‘Eternals’ Review: A Misfire of Epic Proportions

Eternals Cast
The cast of Marvel’s ‘Eternals’

Marvel’s Eternals introduces a group of 10 immortal superheroes who’ve been charged by a Celestial with protecting Earth. Over the centuries, these powerful beings have stepped up and saved lives during fires, floods, hurricanes, pandemics, and wars. Wait … no, they haven’t. They kept billions from perishing by stopping Thanos from snapping away half the world’s population. No … actually, they didn’t lift a finger.

When it comes down to it, they’re nowhere to be seen when the Earth is in trouble. And, with exception of one or two, they don’t seem all that special. So why do these particular superheroes deserve their own film? Unfortunately, it’s possible to sit through a screening of Marvel’s Eternals and never have that questioned answered.

These ageless beings have spent 7,000 years on our planet, remaining on the sidelines except for when their mortal enemies – grotesque creatures known as Deviants – rear their hideous heads. After believing Deviants had been wiped out, the Eternals went their separate ways. Some attempted to blend in, others kept to themselves, and one – Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) – opted to become a famous Bollywood star because why not?

The sudden reappearance of Deviants forces the Eternals to reunite which in turn forces the audience to sit through what feels like never-ending expository flashbacks meant to explain what each Eternal has been up to since the last time they fought together as a Deviant-crushing team. These flashbacks reveal the personal dynamics of the team, the cliques within the larger group, and the romantic relationship between Ikaris (Richard Madden), the guy who thinks he should be the group’s leader, and Sersi (Gemma Chan), the woman who truly deserves to be in charge following the death of their official leader.

Once the team’s reunited, secrets are exposed, jealousy rears its ugly head, and the truth behind why the Eternals have been on Earth for thousands of years is finally revealed. And that, of course, all leads to the fate of humanity resting in the hands of a powerful, extremely dysfunctional “family.”

For nearly every superpower on display in Eternals, there’s already been a character on screen with a similar power brought to life in a much more impressive manner. We’ve seen speedsters, guys who can fly, heroes who can cast illusions, super strong superheroes, and ones who shoot laser beams out of their eyes. The laser-shooting Eternals can’t hold a candle to The Boys’ Homelander, played by Antony Starr, and even The CW’s The Flash offers better speedster effects than this big-budget debacle.

Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) did an excellent job of making sure this large ensemble is one of the most ethnically diverse in Marvel’s cinematic history. The film also features the first openly gay character of the MCU, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), as well as a lead character, Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), who’s deaf. It’s way past time but bravo for this inclusivity finally happening in the MCU. Representation matters and it’s great to see the MCU taking more steps toward ensuring kids can see superheroes they can relate to on the screen.

Unfortunately, Zhao did a less impressive job in giving this diverse cast anything meaty to work with. (Zhao is a co-writer along with Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo, and Patrick Burleigh.) The plot seems unnecessarily convoluted and there are far too many characters to introduce all at once. The sheer number of main characters means even with time devoted to each of their backstories, only a few emerge as completely fleshed out and with engaging personalities. There are suggestions of infinitely more interesting storylines buried in the flashbacks, and the idea of these beings existing on Earth for 7,000 years and witnessing the evolution of humans is fascinating but barely touched upon.

Among an ensemble that includes Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Kit Harington (a scene-stealer in his few onscreen appearances), Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, and Salma Hayek, it’s Gemma Chan’s Sersi who goes through the biggest transformational journey and becomes the heart and soul of the Eternals. Brian Tyree Henry is also a standout, giving multiple layers to Phastos – a tech wizard who regrets introducing technology that’s been abused by humans. And Kumail Nanjiani can be credited with injecting a little fun into Eternals. Without Nanjiani nailing the job of comic relief, Eternals would be completely lifeless.

There’s a lack of energy throughout and even the fight scenes between the Eternals and the CGI monsters don’t feel dynamic. The pacing’s off, the constant jumping between past and present doesn’t help the flow of the story, and none of the set pieces leap off the screen.

Director Zhao is a formidable filmmaker, but Eternals isn’t one of her finer efforts. Even an impressive cast can’t overcome the film’s major flaws including the lack of a compelling story. Superhero movies have been called a lot of things but boring isn’t usually a label included in descriptions. Until now.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, brief sexuality, and some language

Release Date: November 5, 2021

Running Time: 2 hours 37 minutes