Eternals is beautifully shot and terrifically acted, but it bites off more than it can chew in its third act.
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Eternals simply takes too long getting to the good stuff, and its more cerebral and adult elements – including a grand romance – could harbor less appeal among kids, a not-inconsequential demo, than most recent Marvel titles.
Zhao understands the larger assignment, as the epic sets the stage for future MCU intrigue. Her attention to detail and eye for design does wonders, even if by the end it all feels like an eternal chore.
By making such an unadventurous movie about how crisis breeds creativity, Marvel effectively illustrates why even the most independent-minded of filmmakers are powerless to evolve an apex predator franchise that doesn’t have any Darwinian impetus to adapt.
With Eternals, Marvel turns a risky gamble into another piece of the puzzle. Its cosmic ambitions, its prevailing humanism amid a nihilistic outlook, and its gestures at maturity — the (real!) sex scene, the depth and warmth that they give to Henry's LGBTQ relationship — are not enough to make Eternals more than just another film to fit neatly in the Marvel Studios mold. But even so, Zhao brings an elegance to the film and the cast bring a vulnerability and care to their characters that leave a lingering impression, even as the last super-punch fades.
While Eternals has most of the benchmarks of a Marvel movie, Zhao's sprawling superhero epic is unlike anything the MCU has produced before.
Chloé Zhao gives the MCU just the kick in the pants it needs at this phase in its evolution.
Eternals is more serious in tone and more deliberate in its pacing than the average Marvel movie, with less of the usual banter and no cameo appearances by other superheroes. But, if you're looking for the humanity and originality of Zhao's other films, you won't find much of it here.
What makes Eternals feel special is that, for once, the director genuinely cares as much about the character within that spectacle, as the spectacle itself.
It’s not exactly boring – there’s always something new to behold – but nor it is particularly exciting, and it lacks the breezy wit of Marvel’s best movies. One of the strengths of the MCU to date is how it has taken time to define each character individually and lay out the grand narratives over successive movies, building a sense of momentum. Here, it’s all thrown at us at once.