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"ETERNALS"
(2021) (Gemma Chan, Richard Madden) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Superhero Action: Having spent several millennia on Earth, the latest in obscurity, a group of immortal superheroes regroup to battle monsters that have mysteriously reemerged.
PLOT:

Seven thousand years ago, a powerful Celestial being known as Arishem sent a group of immortal superheroes, the Eternals, to Earth to protect the primitive human species from monsters known as Deviants. Led by Ajak (SALMA HAYEK) who possesses instant healing powers, the group consisted of Ikaris (RICHARD MADDEN) who can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes; Sersi (GEMMA CHAN) who can turn non-living substances into other materials; and Thena (ANGELIA JOLIE) a warrior with magical weapons.

There's also Kingo (KUMAIL NANJIANI) who can summon and fire masses of explosive energy; young Sprite (LIA McHUGH) who can create duplicate illusions of anything; and technology master Phastos (BRIAN TYREE HENRY). Then there's Makkari (LAUREN RIDLOFF) who can zip around at incredible speeds; Gilgamesh (DON LEE) who possesses a magically powerful punch; and Druig (BARRY KEOGHAN) who can control human minds. Yet, like the others, he has been ordered not to intervene in any human affairs that don't involve the Deviants.

With the latter seemingly vanquished five centuries ago, the Eternals have waited for orders back to their home planet of Olympia. With that not happening, they've split up and blended in with the rest of humanity, such as Sersi who teaches in London alongside her boyfriend, Dane (KIT HARINGTON), while Kingo is a Bollywood star with his faithful assistant, Karun (HARISH PATEL), always by his side.

And then out of nowhere, a Deviant attacks Sersi and Sprite, resulting in the group reuniting to protect humanity from the monsters, unaware of the greater danger they're facing.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10

I remember watching a TV show years ago where modern-day engineers tried to figure out if they could build an Egyptian pyramid using only the tools available back in those days. After all, some of the blocks are enormous and uber-heavy, and some are so tightly arranged that you can't slide a pocketknife blade between them.

After an hour or so of build-up and experiments, the result was that they couldn't. Throw in large "land art" that can only be seen and recognized from the sky long before humans lifted into the air in hot air balloons, and the only logical explanation would be that they got some -- how shall I put it -- "outside help."

That, of course, refers to speculation, theories, and so on that extraterrestrials from a more advanced (duh) planet traveled here and decided to help out the poor, primitive folk with some heavy lifting and eye in the sky observations. Or maybe those beings were sent to Earth to protect the fledgling species from monsters determined to rid the planet of them. I don't know, whichever sounds like a better movie, and more specifically, a superhero flick. Lemme see...building pyramids or battle monsters. Let's go with the latter.

The result is "Eternals," the latest offering from Marvel in their fourth phase that's now expanding above and beyond the usual suspects of "Iron Man," "Captain America," "Thor," and so on. And that diversification doesn't just stop with the varied array of characters, as the studio's powers that be decided to bring in art-house, fan-favorite director Chloé Zhao who last showed us Frances McDormand living the titular life in "Nomadland" (that just so happened to win three Oscars -- out of six nominations -- for Zhao, McDormand, and Best Picture).

Zhao's unhurried, let the visuals speak for themselves filmmaking and storytelling style -- remember how many words a picture is worth -- may seem ill-suited for the often hectic, formulaic style of Marvel. And the pic does feel the most unlike the rest of the entries -- of which I've lost count -- we've seen so far. That might not sit well with Marvel fanatics who just want more of the same, but I appreciated the change, much like I did with "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."

Zhao & Patrick Burleigh and Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo's script has the narrative hop, skip, and jump around through time, starting with a prologue of sorts set in 5,000 B.C. where sinewy monsters attack a settlement, only to have a bunch of superheroes -- those being our title characters -- flying and running into action to defeat the "Deviants."

We then jump forward to present-day England where Sersei (a terrific Gemma Chan) is a professor or museum curator whose boyfriend (Kit Harrington), is unaware of her immortal nature or ability to turn non-living things into other substances. She's seemingly content to lead a mere mortal sort of life when a Deviant shows up out of nowhere -- more powerful than ever before -- resulting in her needing fellow Eternals Sprite (Lia McHugh) and Ikaris (Richard Madden) to help save the day.

Having believed they rid the planet of those pesky critters centuries ago, it's up to them to figure out what's going on and "get the band back together" -- to fulfill their millennia-old prime directive of protecting humans from -- and only from -- those monsters.

The rest of the group includes the leader, Ajak the healer (Salma Hayek); warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie); energy summoner turned Bollywood star Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani); deaf speed girl Makkari (Lauren Ridloff); tech man Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry); power puncher Gilgamesh (Don Lee); and mind controller Druig (Barry Keoghan).

That's a lot of characters -- even for a film with a running time of two hours and thirty-seven minutes -- but things never get confusing on a "who's who" level, while the special effects are top-notch, the action is good, and there's a decent amount of comic relief (most stemming from Nanjiani and his sidekick played by Harish Patel). But the weakest part, despite all the diversity in terms of race, gender, disabilities, and sexual orientation -- are the characters.

And that's mainly because they feel so derivative of those that have preceded them in both comic books and up on the screen. There's the seemingly invincible one who can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes ("Look, it's a bird, it's a plane..."), while another zips around at ultra-high speeds. One can control minds, another is a tech wizard, one can instantly heal herself and others, and so on.

None of which would have mattered had they and this film been first out of the gate. But despite first appearing in comic book form nearly a half-century ago, they're now following a slew of other related characters and movies to the point that they don't feel, well, that super or special.

Which ends up rubbing off on the film in which they appear. No, it's not as bad or as disappointing as some critics and fanboys/girls might lead you to believe, but it can't shake that "been there, seen that before" aura. And as far as pyramid building goes, I guess we'll have to wait for the sequel. As a result, "Eternals" rates as just a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed October 25, 2021 / Posted November 5, 2021


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