Director: Chloé Zhao
Stars: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kit Harrington, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Barry Keoghan, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh, Don Lee
Save for the odd scene there’s disappointingly little evidence of director Chloé ‘Nomadland’ Zhao’s rugged, soulful humanism in this bloated and muddled Marvel adaption.
A scrolling text prologue, the first of several hefty exposition dumps, lays out how the titular characters were dispatched to earth some 7000 years ago by a godlike being to save humanity from giant lizard monsters called Deviants and to maintain the ecological balance. We first encounter the Eternals in Mesopotamia in 5000 BC as they save a band of humans from a Deviant attack.
Skip to present day where the Eternals have gone their separate ways after the apparent disappearance of the Deviants some years earlier. Some live in self-imposed exile; some of them are trying to live as humans. The matter-transforming Sersi (Chan) is one of the latter, working at London’s Natural History Museum and in a relationship with teacher Dane (Harrington). When the Deviants re-emerge, one of them literally in Camden Lock, Sersi is joined in fighting them off by the ex-boyfriend she had split up with a few hundred years ago, the Superman-ish flying and heat vision-totin’ Eternal Ikaris (Madden).
A lengthy getting the gang back altogether passage follows as are introduced to the remaining Eternals, benevolent boss Ajak (Hayek); fireball hurler and one-man Bollywood dynasty Kingo (Nanjiani), unpredictable warrior woman Thena (an underused Jolie), dorky scientist Phastos (Tyree Henry), the, er, punchy Gilgamesh (Lee), mind-controlling cynic Druig (Keoghan), super-swift Makkari (Ridloff) and Peter Pan-ish punkette Sprite (McHugh).
That’s a lot of characters to address and the frequent chronology-juggling in order to account for their respective stances stalls the narrative momentum, making this heavy weather over a two-and-a-half-hour running time. Some of the ensemble struggle with dialogue that alternates between the portentous and smug bantz; Hayek and the perma-wooden Madden are merely dull, while Nanjiani and Tyree Henry mug to amusing / tiresome effect depending on your mileage. Thankfully, Chan’s winningly humble and wistful Sersi, the most ‘human’ of the Eternals, keeps the drama anchored into something relatable. Chan even scores the best laugh as her character sheepishly and clumsily outlines her superpowers for a documentary filmmaker.
Ben Davis’s rendering of the vast outdoor vistas, as opposed to green screen effects, at least imbues the film with an epic sweep while recalling Zhao’s last picture, but by the third act, inevitably, it all descends into the usual overcrowded CGI jumble.
There is one mid credits sequence and one post credits sequence.
Eternals is released 5th November
Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm