Quick Synopsis: Immortal god-like beings fight beasts, themselves, and their own purpose in life.
This is……it’s far too long. I’ve only seen one film directed by Chloe Zhao before, and that was Nomadland, I feel her skills are wasted here. Nomadland was about the personal, it was about focusing on the small, this is a very big film so it’s a weird mesh of style and story that doesn’t really work. Maybe part of that is the script. It’s trying too hard to feel big. It has to tell the story of this entire group, that’s a lot to do. It also tries to tie it into the history of humanity as a whole. It doesn’t do this in chronological order, it jumps back and forth for the first half of the film, almost as though it’s acknowledging that there’s too much backstory but they feel they need to put it in there somehow anyway. The fractured storytelling also really hurts the story being told. The group have been separated for hundreds of years, the film spends a long time getting them back together and the relationships between them all are strained. But we as an audience don’t feel that. And we don’t feel that because of the non-linear editing. As characters, it’s been a long time since they’ve seen each other, but as an audience, it was only 5 minutes or so since we saw them all together and working as a team, and we haven’t seen the split yet. So we don’t feel that tension between them at all. If they did the “Eternals involved in the history of humanity” stuff as a montage at the beginning, then have them split, then we’ll feel it.
The issues behind the split between the group are weirdly underplayed. There are two main incidents that I feel aren’t explored enough: one is the Spanish Conquistadors laying siege to an Aztec city. This could be a haunting emotional setpiece. The whole group should be emotionally devastated at not being able to help, they should all carry that guilt around with them, as it is only one of them does. It’s quite telling that this film doesn’t even have a “Nightmare Fuel” entry on the films TVTropes page. How is that scene not one that stays with you? It’s genocide on film. Yet we don’t really get any emotion from it. The way they do Hiroshima is better, they have the character completely break down and be overcome with guilt. You FEEL that, briefly, then it passes because the film has more stuff it has to cram in.
So far you may think that since I’m discussing what it missed, that I think it should have been longer. Noooooooooooo. This film is over 2 and a half hours, and it feels it. It’s actually longer than Infinity War, yet it feels like it does less. So much of the time is wasted. This is a short excerpt from the Wikipedia entry on the film:
In the present day, Sersi and Sprite live together in London. After Sersi was left by her partner Ikaris centuries earlier, she is now in a relationship with human Dane Whitman, who works at the Natural History Museum. The trio is attacked by the Deviant Kro, with Ikaris arriving and chasing the creature away. Realizing the Deviants have returned, they travel to South Dakota to reunite with their leader, Ajak, only to find that she had been killed by Kro.
I estimate that just that section, not including the flashbacks interspersed throughout, that on it’s own, takes over half an hour. There is no sense of efficiency to any of it. Now I know action scenes can be like that. “they fight” can be a five-minute battle that entertains the hell out of you. But for that to work, the action scenes need to be amazing, they need to be creative and inventive to truly WOW you. This doesn’t do that, and it should. The characters are basically gods, so why are the action scenes duller than the ones in Shang-Chi? There is nothing even close to the use of space or location for fight scenes that that film had. There’s no inventiveness, no spectacle, basically no fun.
On the upside, the performances are hard to flaw, and it does one thing I was really worried it wouldn’t be able to pull off. It avoids the whole “I will now explain all our superpowers in a completely unnatural way” problem that similar films have. It does something better: it just shows you. That’s a more difficult way to do it but much more impressive. The general look and cinematography is also to be commended, even standard scenes are shot in a way of great beauty. It’s not just individual performances, the cast gel together incredibly well and their chemistry is obvious for everybody to see.
So in summary, to be honest, you probably don’t NEED to see this, it’s relatively unessential and not exciting enough to make up for it. One thing better than Shang-Chi is it could lead to a lot more exciting things. The world being made aware of their existence opens up some possibilities, and there are a few more characters implied who could be fun to watch develop.