Chloe Zhao’s ‘Eternals’ falls flat, stuck surrounded with political controversy and questionable character choices

"Chloe Zhao" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 Photo credit: "Chloe Zhao" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In the days leading up to its Nov. 5 release, Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) newest film “Eternals” already found itself embroiled in controversy. The featuring of MCU’s first gay couple and first-ever sex scene led to bans in several countries and “Eternals” is currently among entertainment giant’s worst received movies.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t interesting enough to erase these controversies.

Featuring a star studded cast with Gemma Chan and Richard Madden leading, along with a deep bench of supporting actors including Angelina Jolie, “Eternals” cannot do its talent justice. Coming off her award-winning film “Nomadland,” director Chloe Zhao creates an interesting outline of a world, but leaves the sketches unfinished.

The visuals are well choreographed — and Zhao’s film work in some of the wide shots are excellent — but some of the CGI is clunky, especially in the fighting of Jolie’s character, Thena.

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Zhao does show off her gift of storytelling by making both the Celestials and Deviants have interesting backstories. The reveal of the group’s true purpose and Ikaris’s betrayal are strong moments, but the movie has too much on its plate. “Eternals” needed to be a Disney+ show, not a movie.

Constant flashbacks and exposition dumps in the opening half kill any momentum. Kit Harington is a particularly poor audience avatar, as the movie establishes that Harington’s Dane Whitman has previously been explained the backstory of the “Eternals”. The flashbacks could have been smoother, and the scene showing the heroes regretting their impact on Hiroshima’s nuking is predictable and cringeworthy.

“Eternals” is weighed down by its hit-or-miss characters, many of whom are influenced by more popular works than the original Jack Kirby comics.

Zach Snyder’s “Man of Steel” clearly influenced the character Ikaris, which Zhao has confirmed. Lia McHugh’s Sprite references Kirsten Dunst’s character in “Interview With The Vampire,” with some “Tinker Bell ” sprinkled in as Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo explains. Barry Keoghan’s Druig is any jaded telepath the “X-Men” have ever shown.

Zhao skips too many steps that would make “Eternals” understandable. A withdrawn Superman works because the audience knows the pure hearted alternative. Ikaris’ lack of compassion and cruelty are simply his personality traits without showing otherwise.

The controversial sex scene between Madden and Chan has the intamacy of a six-year-old with two dolls—his chemistry with Sersi is equally passionate and he doesn’t seem to like most of his other Eternals.

Nanjiani and McHugh are both misses, as the movie doesn’t do enough to make their decisions to hold any weight. Nanjiani and his valet, played by Harish Patel, do all the heavy lifting in terms of comedy, and Sprite’s arc gets marginally better after rewatching the film.

Brian Tyree Henry of “Atlanta” fame plays Phastos, the first gay MCU superhero. Because of his inclusion, several markets in the Middle East either pulled or edited the movie. Nonetheless, the movie prominently portrays Phastos and his family—and it’s a welcome decision.

Chan’s Sersi, Henry’s Phastos and Jolie’s Thena have quality arcs and receive enough screen time. Salma Hayek and Don Lee, however, both have potential but lack the screentime to do much.

Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari is delightful as she brings the first deaf hero to the MCU. Ridloff and Keoghan have incredible chemistry, to the point they undermine any believability of Madden and Chan’s relationship. have even met before, let alone were married for five thousand years.

The movie closes strong as the MCU formula briefly kicks in after dormancy, creating a dramatic cliffhanger as several of our heroes are taken by the celestials. The end credit scene featuring Harington and the debut of Mahershala Ali’s “Blade” in teasing the former “Game of Thrones” stars MCU future was very exciting.

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However, the mid-credit scene debuting Harry Styles’s Starfox, is more concerning. Starfox is the brother of Thanos, and if he follows his comic influence, will have the power to pleasure the brain and cause arousal and attraction. Sound creepy? Well, he uses it exactly how you would imagine.

Styles’ source material is known to harass women and has been on trial for sexual assault before in the comic books. The decision to use this character instead of another—who, you know, isn’t an abuser—is one of the worst decisions the MCU has made under Feige.

“Eternals” is a bolder take on the superhero genre than films that come before it, but the movie is bogged down by its insistence on telling instead of showing, a rare misstep in both Zhao and the MCU’s catalogue. Hopefully, they both can learn from it.

Featured image “Chloe Zhao” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0