Marvel Monday - Eternals
While I know that I’ve yet to review Shang-Chi just yet (we’re getting to that), I’m having a hard time figuring out what Marvel is doing here at the start of their Phase 4. While sure, Black Widow was a past due payment to Scarlett Johansson, it’s difficult to determine right now where Shang-Chi and The Eternals might go. That’s not to say they don’t fit, after all, we’ve already nudged into Eternals territory before thanks to the appearance of Knowhere in Guardians of the Galaxy…but here we are, three films in and not really getting a sense of where we’re heading. Conversely, at this point in Phase 1, it was very clear we were building the Avengers, even though we didn’t really know much about the bigger picture, the Infinity Gauntlet. But before we get too mired down in the usual review stuff, let’s do the usual synopsis stuff:
A new age is dawning…and the Earth has no place in it. A team of immortals has been charged by an ancient entity to shepherd mankind throughout the ages and protect them from a series of failed creations called Deviants. As their mission comes to a close, a new Deviant with the ability to not only kill these immortals but also drain them of their special abilities rises to take revenge. However, while facing this new threat, these Eternals also learn what it means for the Earth if they do complete their mission. Will they choose to save the Earth…or help in destroying it?
As I reflect on the run up to this movie, I’m not sure the marketing folks really knew what to do with it. I mean, on the one hand, I do have to side with the more bitter critics on the internet and think that maybe Disney was too focused on “THE MESSAGE” as it were and spent all the marketing money on showing off how diverse the cast of this film was. The trailers really only focus on this multicultural ‘family’ and some epic shots to convey a sense of grandeur, but that’s really about it. As an elapsed comic book nerd (I was in deep for much of my life but I haven’t really read much in the past 5 or so years), I’ll admit that even though they’re Kirby creations [All hail the King. – Ed.], well, as a DC fan all I can really say is that I liked them better when they were The New Gods. Joking aside, I didn’t and still don’t know much about the team. I know there was a successful limited series from Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr. but given how much I despise the latter’s so-called artwork, I tend to avoid anything he’s a part of. Ultimately, it just would have been nice to go into this movie knowing at least a little something about it. Yes, we get that the stakes are the end of the world and of course I appreciate the movement away from the recent trend of seemingly doing one’s level best to spoil the entire movie in the trailer, but I think the film could have benefited a little more from advertising that spoke more to the plot than “THE MESSAGE”. [Nods to The Critical Drinker on YouTube every time I use that phrase. – Ed.]
Once you get into the film…it’s fine. It’s not the worst Marvel movie ever or anything like that. Chloe Zhao and Ben Davis’ cinematography are quite striking at times and help to convey the timeless or ageless feeling of some of the locations. Given some of the more recent films I’ve watched lately with shoddy CGI, it was nice to see a film with some spit and polish on it, as the effects here are in line with what we expect from the MCU. The music by Ramin Djawadi is also fairly well done, quiet when it needs to be, epic when it has to be. If I had a complaint, the ‘twist’ comes a little early in the film which had me looking at my watch, thinking the movie was farther along than what it was. But even that isn’t really a negative if I’m being honest, because the movie is allowed to tell the story that it needs to in the time that it needs…and even though there are some pacing issues, I’m not sure I can really finger any particular scene that needs to be weeded out. Okay, maybe the stuff surrounding Sersi’s current human boyfriend, but any comics geek knows that he’ll likely come into play in later films.
The thing is though that I was looking for something here to shake me out of the apathy I’ve been feeling toward the MCU given their last 2 efforts…and sadly, that’s not here. In fact, there are two things that were at the forefront of my mind throughout the picture, each of them deserving of their own paragraphs.
The first point is actually two-fold but has more to do with the Distinguished Competition, if you know what I mean. Eternals suggests that maybe the WB was right in holding off on a New Gods movie. Personally I don’t quite agree with this, mainly for reasons I’ll get to in the second point. The other half of this issue though is that I think, given the critical reaction to this film, that maybe audiences are finally past this whole ‘I wanna see bad Superman’ fascination that has consumed at least half of the last decade and the first bit of this one. Obviously, I can’t go into details as that would indeed constitute a spoiler, but the reason it’s worth mentioning is that this was going to be a part of Zack Snyder’s Justice League 2 and…well, maybe it’s worthwhile for that to have not happened. [That said, I’ll still be hanging on to my #RestoreTheSnyderVerse fanboy card, thank you very much. – Ed.] We see it play out here and there’s really no drama to it. The audience knows how it’s going to end…and if there’s no dramatic consequence to this turn, look, I’m not going to call it a waste of time because it happens during the climax of the film where you do need everything to turn against the heroes but…I guess the best way to sum it up is that it’s a move that ultimately meets with a resounding ‘meh’ and a shrug instead of the impact that a storyteller would hope for in a moment like that.
