Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster, Eternals, is finally here.
The sci-fi saga, which features a star-studded ensemble cast, follows a group of immortal aliens who have been secretly living on Earth for thousands of years, waiting for the moment they are needed to protect humanity.
Here the PA news agency’s film critic Damon Smith gives his verdict ahead of the release of Eternals on November 5.
The repercussions of the Avengers’ decision to reverse The Snap continue to ripple through the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) in Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao’s origin story for a new supergroup of otherworldly protectors.
Set directly after Bruce Banner wields the Infinity Gauntlet in Avengers: Endgame and snaps his fingers to restore beings in the universe eliminated by Thanos, Eternals initiates a seven-day countdown to a cataclysmic event called the Emergence, which will render humanity obsolete.
An opening crawl, a la Star Wars, succinctly distils a new mythology that dismisses the Big Bang Theory and introduces an ancient race of beings known as Celestials, led by the mighty Arishem, which have shaped our universe for millennia.
When monstrous entities called Deviants infest the Earth in 5000 BC Mesopotamia, Arishem fashions humanity’s superpowered protectors, the Eternals.
For more than 7,000 years, this band of near-immortal saviours have lived among us, in plain sight but unseen.
They are instructed not to interfere in human conflicts unless Deviants are involved, and watch with dismay as humans resolve differences with bloodshed.
After a monstrous mushroom cloud rises above 1945 Hiroshima, one Eternal angrily remarks, “These people, they’re not worth saving”.
Zhao’s script, co-written by Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo, tests that bitter sentiment and the gossamer-thin moral threads separating heroes from villains to breaking point using one of the most diverse, inclusive teams in the sprawling MCU.
Deaf actress Lauren Ridloff communicates with her fellow Eternals in American Sign Language, Brian Tyree Henry portrays one half of the franchise’s first openly gay relationship and the ranks are filled with strong, powerful women including the group’s spiritual leader, played by Salma Hayek.
By shifting the focus away from special effects-laden action set-pieces and on to character arcs and storytelling, Zhao bloats the running time to an uncomfortable two-and-a-half hours and delivers arguably the least adrenaline-pumping Marvel escapade to date.
It’s a brave new world and she reduces dramatic momentum with copious flashbacks to 575 BC Babylon, 400 AD in the Gupta Empire and 1521 AD Tenochtitlan to illustrate bonds between the Eternals’ leader Ajak (Hayek), who possesses the power of healing, and dutiful acolytes Ikaris (Richard Madden), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Tyree Henry), Makkari (Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Gilgamesh (Don Lee) and Thena (Angelina Jolie).
Jumping forward to the present, Sersi lectures on ancient artefacts at the Natural History Museum in London with her unsuspecting boyfriend Dane (Kit Harington), Kingo is an egotistical Bollywood star with a doting manager (Harish Patel), and Phastos has embraced fatherhood with his architect husband (Haaz Sleiman).
When the Emergence triggers the re-emergence of Deviants, Eternals risk everything – including their sworn allegiance to Arishem – to determine mankind’s fate.
Eternals bears Zhao’s fingerprints as the most emotionally intimate Marvel story to date and while it’s an ambitious adaptation of the comic books in many respects, including an artfully composed al fresco sex scene, some conventions remain, including tantalising scenes embedded in the end credits.
The first humorously teases one direction for the franchise’s next chapter while a second hints at a character’s complicated family history dating back to medieval England.
Flecks of humour, courtesy of Nanjiani and Tyree Henry, are extremely welcome as are the few occasions when scriptwriters exercise brevity – like a verbal allusion to Peter Pan to untangle a messy love triangle.
“Eternals will return…” promises a final title card before the screen fades to black.
Hopefully that will include Zhao behind the camera to further enrich this fantastical microcosm of the Marvel universe.
:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7/10