Marvel’s Eternals boasts a keen directing eye—with beautiful shots throughout—but an inconsistent tone and one-dimensional themes prevent it from being among Marvel’s best.
Chloé Zhao’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe was an exciting announcement for both fans of Marvel and the director. After a Best Director Oscar win for Nomadland, the potential of a filmmaker of her caliber headlining a Marvel film was an ambitious change from the norm. Long-known as a producer-driven franchise, with Kevin Feige leading at the helm of the juggernaut, Zhao’s directing style served a breath of fresh air. With Eternals, Zhao’s directing sensibilities are indeed the highlight of the film.
The characters of Eternals are just as different from the MCU norm as the directing style. With a cast featuring names like Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, each character is written with a serious undertone. Where many Marvel superheroes feel like variations of Tony Stark, full of sarcasm and wit, the Eternals are somber, subdued, and tragic. Of the cast, Gemma Chan stands out as Sersi. Ironically her second role in the franchise, Chan makes the most of her role as the lead and centers herself as one of the few three-dimensional characters in the cast.
Playing on screen as a type of Justice League-lite, with characters like Ikaris, Thena, and Makkari coming off as a bootleg Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash at times, Eternals doesn’t properly establish each of them as truly unique outside of their powers. Still, the cast work well with each other, and the chemistry is strong enough to keep viewers engaged.
Inconsistency of tone is a gripe throughout the movie. At times, Eternals is torn between Chloé Zhao’s cinematic imprint and traditional MCU tropes. This is particularly played out during scenes with Kumail Nanjiani and Harish Patel, where the same joke would be done multiple times, less funny each time the film attempts it. The whiplash effect of going from a serious scene to a random joke can feel more out of place than a Marvel movie that’s just comedy or serious. With characters very one-dimensional, virtually beginning and ending the film at the same point, themes feel bare in multiple ways.
Overall, Eternals is arguably one of Marvel’s most beautiful film from a visual perspective. Chloé Zhao’s directing is the highlight, with a technical filmmaking style stronger than other directors in the franchise. Still, inconsistent writing and a shaky thematic core prevent it from truly reaching its own potential.
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