You know what? I confess. I phoned the New Mutants review in. I was feeling tired, uninspired and unenthused about the movie and in the end I just kinda bashed it out. Sorry. Sometimes I just don’t have anything particularly insightful or funny to say about a particular film. Maybe it’s because I’ve just come off anti-depressants. Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I was just lazy. Whatever it was, I apologise. Now let’s draw a line under it and talk about something I’m actually passionate about…OH GAWD NO.
No. No! I don’t care about the Eternals and ya can’t make me dammit!
Okay. Some of what I’m about to say may seem a little harsh so let me preface it with this:
Jack Kirby was one of the most influential comic creators in the history of the medium and a bona fide American hero to boot. He co-created Captain America and fought Nazis before America even entered World War 2. He combined a singular, iconic art-style with a rock solid work ethic and a fantastic imagination capable of coming up with far out, head-melting concepts.
“Concepts” are not “plots”. They are not “characters”. And they are most certainly not “dialogue”. And I do not think its a coincidence that, whatever the ups and downs of their tempestous relationship, Kirby’s best work was done in collaboration with a certain somebody who excelled in those areas.
There’s a saying that everyone has one good story in them, but for some people one is their lot and I’m afraid that, when it came to narrative, Jack was kind of a one trick pony. That trick, admittedly, was pretty neat; superheroes as gods. Six years before the appearance of Thor in Marvel, Kirby did his own take on the God of Thunder for DC in the anthology series Tales of the Unexpected before updating the Norse pantheon as the race of super advanced alien Asgardians for Marvel. He later co-created the Inhumans, a secretive race of superhumans who act like a pantheon of gods and were created as a result of “Chariots of the Gods” style interference by the alien Kree. After years of being slighted and disrespected by Marvel editorial, he jumped ship to DC where he created the Fourth World, a series about god-like superhero aliens. After that was cancelled, he returned to Marvel and created The Eternals, a series about gods from ancient mythology who are actually superhumans created as a result of “Chariots of the Gods” style interference by alien gods.
You see what I’m talking about? The dude kinda had a limited pool of ideas to draw on and I think that his solo work really demonstrates why he needed Stan Lee. On the other hand of course, Stan Lee’s catalogue shows that Stan Lee was an iconoclastic genius auteur who didn’t need help from anybody.
The big problem with the Eternals as a concept, the reason why they’ve never been a fan favourite and why Marvel has always struggled mightily with knowing what to do with them is this: the Marvel universe is so packed to the gills with Kirby’s influence (either from his own creations or those of creators building on his concepts) that the Eternals can’t but help feel utterly redundant. There is no Eternals story that can’t be told with the Inhumans, or the Avengers, or the Asgardians, or the X-Men or the Titans (Thanos’ crowd) because they all arose, directly or indirectly, from the febrile primordial soup of Kirby’s imagination. Which is probably why they have always been one of the few Marvel properties I just cannot bring myself to care about. Because whatever you think the Eternals bring to the table, chances are there’s another table serving the same thing only better. And, from a cursory glance, it appears that their fortunes did not improve with the move to the big screen. Its box-office performance was pretty good (especially considering the pandemic) but rather anemic for a Marvel movie with a $200 million price tage. And it has the ignominous distinction of being the first Marvel movie with a “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Which means, of course, like the contrarian rodent I am, this particular Eternals-hater finds himself nonetheless liking this movie quite a bit.
Did you think we were doing a movie about a Kirby property without scads of portentous lore? Fool!
In the beginning, before the creation of the Infinity Stones the first Celestial Arishem created life in the cosmos, which spread throughout the universe. But then the Deviants came, and began to purge the galaxy of life. Whereupon, Arishem sent the Eternals from the planet Olympia to defeat the Deviants.
So it’s the year 5000 Jesus-Ain’t-Here-Yet, and ten Eternals have arrived on Earth to protect the locals from the Deviants. They are Ajak (Selma Hayek), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Kingo (Kumail Nanjani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Gilgamesh (Don Lee) and Thena (Angelina Jolie, actually deigning to be in a movie for once instead of just letting her name be attached to one to get some backing and then bailing). Oh, and rounding out this group is Druig, played by Dubliner Barry Keoghan.
