There is perhaps no modern film franchise as hotly argued about as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What started out as an attempt to make a couple million using Marvel Comic’s B-list characters as now become the most profitable cinematic series of all time, grossing billions of dollars and connecting intersecting plot lines over two dozen movies. With success comes criticism, however, as Marvel movies have been on the chopping block for several years, branded as nothing more than a theme park in movie form. “The death of cinema!” film bros cried out as they gazed upon their poster for Akira Kurosawa‘s Seven Samurai (which they haven’t actually watched but will tell you how important the film is). Many in the film critic arena have dismissed the Marvel movies as shallow, empty, corporately generated blockbusters whose sole existence is to advertise their next shallow, empty, corporately generated blockbuster.
I’ve always found myself somewhere in the middle on these arguments. For the most part, I’ve really enjoyed the MCU. I’ve always had a love for superheroes and what Marvel did in building a cinematic universe is nothing to scoff at. To call all MCU movies shallow and empty is simply nonsensical. Looking at the films by the Russo Brothers and James Gunn shows there is genuine passion and creativity going into these stories, with underlying themes and meanings beyond the everyday saving the world shenanigans. Yet I can admit that a solid chunk of these films do deserve the aforementioned criticisms. Many of the films struggle to stand on their own and shamelessly exist as a stepping stone to a bigger story to come. The “Marvel formula” has now become so consistent and apparent that it’s impossible to ignore, especially in some of the MCU’s recent outings in film and television. What the MCU needed is a reset; a changing of the guard that could shake up the style and presentation of these films in an attempt to do something different.
This is what I wanted Eternals to be. Here you have characters the general public has never heard of, paired with the MCU’s first ever Oscar winning director in Chloe Zhao. Marvel had the opportunity to break the mold and do something wildly different, giving a breath of fresh air to the genre they helped create. And now that the film is out…its currently the lowest rated out of any of the MCU films on Rotten Tomatoes…
Really? Out of all of the films, this one is deemed the lowest? Compared to The Incredible Hulk? Thor: The Dark World? Iron Man 2? I understand that the Rotten Tomatoes arbitrary ranking is something that should be taken with a grain of salt considering its “Fresh/Rotten” scale is so confusing, but the amount of distaste I’ve seen for this movie is baffling considering its my favorite movie Marvel has put out this year so far.
Eternals certainly feels like it was trying to do something different here. Chloe Zhao‘s direction makes a film about centuries old gods surprisingly human, and her trademark style of capturing the beauty of the world around us gives the film some of the best visuals seen thus far in the MCU. But at the end of the day, its still a movie about heroes in spandex fighting big CGI monstrosities. The usual Marvel trappings are all still present, including a hefty dose of exposition, a potentially overexposed runtime, and a large cast of characters that struggle to get the same amount of development. Yet the positives still manage to shine through strongly enough that I actually wouldn’t mind watching it again, something I couldn’t say for several of the past Marvel outings.
Billions of years ago there was nothing but the Celestials, ancient cosmic creatures capable of building life and developing whole galaxies. Not long after the blossoming of civilizations across the universe came the Deviants, a race of cosmic beasts whose sole. goal is to devour any and all species it comes across. In response, the prime Celestial, Arishem, created the Eternals, a race of powerful beings sent to protect the many planets against the Deviants. In 5000 B.C., a group of ten Eternals are sent to protect Earth. By the 1500s the manage to wipe out all of the Deviants, but the split up after having disagreements about their mission. In the modern day, the Eternals live secretly among humans, vowing to never interfere in human conflicts unless its Deviant related. When a Deviant returns and kills one of their own, the Eternals are forced to reunite to combat this emerging threat as they begin to unravel a conspiracy regarding their origin and original mission.
With ten main characters, its admittedly difficult to give ample amount of attention and definition to each and every protagonist. Our main focus is Sersi (Gemma Chan), an Eternal emotionally connect to humanity who can alter the molecular structure of an object by touch. When the Deviants return she is visited by fellow Eternal and former lover Ikaris (Richard Madden), whose capable of flight and heat vision, non subtly referred to as Superman throughout the film. The two, along with a forever-young Eternal named Sprite (Lia McHugh), begin a journey to reunite with the rest of the Eternals in order to combat this new threat. The “will they, won’t they” dilemma between the two leads to many of the film’s more emotional moments, as a past love is tested by differing viewpoints and a greater sense of purpose. Even though I didn’t find the two leads’ chemistry to be the most believable, their drive to be together despite their destinies working against them is noticeably compelling, even if it was saddled on relatively uninteresting characters. When more of the Eternals join the ranks the film really does become more enjoyable, as I’ve found the ones who did not get the same amount of attention to be far more interesting. Much of the film’s humor is brought by Kumail Nanjiani‘s Kingo, a Bollywood star documenting his new adventure with his trusty chauffer. Marvel’s humor has been criticized in the past for its overly-smarmy jokes that were essentially Tony Stark’s bread and butter, but I actually found the humor to work fairly well here. Nanjiani is easy to like as it is, but his take on the limelight illuminated hero was easily one of the standouts. We also have Angelina Jolie as Thena, a hardened warrior suffering from a PTSD-like mind disease that I still don’t fully understand. Her triumph over her debilitating condition is pulled off very well thanks to Jolie‘s performance and Zhao‘s direction, creating a genuine emotional celebration when she overcomes her demons. Other characters like genius inventor Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and mind-manipulating black sheep Druig (Barry Keoghan) bring additionally humanity to these character, pondering the consequences of playing God and if free-will should be tampered with to ensure the safety of others. These characters end up being far more compelling but disappointingly don’t get as much focus as our leads.
