dir: Chloé Zhao
Strange days have found us…
Marvel is so confident in its marketing abilities that the masses will consume anything that says ‘Marvel’ on it, that they’re making movies out of the unloved, unwanted, unsuccessful parts of their back catalogue deliberately now. No-one’s been able to make the Eternals work as an ongoing series, and it’s hard to imagine that anyone was really clamoring for them to appear in cinematic form.
Ironically, this feels the least like a Marvel flick, despite being extruded ultimately into such a familiar final form.
We know nothing of these beings, of their characters beforehand, but we’ll be too familiar with them when two and a half hours have elapsed. When some of them ‘die’, we might feel nothing, not even mild surprise.
The ‘trick’ earlier Marvel flicks pulled was having a character, oh, let’s say one played by a very tall blonde Australian, which is a character known of outside of comic books but also within comic books, being Thor, a hammer wielding jerk with a murderous trickster for a brother, being Loki.
The conceit is that, sure, on this Earth we know of the Norse myth of the very strong, very dumb son of Odin who wields a hammer called Mjolnir and gets drunk a lot, but in the ‘reality’ of these movies, the myth springs from the reality, which is that there’s actually a guy called Thor, and he has a hammer, and lives in another realm called Asgard, and they’re so advanced they’re kinda like gods?
Well, if you can swallow that claptrap, let me introduce you to a bunch of other superbeings who also sounds familiarish because their names appear in a bunch of disparate Earth mythologies.
I can’t bring myself to even type their names, because it feels so generic. The important thing to say is that, there’s ten of them, and they came to Earth on a spaceship thousands of years ago, and they’ve protected humans from these monstrous creatures called Deviants. Whenever these creatures appeared, the Eternals destroyed them using their powers, and then they’d sit around for ages waiting for the next attack.
In between attacks, human civilisations generally flourished, populations grew, but the Eternals weren’t getting involved any of the other times when bad stuff happened, nor were they meant to protect humans from their own stupidity.
These Eternals mostly have analogs in old stories, because, we’re meant to think, they would occasionally get bored and tell people, or want to speak to someone’s manager, and bellow “do you know who I am and what I’ve done for your wretched species?”
Thousands of years is a long time to be around, and with some of them, they grow to ‘love’ humanity and its foolish ways and our all too brief lives. Some of them just want to finally kill all the Deviants, and then return to their home planet of Olympia, which is confusing for me to hear, because they want to return to my Auntie Olympia who lives in Ascot Vale. Hi Auntie!
Well, no-one really wants to go to Ascot Vale, but at least it’s in the script.
These beings don’t age, and they swan around in slow motion, and they have an arch, affectless way about them much of the time. But the ones that ‘like’ people, and get into fights with the other Eternals over whether they should be helping humans or not, eventually develop more human-like emotions. Most of them sound like the names of Greek gods, slightly distorted, just to sound a little off-brand, so accusing them of having an Olympian distance or reserve isn’t much of an overstatement.
So Pallas Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, patron goddess of Athens, born fully armed from the forehead of Zeus himself, becomes Thena, Goddess of using swords and shit, to chop people up, and be played by the clearly alien Angelina Jolie.
Hephaestus, God of Fire, crafter of weapons, becomes Phastos, inventor of technology, and guy who somehow created the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, played by Bryan Tyree Henry.
And it goes on like this, with actors, some fairly famous, playing characters that sound slightly familiar, or with a familiar skill set, but with no real idea of why we should care about them or their motivations for their actions, if they possess any.
It is, I would be the first to admit, a bold move by Marvel. The one thing bolder would have been to bring in The Wiggles with an origin story, explaining how they were interstellar protectors masquerading as children’s entertainers, protecting us from galactic machinations on a hitherto unimagined scale.
These Eternals, or Wiggles, as I should refer to them as, were created by something called a Celestial, and as far as I can tell he or it is a giant, as in way bigger than a planet, that just kinda floats in space. Their creator is called Arishem, and he’s giant, red and maybe has six eyes or something, and other than speak portentously, doesn’t really do much.
Is he a god, is he a giant robot, is he a giant robot god? It’s hard to say. It’s safe to say that in the Marvel version of the universe, it’s no Creationist Abrahamic sky god who made people on the sixth day and sends floods and eventually Jesus and such.
No, it’s a floating red space robot thingie that intelligently designed humans, some other beings to terrorise them, and one set to protect them, but only up to a point.
Up until that last paragraph, it’s possible that everything I’d previously written sounded fairly generic, like, a generic kind of space opera / science fiction-y kind of confection. That could be because it is, or because of the limits of my descriptive abilities and communication skills, failing to capture the nuances that might be there.
This next bit doesn’t sound generic at all, and, well, it’s a bit fucking bonkers to talk about the actual plot of the film, but it’s impossible to describe without spoilers.
But honestly, fuck this film. There are so many scenes of people standing in a line, for no reason, facing a particular direction, when nothing is happening, like they’re waiting for the photographer to say the opposite of cheese.
