Over the past decade, Marvel has churned out the staggering blockbusters as well as forgettable films that just melded into a congealed mass that fans pretend not to remember. However, The Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t give up — it continues to desperately justify the existence of Thor: The Dark World, hoping that the die-hard fans will accept that it was relevant. And, it might just do the same for The Eternals. The film has now released on Disney Plus Hotstar.
No Marvel film has been bashed as brutally as The Eternals, something that gives little relief to DC followers, who haven’t had much to smile about in the recent years. Though the film earned $162 million on its opening weekend, it fell short of the box office expectations. It was the first Marvel film to be rated rotten and even before its release, it was attacked on IMDb. There was already strong resentment brewing against the film, and most of the viewers watched it with pre-conceived notions.
To be honest, they weren’t entirely wrong.
Directed by Chloe Zhao, the film’s basic fault was its attempt to cram too much content in too little time. Ten different characters were chucked at you, with heavy exposition, as you were launched on a wild ride across numerous timelines. It’s like being on a rollercoaster for two hours, with someone talking in your ear as you try to process what is happening. The film is an ambitious project, as it reveals events in the MCU history that no one was aware of, spanning the history of humanity. The premise was promising, but the execution was shoddy and disappointing. In short, it was a mess.
So who were the Eternals, and why have they decided to show up now, and not when Thanos was planning to reduce half the universe to dust? The Eternals are superheroes who have been residing on Earth for several millennia. They include Ajak (Salma Hayek), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Klingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan) and Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok). Marvel has wracked their brains trying to give the audience a convincing reason on why exactly they decided to sit out during the Thanos episode, and came up with a rather half-hearted excuse. Apparently, the Eternals can only engage in battles with Deviants, and no one else. It is at odds with the group constantly expressing their desire to protect human society, considering that the world has almost come to an end several times.
The backstories of The Eternals are crammed into a hefty 2.5 hour runtime. Half an hour into the film, there’s a death of one superhero, and you neither have the heart or time to mourn them. There’s no time to feel invested in any of them, not even the star-crossed romance between Ikaris and Sersi. Those two had a blooming romance for 5000 years and also got married during the Gupta Age in India, with a garland ritual while saree-clad women showered flowers on them. They sealed it with a kiss; perhaps the Guptas were more forward than we give them credit for.
There are many things that stand out like a sore thumb in this film — starting with Kit Harington, along with Marvel’s comic timing. Kumail Nanjiani tries his best and Harish Patel, who plays his glorified assistant. It is unfathomable why Hollywood attempts a Bollywood sequence that just appears as if they’ve never watched a dance before, but just heard someone, who hasn’t seen it themselves, describe it. It’s played for laughs, adding to the already building cringe in the film. Harish Patel, who speaks English fluently throughout the film, decides to give a morose speech in Hindi just as he is leaving the Eternals.
So what would have been a better way to handle such an ambitious film as The Eternals? For starters, it could have been a Disney Plus series — giving us more time to understand each character, their motivations and powers. In the film, we don’t really understand much about their powers till the second half, and by that time, the world is in danger (again). The love story that forms the crux of the film would have had time to grow, and even tug at the heartstrings. Marvel has always played it safe with its couples. Tony Stark and Pepper Potts were wholesome, and you felt sorry for Steve Rogers when he realised that his new world is without the love of his life, Peggy Carter. Yet the frustrating part of The Eternals love story was that you could see that there was a chance of their chemistry being explosive, and packed with emotion. Instead, we could only skim the surface. The audience needed to understand their story and why their ill-fated romance was so magnetic. Unfortunately, it’s only the other Eternals who tell us that. The last scene where Ikaris ‘flies close to the sun’, with tears in his eyes after recalling his time with Sersi, had the potential to be hard-hitting and impactful, like a twist of the knife.
There is a serious disservice done to Angelina Jolie’s Thena, who recedes into the background so often. She has the Mahd-Wyry, that causes her to turn against the rest of the group momentarily, and only Gilgamesh can control this. In a devastating turn of events, she loses him, and is fired by vengeance. Yet, we only see snatches of these emotions in this rushed plotline. It’s what many fans and critics wondered, how do you have stars like Angelia Jolie and Salma Hayek in a film and then barely give them much screen-time?
The Eternals could have been infinitely better as it was venturing into a new territory that Marvel hadn’t explored before. They deserved better.