“Eternals” Review: Auteur Filmmaker Chloé Zhao Doesn’t Get to Shine in Marvel’s Latest Installment

Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden and Angelina Jolie in “Eternals.” Photo Courtesy: Marvel Studios

Rating: 5/10

Watching Chloé Zhao’s The Rider (2017) made me want to learn horseback riding and got me thinking about humans’ connection to horses. Her Academy Award-winning Nomadland (2020) illustrated the reality a lot of houseless Americans face and offered a window into the American West in the midst of an exceptionally sedentary pandemic. Both films seamlessly intertwine fiction and reality. I knew Eternals was going to be different.

Marvel’s decision to hire the indie director to helm film number 26 in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has both puzzled and intrigued me since the news broke in 2018. Eternals opens exclusively in theaters on November 5 and is expected to hit Disney+ no earlier than 45 days after that.

The movie packs a lot of exposition. From an opening crawl that establishes who the Eternals are — a group of immortal heroes sent to Earth from Olympia to protect humans from villainous creatures called Deviants — to several conversations among different characters explaining why the superpowered Eternals don’t get involved in anything other than protecting humans from Deviants, hence why they never intervened in wars or when Thanos eliminated half of humanity. And then there are even more bits that explain the nature of Deviants, Eternals and Celestials — don’t ask me about those last ones because even if I was told who they are on several occasions, it escaped my mind.

As with a lot of fantasy, I decided to lean into the suspension of disbelief and not overanalyze the logic — or lack of it — behind anything happening in this story. Also, this movie has a big ensemble cast made of characters with strange-sounding names. I had a hard time identifying all of them and learning what made each one of them special and different at first.

Gemma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians) stars as Eternal-turned-museum-scientist Sersi. Don’t be fooled by all those Eternals promotional materials prominently featuring Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden as Eternal Ikaris. Sersi is the real center of this story; Ikaris is just her ex. They have around 5,000 years of history together, so it’s complicated. Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington plays Dane Whitman, Sersi’s current beau. When a Deviant attacks Sersi and the Eternal Sprite (Lia McHugh) in London, the two of them reunite with Ikaris and decide to reassemble the rest of the gang. Salma Hayek is the Eternals boss, Ajak, and Angelina Jolie is the goddess of war, Thena (without the initial A). Then there’s Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Ma Dong-seok as Gilgamesh, Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Lauren Ridloff as Makkari and Barry Keoghan as Druig.

I appreciated how each actor playing an Eternal was able to use their own native accent. There were Irish-accented notes in Keoghan’s speech, Scottish ones in Madden’s and Mexican ones in Hayek’s. Ridloff, who is deaf, plays Marvel’s first deaf superhero and uses American Sign Language (ASL) throughout the movie.