Review: 'Eternals' Pushes the Genre Into New Territory

by JC Alvarez

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday January 12, 2022

Richard Madden in 'Eternals'
Richard Madden in 'Eternals'  (Source:Disney/Marvel)

The heroic Avengers, first brought together in 2012's big-screen blockbuster, may have assembled to repel an alien invasion, but new threats loomed in "Avengers: Infinity War" (2018), when the other-planetary Mad Titan, Thanos, claimed the six Infinity Stones and brought an episode of mass murder to the entire universe. In a desperate attempt to set things right, the heroic Avengers gathered from every corner of the cinematic universe and saved the universe... but not without suffering serious casualties.

Unbeknownst to our valiant defenders, hiding in the shadows super-beings of incredible power didn't intervene and allowed the events of the Infinity War to proceed; beings that exited here among us, even influenced human civilizations over the course of thousands of years, but were required by a celestial power to not interfere regardless of the danger. In Marvel Studios' "Eternals" we are introduced to a group of godlike beings so powerful that their sole purpose on Earth is to defend the human race from a predatory race called the Deviants — and they've done just that for the last 7,000 years.

"Eternals" isn't exactly what moviegoers might have been expecting as the next phase of the MCU goes into full swing, coming off the hit "Shang-Chi" and heading towards "Spider-Man: No Way Home" (in theaters December 17). The movie, written and directed by Academy Award-winner Chloé Zhao ("Nomadland"), is adapted from the Marvel comic book characters created by Jack "The King" Kirby, the legendary illustrator behind many of the imprint's greatest pop-culture icons, including Captain America, Thor, and the Fantastic Four. Kirby introduced the Eternals — and their progenitors, The Celestials, as well as their arch nemeses, The Deviants — in 1976.

Bits and pieces leading up to the origin story of the "Eternals" have been sprinkled throughout the first decade of MCU films. The Celestials are first mentioned in the "Guardians of the Galaxy," and the eco-terrorist Thanos is considered himself a part of this race of beings, with relations to some of the Eternals introduced. The group arrived on Earth when man was just getting accustomed to walking upright, and are lead by the "Prime," called Ajak (Salma Hayek), who communes directly with the Celestials — a race of aliens so powerful they are responsible for creating suns and new worlds across the galaxy.

The Eternals, including the super man Ikaris (Richard Madden), the elementally gifted Sersi (Gemma Chan), the hired muscle Gilgamesh (Don Lee), and the warrior goddess Thena (Angelina Jolie), take a vow to not interfere with the human race, but to serve to protect them at all cost from the attacking Deviants (who are themselves incredibly powerful, but who are nothing more than predators). After centuries of living among the people of Earth and gently influencing the cultural development of civilizations, the long-lived Eternals find themselves becoming restless, especially the engineer Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), the mentalist Druig (Barry Keoghan), and the youngest among them, Sprite (Lia McHugh).

Having defeated the Deviant threat, Ajak suggests that their mission is no longer dependent on protecting the people and that the Eternals should separate and live among human beings. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) becomes a Bollywood star, and the speedster Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) turns to collecting antiquities, but, as with all super heroes, their mission is never truly over. Suddenly, the Deviants have resurfaced in contemporary London, and Sersi and Sprite (along with the help of Sersi's boyfriend and scholar Dane Whitman [Kit Harington]) battle one of the beasts. Now the Eternals must reunite and uncover the mystery surrounding the return of the Deviants, and they only have seven days to do it before the "Ascension" — a critical event in the Celestial's plans for the Eternals — and the planet's destruction!

The film elegantly moves between eras, and illustrates the history of these divine creatures and how they managed as spectators of human evolution. Their powers could have prevented any number of catastrophes over the centuries, but they have all taken a vow not to interfere in human historical events. As the "Ascension" begins, however, they are faced with a hard decision: Protect the planet, or do what they were designed to do. The chemistry amongst the cast easily elevates them into the familiar; we get to know them and like them immediately, especially our core group of heroes.

Clocking in at nearly three hours, "Eternals" is chock full of story and is steeped in the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is only getting bigger with each movie. Given the scope of these characters, "Eternals" is truly in a class all of its own. A lot of the story takes place across the globe, and emphasizes the global community representative of the ensemble cast. They come from all walks of life, and are as close as family, dependent on one another especially when the going gets very tough. There are several surprises that will delight the Marvel comics enthusiast, and revelations that will undoubtedly lead to the introduction of new heroes, and villains, from the books.

"Eternals" is a very rich new landscape, and by their nature their story is epic. Angelina Jolie is perfect as Thena, and has all the hero poses down; Richard Madden is every bit the "man of steel" that you'd want him to be; and Gemma Chan emerges at the top of the crop as the richly powered Sersi, though not overshadowing the perfect plays by their co-stars, including Brian Tyree Henry, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, and Lia McHugh. Salma Hayek is every bit as magical as we need her to be.

Chloé Zhao demonstrates that she is able to sink her teeth fearlessly into complex mythologies, densely rich in pop-culture references that resonate with fanboys and girls. The next wave of Marvel films and filmmakers are here, and they are pushing the genre into territory new and unexplored.

"Eternals" streams on Disney+ today!

Native New Yorker JC Alvarez is a pop-culture enthusiast and the nightlife chronicler of the club scene and its celebrity denizens from coast-to-coast. He is the on-air host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Out Loud & Live!" and is also on the panel of the local-access talk show "Talking About".