The real plot is that there is a seed planted inside our planet we call Earth. That seed has been waiting for there to be enough intelligent life on the planet, before awakening, draining the life out of everyone on the planet, destroying the planet the way a chick destroys the egg it comes out of, in order to form a new Celestial called Tiamat, which would go on to create new stars, new galaxies, new life elsewhere, eventually. This is how it’s always been for billions of years. This is how the universe works.
In other words, fuck you Professor Stephen Hawking and Professor Brian Cox and everyone else who’s ever theorised about the origins of the universe, and cosmology, and astrophysics – you were all fucking wrong.
It’s… and I say this as a tragic nerd who’s consumed decades and decades of science fiction bullshit, it’s a lot to take in and pretty easy to intellectually discard, but worse than that, it sounds... less than intelligent.
I still found it a bit depressing. The whole flick is a bit depressing. The Eternals themselves, who barely exist as characters to us, find out that they’re not even who they think they are, that instead of being protectors of humanity, they’re just part of a process that has been undertaken on countless planets over millions of years, which ultimately leads to destruction, anyway.
When you lose everything, and don’t have anything interesting thing to do, other than save the world again, taking a cue from the Fast and Furious films, what you end up having is a multi-ethnic, multi-dimensionally diverse group of people standing around talking about the virtues of family.
But really, if it isn’t Vin Diesel grunting about the wonderfulness of family, or Vin Diesel as Groot saying “I am Groot” as a statement about family, then does it really count.
I remember almost all of these character's names, and what paltry things they can do in the face of oblivion, and I am left with more questions than answers, despite all the apparent answers for life, the universe and everything. But why they should matter, when nothing really matters, and even these beings are like ants at the feet of giants?
The inclusion of Kumail Nanjiani could almost have been a masterstroke. He plays one of the Eternals with the very complicated and well thought out name of Kingo. In battle, he shoots out these little balls of energy that don’t seem to do much. In fact, most of the powers that these Eternals seem to have seem pretty pointless compared to what their stated purpose is, so even when it’s been revealed that their existence is not random, and that they were engineered specifically to be as they are for a specific purpose, well, why are they so piss-poor?
Why, Father, why make me so naff?
Kingo decides “fuck that” to the superheroic life, and instead chooses to become a massive Bollywood star. And he’s been doing so for as long as cinema has been around, because he alleviates the natural curiousity of the audience who might notice he doesn’t age, by essentially being his own great, great, great grandfather. He goes away for a time, and then reappears as the ‘son of Kingo’, to rapturous applause. The illustration of that, with a (what I assume is a meticulous reconstruction) of Indian cinematic posters through the ages was a beautiful touch.
Nanjiani tries to bring the humour in what is a pretty sombre affair, but a lot of it falls flat because this is not the kind of ensemble piece where people have group dynamics, chemistry and illuminating interactions with each other. If anything they have the awkwardness of a group of celebrities forced to co-habit for a time in a place not of their choosing, until they can go back to their respective palatial estates.
Kingo and his valet (Harish Patel) are good value, and have some energy together, which doesn’t happen a lot across the rest of the interactions that we see, which is a shame, but not surprising.
The big love is meant to be between Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sersi (Gemma Chan), but mostly they stand around expressionless, saying words but not really emoting with their stony faces. Madden is best known for playing Robb Stark in Game of Thrones, as stoic a role as you could ask for, but here he pretty much plays Superman here, just without any love for humanity.
Just so you know, a child character, being Phasto’s son, even says that Ikaris is that Superman guy, which strangely means that Superman exists as a comic book character in the Marvel universe now?
Sersi apparently loves humanity, but… I see no evidence of this in anything the story gives her, though it’s ultimately her actions that will save the world from the emerging Celestial, if we petty humans are to survive at all. Gemma Chan is a pretty decent actor, they’re all okay actors; the problem’s not the acting – it’s the script, which doesn’t make most of these people interesting enough for us to want them to be the ones to save us, versus the 400 or so other jerks on the Marvel roster who presumably could have banded together to save us and talk about found families and such.
I don’t know that Chloé Zhao was in any way the wrong choice for this – her movies are usually deeply felt ones, with a lot more being conveyed through moody cinematography and people standing around not doing much than you’d think. I wonder whether a flick like this with these characters could have worked with any director at the helm. On the other hand I guess we should just be grateful that they didn’t just get James Gunn to direct, which could have resulted in another Guardians of the Galaxy / Suicide Squad type of ensemble, of which we already have enough of, thanks.
I don’t know. I don’t know that this was really worth the effort. I’m not sure yet that these characters really add that much to the already groaning tapestry that is this cinematic universe which never ends, and never shuts up about itself. I like that they’re trying different things, but that doesn’t always mean the results are that pleasant.
Oh and did I mention Kit fucking Harrington, better known as the Jon Snow who knows nothing from Game of Thrones, is also in this as Sersi’s human boyfriend, only seemingly on hand to have awkward moments with big brother Robb Stark, before I guess he probably gets his own fucking superhero character to play?
It’s all too much, too much of too much, and not enough, somehow.
6 when I saw the words “The Eternals will return…” at the end, I distinctly remember thinking – "eh, probably not" out of 10
“We're Eternals. We came here seven thousand years ago, to protect humans from the Deviants.” – it must have been these fuckers that killed that sweet Transylvanian transvestite Frank-n-Furter - Eternals