Eternals (2021)

2h 36m
Chloé Zhao
Chloé Zhao (screenplay) Patrick Burleigh (screenplay by) Ryan Firpo (screenplay by)
Stars: Gemma Chan Richard Madden Angelina Jolie

Eternals follows on from the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), and features the Eternals (ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years) to come out in the open and come together to fight against mankind’s ancient enemy, the Deviants. Straightforward enough story and I’m a big Marvel fan, so I should have enjoyed this, right? Wrong. I largely hated it. Here’s why.

Too long, too many characters and an unconvincing version of diversity. A mess but an interesting one!

The film is just too slow and long. Two and a half hours where I found it difficult to take much interest or empathise with any of the characters. It has far too many characters and it promotes an unrealistic version of diversity.

Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos) is the Marvel franchise’s first openly gay superhero. As Jenna Benchetrit · CBC News points out: “Previous films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have featured “gay moments,” like Avengers: Endgame’s brief scene in which a non-superhero character, portrayed by director Joe Russo, describes a same-sex date. In other cases, characters are canonically LGBTQ+ in the comics (including Asgardian warrior Valkyrie) or in other Marvel properties outside of the realm of films (like Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, who hinted at his bisexuality in the eponymous Disney+ television series).

In 2016, Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool winked and nudged at the character’s pansexuality — but that’s where it stopped.”

I welcome the fact that Marvel reflects reality by including gay characters. I don’t like the fact that some backward nations saw this as a reason to try to censor or ban the film. I dislike the way that Phastos is depicted as a ‘family’ orientated character. The family relationship between Phastos and his husband, Ben (Haaz Sleiman) and their son Jack (Esai Daniel Cross) is cloyingly stressed. Turning to my Woke Newspeak Phrasebook I would call it a hetreonormative portrayal of queer life. We will be making real progress when this vanilla coating isn’t seen as necessary. I look forward to the day the Marvel ‘universe’ is big enough to include bad gay people – even villains! I’m just not sure whether the studio’s promise that Phastos’ sexuality would simply be a part of his character and not a defining feature has been kept. The (no chemistry) kiss between Phastos and Ben has upset some but I’m glad that the studio refused to edit it out when they came under pressure – it’s just a part of life and really in this day and age is it something people should get worked up about even if they don’t like it? I don’t think so.

The hetrosexual sex scene in Eternals (between Richard Madden’s Ikaris and Gemma Chan’s Sersi) is a new departure too. The only thing close to a sex scene in any Marvel universe movie previously was early in 2008’s Iron Man. It’s very tastefully done and I believe it’s a good thing to show this as part of relationships even in Superhero movies. As the film’s Director, Chloé Zhao, said: ““For us to be able to show two people who love each other, not just emotionally and intellectually but also physically, and to have a sex scene that will be seen by a lot of people that shows their love and compassion and gentleness — I think it’s a really beautiful thing.”

The sheer number of characters means that characterisation is underdeveloped. This results in it being difficult to identify with or care about any of them. There are just too many characters that need backstories and motivations explained. The only character in Eternals I liked was Indian actor Harish Patil. He steals every scene he is in and I would have liked to have seen more of him as his appearances are brief.

All in all the film is a bit of a mess. It’s an interesting mess and there are some firsts which I applaud but I can understand why some Marvel universe friends say it seemed to last an eternity!


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