As if to response to the threat of climate change, xenophobia and toxic masculinity, “Eternals” has arrived, helmed by Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”). The film boasts a vivid palette with surreal touches topped by a stellar cast. Though it lags in pacing and is short on surprises for those acquainted with the Marvel Universe, the film’s ambition, amiable feeling and meaningful intent, fulfills the needs of the blockbuster category.
Gemma Chan (“Doctor Who”) stars as Sersi, an Avenger-like hero who can transform matter into different properties. Angelina Jolie is here as Thena, the Goddess of War. Salma Hayek is Ajak, a superior maternal force with a direct line to Arishem, the voice of the universal male decider. Kamail Nanjiani is present as well as the most benevolent of the bunch, giving comedic quips.
It becomes evident, in true Marvel fashion, that Earth is under attack by flying octopus-like crocodiles called Deviants and they are nearly indestructible. I won’t give away the particulars. Suffice to say, it’s all part of the plan, but Sersi has a human life of her own and adores the human race. She gets the band back together, so to speak, the Eternals, a group formed to maintain the universal balance of power.
Though they are sworn to never directly interfere with human events, Eternals are immortal guards who have been present in every century. They are cosmically manufactured but have the ability to mimic human beings and a good many of them have mortal families. Periods of history are highlighted, from prehistoric periods to the Incas. Though compelling, these eras could be given more detail. In the film they are mere set pieces.
The most intriguing aspect of the film is that most of the superheroes are an integral part of mortal family units and they have genuine empathy that transcend heroic feats.
The action is exciting and moves with genuine suspense. First time Marvel fans and those unschooled in the ways of the hero will be well pleased.
There is a nod to Superman in the role of Ikaris (Richard Madden) He resembles Superman to the point of being a twin and shoots piercing lasers from his eyes just like the Man of Steel.
While the Deviants themselves look like past Ultron entities, it is fun to watch all the hero psychodrama, all about family and fury. Salma Hayek resembles a Wonder Woman – Frida Kahlo hybrid, her dark brows knitted together like raven wings, the wounds on her forehead a universal Crown of Thorns. Magritte and de Chirico are echoed too: a bright blue sky surrounds a green monolith that resembles a golf course and a huge white plaster of a giant is half submerged in desert sand.
While some of the acting is tepid, there is spirit and softness in Sersi.
Diversity is underscored here as well with a deaf and a gay hero, all well-handled. No orange hued presidents or purple demigods will find a haven here.
While the battle and crisis explanations feel routine, Zhao gives vitality and charge to her characters, especially women. Humans may make selfish choices with greed being paramount, but they deserve a chance of survival and it’s no accident that women are the actual decision makers here, giving our species a reprieve.
This is one film where the women remain level headed and in charge. To see this unfold in a Marvel ensemble story is revolutionary and unique, and almost lessens the film’s drawback in pacing to a mere Marvel mishap. Although “Eternals” does not possess adamantine thrills and angst, there is much to cheer in, ponder and respect.
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