It’s already become cliche to say “Eternals is different than any other film in the MCU!” And while it still fits the basic Marvel formula of action, abrupt humor, and excessive CGI climaxes, Kevin Feige has allowed some very bold deviations.
Most notably is hiring Chloé Zhao to write and direct the film. Her academy award-winning film “Nomadland” is about as far from a comic book movie as imaginable. The story she has written is much more serene (and depressing) than what we’ve become accustomed to seeing. Perhaps that’s the result of telling the tale of ten immortal beings living on Earth for over 7,000 years waiting for their version of the rapture. The story begins around 5000 BC as the earliest forms of human civilization are being threatened by strange carnivorous beasts called “deviants.” An omnipotent celestial being known as Tiamut dispatches ten “Eternals” to Earth to eradicate the deviants and help humanity flourish on Earth. Through various flashbacks to key points in history, we see the Eternals do their best to guide and protect humans. Unfortunately, Tiamut has forbidden the Eternals from interacting in any wars on Earth. They are powerless to help, and over the centuries have watched thousands of their beloved humans be slaughtered by others. This trauma and conflict over their value as “gods” fractures the team as each does their best to cope. One character has psychotic breaks and is a danger to everyone around. Another starts a cult of his own that he shields from the modern world. One becomes a Bollywood action movie star. The others do their best to assimilate into the current culture and live relatively normal lives.
One of the more fascinating elements of this story is that the main villain isn’t a villain at all but a crisis of faith for the Eternals. Sure, there are individuals that they must battle against, but the driving antagonist is the truth behind their mission on Earth. When each learns that Tiamut’s ultimate goal is the complete destruction of Earth and all life on it, how should they react? Without a shadow of a doubt, they know their creator, their god is real. They have always seen themselves as honorable and loving caretakers of humanity. But now their creator asks them to take part in the destruction of what they love. It’s supposed to serve a higher purpose, but as one character muses, “It never turns out well when innocent people have to die for the greater good.”
The script presents us with some fascinating philosophy and some grand ideas but seems shy to fully commit. There are hiccups in the acting, not all the humor lands, some of the CGI is lackluster, and the ending/credit sequences are jarring, but it’s these questions and the implications of this new reality for the MCU that linger in the mind. Bolstered by an excellent score and beautiful cinematography (that the trailer fails to showcase), “Eternals” is certainly the most epic MCU movie to date.