Eternals, My Rambling Review

So, what’s the origin of the universe this time?

Dave Gutteridge
My Rambling Reviews

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The Eternals standing and facing the camera.
The Eternals do a lot of standing around like this in the movie. Almost every time they finish a fight they gather together and stand around facing nobody in particular.

(Spoilers, I guess. But also, whatever.)

Since the silver age of comics, roughly the 1950s, creators have been cranking out hero after hero, just throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. The process of creating a few iconic and beloved characters like Spider-man or Batman comes at the cost of generating thousands of other attempts that failed to catch fire in the market.

For me, the Eternals, at least in terms of the comics, are straight out of the pile of misses. I read some of their stories, because there was a time when I would read anything and everything in comic book form. But, there’s nothing that makes me think that a movie with them would be anything more than a desperate attempt by a huge media company to try and mine their intellectual property for a chance at trying to get even a fraction of the kind of money a Spider-man movie generates.

Which is exactly what this movie is. So I had no strong desire to watch it, because these days there are so many super hero shows that I’m a lot more selective. But, I also wasn’t actively against seeing it, the way I’m dead set on not watching the dumpster fires that are marketed as “movies” featuring Venom.

So the chance to watch The Eternals just came up one time when I was in the mood for a light distraction, and… it’s kind of okay. I’d say worth a watch, if you go in with low expectations. Like, if you’re sick and have to stay at home and you feel kind of blah, this is probably the right kind of thing to watch.

I liked some of the twists and turns of the story. The bad guys are maybe not so bad, the good guys are maybe not so good, and the main cast aren’t perfect, but they have reasonably well defined characteristics and interpersonal dynamics. I got sufficiently invested in the stakes. And the visuals are all top tier, so, that helps a lot when you’ve committed to turning off your brain for a while.

What interests me about the movie from a storytelling perspective is that it’s not held back by an absence of good ideas or characters. It’s that there’s a lot of additional clunky business that gets in the way of what might have been a much more engaging movie. Their origin story is no more complicated than you get in many movies of this type, but, there’s all this weight imported from the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe that slows everything down. Which is strange, when you consider that all the cross referencing Marvel does is usually their strength, as it helps evoke a rich environmental backdrop.

Perhaps it’s all just reaching a breaking point, and this movie is the straw on the back of the camel. The Marvel universe already has Norse gods, infinity stones, a multiverse, a quantum realm, maybe mythical dragon gods or whatever the fuck was going on in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, an extra-dimensional time police, and probably more that I’m not remembering. Not to mention secret societies working behind the scenes to manipulate the course of history that are as common as fast food franchises. So, now, with this movie, there are also eternal beings who are responsible for creating the Earth, or civilization, or whatever they’re doing, in order to spawn more eternal beings.

As comics creators churned out idea after idea back in the day, in order to find gems among the stones, they didn’t necessarily create all these mythologies from the outset with the intention that they all be part of the same shared universe being made into movies today. A lot of these stories have wildly different ideas about how the universe came to be, what are the fundamental forces, which beings have omnipotent primacy, and everything that underpins the very fabric of space and time and life and civilization.

Throwing them altogether as if they are all somehow equally viable in spite of their claims on the same cosmic territory just creates a mess of competing ideas. This movie would have worked so much better if it were presented as an alternate universe, something separate from the universe with the Avengers. Then all its stakes could have been considered in isolation, and understood to be absolute.

On top of the shared universe lowering the stakes, the shared universe aspect to this movie’s premise also makes these characters less compelling. They have god like powers, and yet, because of strict rules of behavior, they abstain from helping the world from any kind of danger outside of a narrow jurisdiction over a specific enemy. Which means that even when Thanos was going to eradicate half the universe, and thus half the Eternals and all the other cosmic forces we meet in this movie, the Eternals didn’t think that was a anything worth fighting against. Heroes who sit out fights they could definitely make an impact on are not the kind of heroes worth watching.

Kind of almost as an aside, this movie takes another hit in terms of too much cross-over by shoe horning in a reference to an upcoming show or movie featuring the character Moon Knight… no, Dark Knight. Wait, no, Black Knight. Seems it’s almost certainly Black Knight. Whatever. It’s just some other character from the vast pool of IP that Marvel has generated over the decades. In spite of all the comic reading I’ve done, I’ve never read a Black Knight comic that I can remember, so at this point I have no opinion one way or another about the character.

Anyway, it turns out a boyfriend of one of the main characters is the guy who will become Black Knight, but his presence has no particular connection to the plot or anything. There’s absolutely no reason for Black Knight to be in this movie.

Of course, every cameo is in essence just a form of advertising for other shows. But, there’s an art to it, to make it feel like it’s building a networked universe, and this did not have any of that artful touch. The character is a generic boyfriend character the whole movie, and then in a post credit cut scene, we see him do something that foreshadows who he will become. It was literally just, “by the way, this dude over here is Black Knight, so, like, subscribe to Disney+ and check that out.”

One of the weirdest parts of the movie has to do with the character played by Kumail Nanjiani. He and his sidekick provided welcome comic relief for most of the movie. But right around the end of the second act, just before the big climactic showdown that’s going to resolve everything, he just… leaves. During a conversation where the Eternals have gathered to talk about what to do about the fact that the world is ending, he literally just states he doesn’t want to be a part of it, and walks out of the movie.

At the time he left, I thought that they were just playing out a common trope, where he’ll show up at a critical moment in the final battle to turn the tide, saying he had a change of heart and couldn’t abandon his friends or something like that. But, nope. He doesn’t come back.

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a character in a movie do that before. I’ve seen main characters die unexpectedly early in a story, I’ve seen characters that turn out to be important show up at strangely late stages of a movie. But I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a main character just say, “fuck it,” and walk out of the story.

I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be funny, or a way of subverting expectations, or what, but, whatever the reason, I think it was a pretty bad choice. Why would I want to watch a character who is just going to bail on a story? Assuming there are sequels, even if he decides to stay and fight next time, now it seems like he only does that when he feels confident he’ll win, which is not an appealing trait for a hero. Heroes are supposed to win against the odds, not play them.

Another weird choice was when Icarus decides to fly himself into the sun. I can’t quite figure out why he did it, but partly that’s because I’ve left that question sitting untouched, since it doesn’t matter. This movie has established that the Eternals are essentially robots that are mass produced, so if they want that actor and character back, they can literally just pull another one off the shelf, with the same downloaded memories and everything. So, go ahead, fly yourself into the sun a thousand times if you want.

Without the weight of the rest of the Marvel universe dragging on this movie, it could have been a lot better. And another level up would have been to not try and cram the reveal of the origin of these characters into two hours. This could have been a trilogy, or maybe this would have worked best as a ten episode series, with at least one episode dedicated to each character. Then it would also be more help in killing time when you’re sick.

(Editing note: Originally I thought Kit Harington was going to be playing Moon Knight, another Marvel character in an upcoming series. However, as someone helpfully mentioned in a comment, he’s actually going to be playing Black Knight, and I’m not sure where that character is going to be featured. I changed this article to reflect that. In any case, the central problem of over-referencing is still the same.)

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Dave Gutteridge
My Rambling Reviews

I don't post often because I think about what I write. Topics include ethics, relationships, and philosophy.