Spoiler warning: this review briefly discusses the beginning and end of the film.
Marvel’s Eternals was expected to be a turning point within their cinematic universe. The movie boasts a strong ensemble cast, an interesting premise, and critically acclaimed director Chloé Zhao at its helm. However, the film crumbles under the weight of these expectations, leaving behind a 157-minute feature of wasted potential.
The movie begins with a crawl of text, setting up the basic background of the story. It explains that the Eternals are a group of immortal superheroes from a distant planet that was sent to Earth 7000 years ago to protect the development of humanity from creatures known as the Deviants.
After the initial introductory scenes, the film immediately dives into a battle between the Deviants and the 10 heroes from the moment they arrive on Earth. The fight choreography is incredible—a sequence that balances stunt work and computer-generated imagery (CGI) to naturally showcase the powers that each hero possesses. The opening fight is so well-crafted that it leaves the audience anticipating more of them, which turn out to be few and far between.
Another tear in the seam occurs as Zhao faces the challenge of needing the audience to care about the ensemble while understanding a history spanning several millennia. These requirements cause the movie to succumb to standard superhero tropes burdened with exposition dumps, which efface the individuality of these characters.
Brimming with potential, the characters have their own motivations and backstories, and yet the lengthy runtime of the film does not leave any space to explore them. Instead, they get surface-level portrayals that leave them as shades of their true potential. The issue with a headlining cast of 10 is that no character can be fully flushed out.
It is difficult to care about any of the Eternals. Not only do they fall short of being three-dimensional beings, but they also remain the same for over 7000 years. The numerous events they experienced during their time on Earth have had little to no impact on most of the characters. Any moments that highlight the relationships between the characters or showcase any vulnerability in them switch to expositional flashbacks. These glimpses into the past create character storylines that are never completely pursued, leaving these scenes to simply interrupt the momentum of the present and add to the runtime.
Despite how charismatic the cast of Eternals is, the actors are severely underutilized in favour of these expositional plots. Rather than allowing the actors to bring the characters to life, the script burdens them with the struggle of spouting generic lines that will fit an unnecessary punchline or two.
Even acting powerhouses like Angelina Jolie (who plays Thena) or Salma Hayek (who plays Ajak) are unable to prevent the film from becoming increasingly convoluted. By the third act, the Deviants are largely ignored for a rushed conclusion that mainly serves to foreshadow any sequels. There are barely any consequences or explanations for the characters’ choices, and everything conveniently falls into place for our heroes.
The biggest—and only significant—strength of the film lies in how it utilizes diversity. The wide cast of characters includes many races, abilities, cultures, languages, and sexualities—all of which are portrayed in a natural manner. Diversity is not the central focus of the film; it is just an ordinary depiction of life, opening the doors to further such portrayals, particularly in the superhero genre.
Eternals has all the necessary tools—brilliant and diverse actors; incredible CGI and stuntwork; concepts like morality, humanity, and sacrifice—to make a masterpiece. However, with too many missed opportunities, the movie is nothing but an empty addition to the franchise.