakout role in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” as a very crabby Druig whose superpower is mind control, several are under-utilized. 

Angelina Jolie seems like a waste of money as window dressing playing Thena, who can wield a sword and a spear very well in intense combat but has memory issues. And I couldn’t figure out Selma Hayak’s Ajak, for she is set up as the leader but mystery ensues about her intentions.

While others took on more than they could handle: Gemma Chan is one-note as omnipotent Sersi, who is desired both by her British professor boyfriend  Dane (Kit Harrington aka Jon Snow in “Game of Thrones,” barely in it) and her former lover Ikaris (Richard Madden, also a “Game of Thrones” alum), who is in full swagger mode.

Nevertheless, a few charmed in their roles, including a buff Kumail Nanjiani humorous as Kingo, a Bollywood superstar and Lia McHugh as the shapeshifter Sprite. Don Lee has fun as the hulking Gilgamesh, who has turned into a skilled chef/homebody taking care of Thena.

Phastos’ son Jack is winningly played by Esai Daniel Cross, and Lauren Ridloff is pleasant as the deaf Makkari.

Despite the gifts of Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao, known for her visual style and was so distinct in “Nomadland,” this film has an undistinguished look. Sure, there are shots of beautiful landscapes, but we’re globe-trotting so much that it begins to look like stock footage advertisers use to entice us on vacations.

She was part of the screenwriting team too, that included Patrick Burleigh and Ryan Firpo. Complex and unwieldy, the script features lots of exposition inserted in between the customary superhero banter.

The soundtrack has some unusual ‘on-the-nose’ choices, including good use of “Time” by Pink Floyd but really, Skeeter Davis’ “The End of the World”?

The computer-generated graphics are repetitive, the battles are bloated, and two hours and 37 minutes later, I could not wait for it to end (and with a Foreigner song?). But you have to stay for the obligatory revelation scene during the credits.

Filmmakers promise that the Eternals will return. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous about that.

“Eternals” is a 2021 action-adventure-sci-fi-fantasy directed by Chloe Zhao and starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Brian Tyree Henry, Angelina Jolie, Barry Keogan, Kumail Nanjiani, Selma Hayak, Kit Harrington, Lia McHugh, Don Lee and Lauren Ridloff. Rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, some language and brief sexuality, its run time is 2 hours, 37 minutes. It opens in theaters on Nov. 5. Lynn’s Grade: D.

By Lynn Venhaus
For those craving the Marvel Cinematic Universe on the big screen, “Black Widow” boldly arrives as a much-anticipated summer blockbuster event, checking off the usual boxes.

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), aka Natasha Romanoff, is a former Russian spy, now Avenger. In this stand-alone feature from the Marvel Universe, her complicated past and an unusual family dynamic collide in a globe-trotting mission pursuing a powerful KGB mind-controlling villain.

It’s the latest movie since the “Avengers: Endgame” finale in April 2019, although MCU has been busy delivering content on streaming services for the home screen that is far more original.

On the surface, this prequel-origin story has the appeal of women getting the job done instead of the plethora of standard-issue alpha males– they hold their own as intense fighting machines, using their brains along with their brawn.  

Frequently outfitted in a snazzy black leather cat suit, the lithe Scarlett Johansson carries the day as lethal weapon Natasha, trying to vanquish all connections to the nefarious Red Room program. She trusts no one and can’t shake off nightmarish memories that she can only recall in fragments.

The MCU movies have always alluded to Natasha’s tormented years as an assassin who broke free. She thought she exacted revenge, but not so fast. There is an armor-clad “Terminator” figure hot in pursuit.

These overlong conflicts in what seems to be one endless chase scene after another are forgettable. How many cars can crash on narrow city streets? With such a flimsy outline, the story by Jack Schaeffer and Ned Benson, and screenplay by Eric Pearson, evaporates like the cool air when you exit into the summer heat. Pearson gave us “Godzilla vs. Kong” earlier this year.

Coloring within a red-and-black palette, Australian indie director Cate Shortland spotlights females triumphing but is hampered by a convoluted conspiracy plot that forces the women to take on their tormenter.

Using a Big Bad Wolf persona, Winstone, last seen in “Cats,” shows just how evil he can be exerting mind-control over countless young women, training them to be operatives/slaves for Mother Russia. But ta-da, Yelena (Florence Pugh), no slouch in the fierce department, gets her hands on a serum that will stop this madness.

Now it’s time for musical vials! (It really doesn’t get much better, or easier to understand).

Nevertheless, the high-octane opening is fun. The film flashes back to Ohio in 1995, where Natasha and her sister are getting ready for dinner when their father comes home from work and tells his family they must leave.

Turns out the parents, Aleksei (David Harbour) and scientist Melina (Rachel Weisz), are Russian spies posing as an American family, and federal agents are after them. As they race to an air strip, their lives are increasingly in danger. Once in Cuba, the girls are separated and drugged, and thus begins Natasha’s transformation into a brainwashed super-spy.

This lively exchange is a well-choreographed thrill ride that won’t be matched again for the remainder of the film’s 2-hour, 13-minute runtime.

 “Black Widow” concentrates on her family, as tangled as it is, which gives big-energy Pugh another interesting turn as her kid ‘sister’ Yelena and versatile Harbour as the comical oaf ‘father,’ who once upon a time was a superhero named Red Guardian. Here, the girls reunite with dear old dad by breaking him out of a Siberian prison.

Pugh and Johansson project a sibling-like relationship, exchange snappy repartee and bicker like sisters who have long-standing grudges.

Apparently, the family pops up again because of unfinished business. The inspired casting propels this film to be better – although Weisz’s character is undeveloped.

This is Johansson’s eighth time portraying the strong-willed and smart character, who now crusades for justice along with her save-the-world Avenger buddies. Only it’s a bit thorny in that boy’s club during this time frame because the ‘enhanced human’ Avengers are regulated by a government oversight panel (the Sokovia Accords).

This time-out period takes place somewhere between “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) and “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018), which is why Natasha was attempting to hide away from Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt), secretary of state.

Johansson, in between Oscar-nominated roles and prestige films, first showed up as Natalie Rushman in “Iron Man 2” in 2010 and gained favor in storylines until – spoiler alert — her sacrificial demise in “Avengers: Endgame.”

In the comic books, Stan Lee introduced the character in 1964, during the Cold War. While conceived as a femme fatale at first, her look and mission have evolved over the years.

While Natasha continues to be guarded, Johansson helps fill in the blanks because of her talents. Yet, it is such a thin story – she is put through the paces of green-screen acting within a constant stream of explosions that sub for exposition.

She remains a mystery, which is inevitable.

“Black Widow” is a 2020 action-sci-fi film directed by Cate Shortland and starring Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, Ray Winstone and William Hurt. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence/action, some language and thematic material and runs 2 hours, 13 minutes. Available in theaters and streaming on Disney Plus with Premier Access fee on July 9. Lynn’s grade: C+.