Eternals review: A unique but unwieldy Marvel movie streaming now on Disney Plus

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Eternals is a rather different entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to a very ambitious goal. The film aims to reveal new events in the MCU that no one knew happened, spanning nearly all of human history spanning thousands of years. It’s a complicated task, involving multiple zigzags in time, a huge cast, and lots of information dumps. Unfortunately, the whole package doesn’t quite work.

Directed by Oscar-winning actress Chloé Zhao, Eternals begins streaming Wednesday, January 12 on Disney Plus at no additional cost on top of your regular subscription.

We find out that the Eternals are superheroes who have lived on Earth throughout the Marvel movie saga, arriving millennia before Captain America was even born. They include Ajak (Salma Hayek), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Klingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) , Druig (Barry Keoghan) and Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok).

These heroes discuss their own stories early and often, from a failed romance between two characters that spanned 5,000 years, to a medical condition that might require a memory-erasing procedure. There’s a lot of talk about these details which, surprisingly, doesn’t go much further, despite a 2.5 hour battery life.

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Angelina Jolie plays Thena.

marvel studios

You end up having to wait the whole first half to actually to see what powers these heroes are capable of. Luckily, it’s worth it: the variety of great action sequences feature the Eternals at war with the Deviants, who look like CGI wolves made of wire. They are apparently the only creatures the Eternals can commit their time and powers against, providing a fairly weak excuse as to why they choose to abstain from most human conflict. Not to mention that once Thanos destroyed half the universe. It’s an odd restriction when many Eternals describe how much they want to protect human society.

The powers themselves aren’t particularly memorable. Thena can spawn light weapons out of thin air. Ajak can heal. Sersi can transform stone into other elements. Ikaris can fly and shoot laser beams. The most interesting character for me was Phastos: he can apparently invent technology whenever he wants. Among the group, no one is a jack-of-all-trades like Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, nor particularly skilled in their skills like Scarlett Johannsson’s Black Widow. At one point, Ikaris calls himself Superman, only hinting that Eternals doesn’t have a clear identity.

Marvel's Eternals group photo

Marvel’s Eternals brings together a new cast of heroes.

Marvel Studios screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

Non-linear storytelling can be confusing: we are propelled through time, in ever-changing international contexts. Wait a minute, the Eternals are with the Stone Age humans. The next day, they are back in the present. Then we go back to an event 2,000 years in the past, and then we move forward again. It may be a natural journey for the characters, but I felt a boost. It might have helped if the characters wore outfits that reflected the society they were visiting, instead of sticking to superhero costumes in the past and casual jackets and jeans in the present.

Still, the time jump is what puts Eternals in a different space from the recently wrapped Infinity Saga. While I wouldn’t recommend this as a first Marvel watch to anyone, the only cursory knowledge required is that the current Eternals storyline takes place in the spinoff of Avengers: Endgame. You should also note that there is two end credits scenes wait for.

Eternals was originally supposed to be the first Marvel movie after Spider-Man: Far From Home to delve more into the ramifications of post-blip life. Instead, that honor went to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, who from intro to post-credits scene told a story with a new voice in the Marvel Universe. While I appreciate Eternals taking a creative risk with its time-hopping events, its convoluted plot eventually lets it down.


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