Note: There are no spoilers for Marvel’s Eternals in this article beyond the very basics of the plot that can be gleaned from trailers, toys, and posters.
1. How is it?
Eternals is a good movie; it tries to be a great movie, but it never quite gets there. There is plenty of action and it’s great eye candy, but the acting is just OK and the plot both drags and feels rushed at the same time. It takes a fair bit of time showing bits and pieces of the multi-millennial story of the Eternals, but there’s a huge backstory to the main characters that the audience is told rather than shown: there’s even an opening crawl for the first time in any MCU movie. The opening feels rushed, and right after the movie’s main plot starts with a bang, it hits the old “get the team back together” trope and slows down far more than it needs to… only to speed up again at the end.
The visuals are spectacular, and they have to be: the main characters do, after all, have extraordinary powers; but you can tell that many of the actors are working with a green-screen way more than in any MCU movie so far. The two most central characters, Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden), are mostly OK, but some of the others don’t sell it quite so well; Sprite (Lia McHugh), the third central character, probably does it best. It also suffers from having to introduce ten new superheroes all at once: it’s hard to remember their names, appearances, and what their powers are; and you only ever get to really know a few of them. And then once you feel like you know them, the plot shifts drastically out from under you in ways I cannot possibly explain without spoilers, and you have to relearn a bunch of things; twists are pretty much (ironically) expected in movies these days, but it’s a bit frustrating when there’s so much new information you’re expected to keep track of.
This is the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie since the first Guardians of the Galaxy that hasn’t been connected to the films that came before it (Ant-Man didn’t share any characters with prior films, with the exception of the Peggy Carter and Howard Stark cameos at the beginning, but was much more a classic superhero movie than GotG was.) If you’re at all familiar with Greek, Roman, and Mesopotamian mythology, many of the characters’ names will give you ideas about them, but at least for me that actually distracted from the plot, as I kept looking for clues as to who the less obvious ones were supposed to be. I mean, Gilgamesh, Ikaris, Sersi, and Thena are pretty obvious, for examples, but who are Kingo and Druig?
TL, DR: It won’t be remembered as one of the best MCU films, but it’s still well worth a trip to the theater if everyone in your party is vaccinated.
2. What MCU movies should I rewatch before I go see it?
For once, you don’t need to have seen any of them. There are references to Dr. Strange, Thanos and the Blip, but even in the unlikely event that you’re reading this and don’t know who/what those are, there’s enough context and exposition that you wouldn’t get lost at all.
3. How old should my kids be before I let them see it?
This is a bit of a tough call. I think kids younger than 12 or so may have trouble keeping track of the characters and the plot (and are less likely than older kids and adults to have the grounding in history and mythology to help), and there is one brief sex scene (in which there is no explicit nudity, but it’s very clear what’s happening). And characters you are meant to like do get killed. But most of the violence is comic-book style, and not terribly graphic. Take all of that for what you will.
4. Is it true that it’s more progressive (or “woke,” if you like) than previous MCU movies?
That’s not setting the bar high, but yes, it most certainly is. There are Eternals, including central ones, played by women and men of color, and with the exception of Kingo, played by Kumail Nanjiani, the fact that they are is completely irrelevant to the characters or the story. And they gender-swapped the characters of Ajak (Salma Hayek) and Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) from the comics, which is sure to only annoy people who deserve to be annoyed. Makkari is the first deaf MCU hero, and communicates via American Sign Language, which at first thought seems anachronistic when they use it in scenes milliennia before there was an America, but if you consider it further, it’s really no less so than the fact that the ones who can hear mostly speak English to each other. I also loved the fact that one of the male Eternals is married to a man and has a son, and he and his husband have a proper on-screen kiss, and it is never even hinted at that anyone might consider that unusual.
I should note that Eternals was also the first MCU movie directed by a woman of color, Chloé Zhao.
5. How many end-credits sequences should I be prepared to wait for?
Two, one in the middle of the end-credits and one at the very end. The latter is clearly setting up a character for future movies, so I highly recommend you stay to watch it. If you’re not familiar with Marvel comics, you probably won’t fully understand what happens in it (and if you are familiar with the comics, you will likely not be surprised by it), but you should watch it anyway. I promise you won’t be sorry you did.
6. Did they really hire Angelina Jolie for a supporting role?
Yes. Yes, they did, and the only reason why that I can think of is that they get to highlight her name in the credits. She’s fine as Thena, but the role has two basic attitudes, and neither requires a great deal of talent to pull off.
Disclosure: I was invited to a free press screening of Eternals. All opinions expressed here are my own.