The second point is the main one and one that Marvel needs to find a way to fix if I’m going to remain invested in their films…and it’s a point I touched on in my Black Widow review. The ‘voice’ of the MCU films is becoming more and more homogenized as each film rolls on. While she has a credit on the screenplay and she was the director, when you go through what little behind the scenes footage they have on the Blu-Ray, many of the producers say things like “When we brought Chloe on board…” or “We made sure to surround Chloe with people who have handled this kind of movie and scale before,” I got the same feeling that I got from Black Widow: These directors aren’t brought in for their voice, they’re here to helm their little portion of the producer’s vision. Again, I’ll refer to what Kevin Smith said about directing DC TV shows set in the ‘Berlanti-verse’, (paraphrasing of course) “It’s already a well-running machine, you add a little bit here and there, sure, but ultimately you do your best to stay out of its way.” I’m sure I’m missing a few ‘whatnot’s in there, but you get the gist: the Marvel Machine is essentially on autopilot, the director is there just to make sure the machine doesn’t fail. The thing is ‘autopilot’ tends to breed stagnation or, worse, decline. Everything I’d heard about Eternals leans toward the former, but even if you hit that stagnation point, well, if you don’t get a serious kick in the pants it’s all too easy to fall into decline. Now, to be fair, I have to admit that yes, I’ve seen the next Marvel movie, Spider-Man: No Way Home and it’s freaking amazing plus the trailers for Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness suggest a continued upward trend in these films, so maybe what I’m writing here is all for naught, but, if you’ll forgive me one Craig Ferguson moment, “Careful Icarus”. Heh…okay, didn’t think of it till just now, but maybe that’s a little more on the nose than I’d planned. [Unplanned puns are still as bad as planned ones…maybe even worse. – Ed.] Still, the point here is that Phase 4 is off to a rocky start for me and with the three movies up to this point, Black Widow, Shang-Chi and now Eternals, , nothing that I’ve seen has filled me with the same rush to go to the movies to see the next chapter as I had during the Infinity Saga.
There is one last thing that I wanted to address that deals primarily with the release of the film to homes, be it either streaming or physical disc: where the fuck are the special features anymore? Yeah, we get a couple of EPK fluff pieces and a gag reel, but that’s it. The Eternals especially could’ve benefited from some supplements on how the characters were created: from their origin with Jack Kirby to the more modern interpretations, such as the aforementioned limited series from Neil Gaiman and that other guy. The general populace has ZERO idea who these characters are…wouldn’t this be a GREAT time to educate them, if for no other reason than to sell some graphic novels? I mean, come on Disney, I thought you guys were ALLLLLL about milking your properties for all they’re worth. Given that the Eternals are deep cuts when it comes to comics, it’s only fair to provide some sort of insight. Hell, it might even be the sort of thing to give this film a cult following or a second life on video. If I were more attached to the Eternals as characters, maybe I would have given more of a damn about what was going on during the film. As it stands now, I guess not. In all fairness though, this isn’t just a Disney problem, it’s across the industry. A little part of me dies every time I see a new disc proclaiming ‘Over a half-hour of special features!!!’…like, are you kidding me? When companies like Shout or Arrow are putting out discs with hours of features, interviews, retrospectives and the like? Ugh. But that’s a rant for a different time.
Overall, Eternals is fine. Nothing deal-breaking, but nothing too remarkable either. Which is a shame since this could have been used to dive deep into Marvel’s cosmic side, a corner of their universe I’ve always preferred. While in retrospect, it feels like a missed opportunity, the film itself is competently handled, if a bit samey. If you’re a die-hard Marvel fan, check it out. Heck, you probably already have. However, for me, it did little to overcome the continually mounting ennui I have toward the post-Infinity Saga MCU…and that earns this film a Plain Cat.