As a lifelong comic book fan when I heard Marvel/Disney was making a film based on Jack “The King” Kirby’s ETERNALS, my first reaction was “really? That book”? It isn’t one of my or most of my comic reading pals’ favorite series. What about Man-Thing? The Invaders? The Champions? Heck, I’d watch a Jack of Hearts movie before the Eternals. That 1975 comic had an interesting look but the story was kind of… dull. Neil Gaiman’s version years later was a more interesting take on the characters. But to be fair, the Guardians of the Galaxy was an obscure comic title as well and made a great movie. The Eternals film does thank a whole bunch of other comic creators besides Jack Kirby, such as Jim Starlin, Walt Simonson, Peter Gillis, John Buscema, Steve Epting, and Roy Thomas. Ironically, this was the first Marvel Studios movie that had no mention of Stan Lee, even though a version of one of his 50s characters he did with Joe Maneely is in it and in the final post-credits scene.
With regards to the film, I found it to be a bit long. It starts with a word prologue, a first for the Marvel films, as it sets up who the Eternals are, their mission, and cosmic overlords, the Celestials. From there, we have to introduce not one or two, but 8-10 new characters. Gone are the household names and familiar faces like Iron Man, Hulk, Spider-Man from the prior 20+ Marvel movies. In fact, they drop their names only once just to let you know it’s part of that universe. And bizarrely, there are two references to DC Comics characters Batman and Superman in this.
I saw Eternals in IMAX 2D and I’m glad I did. The fantastic visuals with the giant space beings known as the Celestials are awesome to see. Once again a result of the great conceptual designs from Ryan Meinerding – head of the Marvel/Disney art department (and a guest at my TERRIFICON in 2017). Without spoiling it, the premise is a group of alien beings known as Eternals have been interacting with humans for the past 7,000 years. They are overseeing an experiment set forth for billions of years throughout the universe by the Celestials. Then a crisis develops and because of a world-ending threat, the team has to reunite to save the planet.
The Eternals themselves are made up of a diverse team, each with a unique power, one can fly, one has speed, one has strength, one can fight with energy weapons, etc. Playing them are some recognizable actors like Selma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, and Game of Thrones alums Kit Harington and Richard Madden. Everyone gives a good performance- especially Kumail Nanjiani who was my personal favorite as the Eternal named Kinga, who has made himself part of a Bollywood acting “dynasty”. He and his sidekick Karun (Harish Patel) were great every time they were on screen. I could watch them in their own solo movie. Karun is the only normal human on their adventure and was the person you can probably most relate to. His character was a reinterpretation from the Jack Kirby series who was a tv news cameraman recording what’s happening. He gives a humorous and heartfelt performance.
Just like the Eternals didn’t help with the earth’s battle against Thanos in the other Marvel movies, there are no established Marvel superheroes helping out to stop the new threat that will destroy the earth in a week. In fact, at times the film felt more like a Netflix or SyFy original movie than a Marvel production. The standard Marvel opening screen appears without the normal musical fanfare. That’s maybe the only big issue I had with it. It never felt like it was part of the Marvel cinematic universe. There are no other characters but the 8 or so Eternals talking back and forth. And they talk a lot! There are enough action scenes to keep the kids from tuning out. But like I said it feels like a long movie at times.
Eternals is probably the most adult of all the Marvel films to date. We see the first-ever (still tame) sex scene in a Marvel movie. And besides Hawkeye in Avengers, we finally have a hero with a family. One of the Eternals, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) has a family and it’s for that reason he decides to come out of hiding to fight the alien threat and save his family in a touching, well-played scene.
Overall, the movie is like an episode of Ancient Aliens mythology, The Magnificent Seven and X-Men put in a blender. It has all the melodrama of reading a comic and enough “BIFF”, “BAM”. AND “POW” to keep you entertained for two+ hours. Though I believe it could have cut out 10 minutes and it would have run better.
Some minor distractions, besides the run time: what part of space has so many aliens with British accents? If they are immortal why does Ikaris have a touch of gray? Why make Sprite a permanent teenager?
On the plus side, Eternals has a great soundtrack with original music composed by Ramin Djawadi , with a bunch of needle drops ala Guardians of the Galaxy, with Pink Floyd, Foreigner, Skeeter Davis, and Lizzo. Though like I said, I did miss the traditional Marvel opening fanfare.
Eternals does end on a bit of a cliffhanger and I was not too thrilled with that idea. I have a feeling there will not be an Eternals 2 and they will pop up in other cosmic Marvel films like Thor, Guardians, and Captain Marvel. There are two post-credit scenes so don’t leave too fast at the end of the movie. Those scenes both featured Marvel characters that I definitely want to see more of. Finally, my biggest disappointment with Eternals was that the previews didn’t show a new trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home due out next month.
I will put Eternals alongside Captain Marvel, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 2, Spider-Man Far From Home, and The Incredible Hulk level. Not the best and not the worst. Jack Kirby would have been very proud of this production, but would it have killed them to throw in some Kirby “crackle” in the special effects? I wasn’t in love with any of the characters, nor will I run out and buy a zillion pieces of Eternals merchandise or even a T-shirt.
It comes down to engaging characters, there are none to identify with in Eternals. By making these a story of cosmic proportions it’s just out of reach for the moviegoer and waters down the street-level hero stories. Heroes such as Spider-Man, Daredevil, Captain America, and even Ant-Man are simple everyday folks caught up in a world of great power. Recently, Marvel even turned Shang-Chi into a mystical warrior that’s not the comic book character; by doing this they run the risk of falling into the DC film problem. Superman. Wonder Woman. Aquaman and Shazam- all godlike beings that are out of touch with the humans they protect. The result is movies that are fun to watch but never connect with the average person, which, going all the way back to its humble beginnings has been Marvel’s success secret.
Eternals is a solid B in my book or 3.5/5 stars.