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.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat daily newspaper. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association.