When Chloe Zhao‘s Nomadland swept award season, the world became aware of her passion of capturing small moments in huge landscapes. Marvel thankfully allowed her to keep this trait in Eternals, opting to utilize actual, real-world locations rather than shooting on a soundstage. What a concept, right? This allows the film’s beautiful locales to give a film about costumed gods punching CGI monsters some authenticity. It makes it one of the best looking Marvel films from a practical standpoint alone, but even the computer generated assets have their moments. Galaxies being created and destroyed by towering Celestials are shown with tantalizing color and free flowing movement. It doesn’t get as cosmically crazy as Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain Marvel, but the small amount we do experience are expertly crafted with their own unique elements to make them the film’s own. Not every bit of CG is as clean, with the Deviants designs not being nearly as interesting and the CGI ragdolls that replace our actors during fights looking a bit too shiny and rubbery. Regardless the film presents the familiar universe in a slightly different, unique way that helps it to stand out among the rest of the catalogue.
Something I expected from the get-go after learning Zhao was at the helm was that the film would be deliberately slow. My assumptions were correct, as this film has perhaps the slowest pace out of any MCU film and is sure to be a turnoff for many. It doesn’t help that the fractured storytelling can completely cut the legs off from underneath the pacing of the film, bringing the main story to a screeching halt in order to explain why things are the way they are. The first act is perhaps the roughest to get through, as much of the narrative is delayed in order to dump as much exposition as possible to explain how we get from the beginning of time to current day. In a way its a necessity when handling such a big property as this, but is no less a drag to sit through. The film eventually reaches an engaging and dazzling third act, but spends a good chunk of time stumbling to get to the good stuff. Exposition is necessary in many films, but it takes strong writing to integrate it into the flow of a film in a natural and accessible way, but the film’s script struggles to do anything but the most basic, stereotypical way. Whether it be an opening crawl of text or Salma Hayek‘s characters’ sole existence being our expert on the happenings of the Eternals, it all grows very taxing to listen to. While I do praise the comedy for at least hitting more often than not, the main dialogue feels very wooden and surface level. The more contemplative elements of the character’s nature and motives are not always presented in the most nuance way. Maybe this was done as a way to not alienate the average audience member, but it seems like they tipped a bit too far into this subtext-less script.
So what is Eternals really about? Is it simply a group of colorfully costumed heroes with varying powers coming together to stop a world ending event? Well…yes. You can’t really expect much of a deviation from Marvel at this point, but is there anything worth talking about after watching the film other than the obligatory post-credits scene? I think there is at least some interesting ideas on display here that isn’t exactly supported by the film’s moving parts as well as it could have been. The film does seem to make comments on overpopulation, humanity affecting the planet’s ecosystems, and the morality of of hindering free will to better protect the masses. Some of these questions are left purposefully open ended, hinting at the answers without outright plastering them across the film’s morals. It gives you something to chew on after leaving the theater, or at least more than the average Marvel movie. The emotional beats that the characters that teeter the line between saviors and eradicators experience is what helps these themes carry more weight. By the end you understand the cases each character makes, and while they aren’t all exactly bulletproof, you can at least make out where the characters are coming from. It all circles back to that element of humanity of spoke of earlier, as its the one crowning achievement that elevates an otherwise messy movie.
The needle still doesn’t seem to be moving all that much anytime soon, but Eternals at least makes certain strides in the right direction. Despite its flaws there are glimmers of individuality that manage to shine through and make the film one of the more complete-feeling MCU films in recent memories. While Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings do hold some strengths over Eternals, I can’t help but shake the feeling that this is my favorite Marvel movie of the year so far. Many of its criticisms are valid, yet the hate that this film has received, particularly from regular MCU fans, is still no less baffling. It’s done a lot more for the cinematic universe to instill uniqueness and originality in its system, and that’s not even because of its sex scene or its first gay kiss. Even with its issues I actually have a substantial desire to see it again, something I haven’t been able to say for many Marvel movies in a long time.
The glue that seems to bind the godly Eternals to diminutive humanity is Sersi, someone who’s empathy and respect for all life eventually leads to her saving the world. Thousands of years ago she made a promise to protect Earth out of the love she discovered for humans, and thousands of years later some idiot is making a cocktail inspired by that promise.
Sersi’s Promise is crisp, herbal blend of London dry gin, green chartreus and mint. The cocktail is fairly spirit forward, as the gin and green chartreuse pull no punches in putting their unignorably distinct flavors to the front line. The mint follows behind, closing with a cooling sensation that manages to slightly alter the drinks flavor while still maintaining its herbal roots. To lighten the cocktail up while still keeping to its original concept, I’ve used rose water to add a bit more body, making the drink a bit more sippable for those who aren’t as welcoming to gin as others. My thousand year promise to you? This cocktail is just what you’re looking for.
And green chartreuse will never not be a Celestial-tier ingredient.
- 1.5oz gin
- 1/2oz green chartreuse
- 1/2oz lime juice
- 1/4oz simple syrup
- 4-5 mint leaves
- 1/2oz rose water
- Garnish: Mint leaves
- Add ingredients to a shaker and shake with ice.
- Double strain into a chilled cocktail glass (preferably a coupe).
- Garnish with mint leaves.
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