“Eternals” is one of those Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that tries to introduce a whole team of new superheroes at once. Sometimes this works to great effect: “Guardians of the Galaxy” gave us five new characters that were instantly iconic. Other times the tactic falls flat, like with Thor’s forgettable entourage. The cast of “Eternals” falls between the two, though sadly the film pulls slightly toward the latter.
The Eternals are extraterrestrial beings that have been on Earth for 7,000 years with the sole purpose of protecting humanity from monsters called Deviants. They are forbidden from interfering with human affairs unless Deviants are involved, which is why they couldn’t get involved with, say, the war with Thanos. In other words, the movie had to come up with a reason why these millennia-old superheroes haven’t been involved in the MCU until this point, and that reason is a poorly-followed taboo.
The Eternals are the following:
-Ajak (Salma Hayek), the leader who knows the dark secret of why the team is truly on Earth.
-Sersi (Gemma Chan), the team’s new leader after Ajak is removed. She has settled into a comfortable life on Earth as a professor with her boyfriend Dane (Kit Harrington).
-Ikarus (Richard Madden), the most powerful member of the team, though he doesn’t really apply himself unless fighting Deviants. He and Sersi are former lovers, having broken up a few centuries ago.
-Sprite (Lia McHugh), a childlike sorceress with a crush on Ikarus.
-Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), who has made a life for himself as a multigenerational Bollywood superstar. His comic relief antics include making a documentary about the team along with his valet Karun (Harish Patel). He’s my favorite Eternal, for the record.
-Thena (Angelina Jolie), who can create weapons out of nothingness, but suffers from a sort of PTSD that causes her to attack those closest to her.
-Gilgamesh (Don Lee), the strongest Eternal, who takes on task of protecting the world (and the other Eternals) from Thena.
-Druig (Barry Koeghan), a mind-manipulator who has decided not to adhere to the “don’t interfere with human affairs” rule, though he has exiled himself to the Amazon rainforest and seemingly only protects the immediate area.
-Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), an inventor who would like to see humans advance technologically, but learns the hard way that they will just use that tech for evil. He has made the conscious decision to retire from superhero work, opting instead for a domestic life with his partner Jack (Haaz Sleiman) and son Ben (Esai Daniel Cross). He is the first openly-gay superhero in the MCU.
-Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), a super-fast collector of artifacts who lives on the team’s original spaceship in the desert. She is the first deaf superhero in the MCU.
That’s ten new superheroes, not to mention periphery characters like Dane and Karun. You can feel the screenplay buckling under the pressure, and too often the movie feels rushed. Not rushed as in fast-paced, but more like the movie didn’t have time to include everything it wanted – and perhaps needed. For example, the Eternals are faced with a non-Deviant dilemma that affects the fate of the Earth. They don’t agree on how it should be handled, which leads to in-fighting and even murder. It’s good that the diverse cast has a diverse array of viewpoints, but the film is so overcrowded that certain characters only get a few seconds to explain their stance, and when the film requires them to change that stance, it has to happen just as quickly.
It’s admirable that Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao wanted to take on a project this ambitious, and visually the film is a treat, but it just can’t handle juggling all the characters. In an age where the MCU has the choice of debuting its new characters in a single movie or a spread-out TV series, I find it curious that a project this lofty didn’t go in the other direction.