The Eternals save a local tribe of humans from some attacking Deviants and immediately I can see some things to like. Firstly, the flying effect are absolutely kickass. Ikaris is a barely concealed Superman expy what with the flying brick powers, heat vision and blue costume and my God I would LOVE to see a Superman movie handled by this effects team because this is flawless stuff. In fact, between the similar power sets and the less quippy, more mythic tone, this movie often feels like Marvel sneakily making their own Justice League movie. In a good way. The MCU movies aren’t as tonally and visually monotonous as their critics claim but this movie definitely feels different and I appreciate that.
Fastforward to the modern day and Sersi and Sprite are now living in London. Sersi is a teacher and is dating a nice young man named Dale (Kit Harrington). FYI, Gemma Chan holds the distinction of (I believe), being one of only two actresses to play two different Marvel comics characters on film in the MCU (the other being Michelle Yeoh), having also played Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel (I’m not counting actors who played different characters on TV like Alfre Woodard). While she’s at work, there’s an earthquake and Sersi has to save a child who thought that the best place to hide in an earthquake was under a massively heavy artifact hanging on a wall but that’s the British education system for you.
Later, Dane is having a birthday party in a pub. Sersi and Sprite are both there, but Sprite has to generate a holographic shimmer because she’s been stuck looking like a twelve year old for the last 7,000 years, just like Elijah Wood.
Anyway, Sersi gives Dane a ring with his family crest that dates from the Middle Ages (this will be relevant) and he asks her if she wants to move in with him. She sadly turns him down and he asks if she’s “a wizard like Doctor Strange”.
Oh yeah, so if you haven’t seen Multiverse of Madness, it’s confirmed there: Doctor Strange is a big effing deal in the MCU. Full on A-List superhero. Which kinda feels weird to me, honestly. If he’s front and centre then the things he fights; demons, other-dimensional entities and the like, would also be commonly known and that’s got to do something right? “Aliens are real” is one thing. “Here is the Devil fighting a wizard on the nine o’clock news” is a completely different category of headfuck. Then again, everyone in this world has known Norse Gods are real since the Obama administration so what do I know?
Anyway, Sersi, Sprite and Dane make their way home through Camden when suddenly they are attacked by a Deviant which honestly, if there was anywhere in London that was going to happen…
They’re rescued at the last moment by Ikaris. Sersi explains to Dane the whole convuluted backstory and tells him that she and Ikaris were an item for five thousand years and then split up. She also tells him that their mission on Earth is to fight Deviants but that the last one was killed in the 1500s and now they’ve just been sitting around waiting for the Celestials to give them new orders. Dane asks why the Eternals haven’t intervened in the non-Deviant related shittiness of human history and oh gawd, he’s one of those boyfriends. “Why don’t you like my mother, why didn’t you stop the holocaust?” Nag nag nag.
Anyway, Sersi, Ikaris and Sprite head off to meet up with Ajak at her farm in South Dakota to see what the deal is with all these earthquakes and Deviants and whatnot. Unfortunately, they find Ajak’s body lying outside her barn. Sprite remembers that the Deviant that attacked them in London could heal itself, which was Ajak’s power. Sprite reasons that the same Deviant killed Ajak and absorbed her healing abilities. While examining Ajak’s body, a glowing sphere emerges from her chest and enters Sersi. Sersi sees a vision of Arishem, who tells her “IT IS ALMOST TIME” and vanishes because what’s the point of being an ancient alien deity if you’re not going to be needlessly cryptic.
We get another flashback, this time to 1521 and the fall of Tenochtitlan to the Spanish. The Eternals are focused on killing the last Deviant on Earth but are deeply troubled by the massacre happening all around them. Phastos in particular is sickened because it was his responsibility to foster human technology and now the Spanish are using muskets to slaughter the Aztecs. Just because the historical nerd in me will toss and turn at night if I don’t mention this, the fact that the Spanish had gunpowder didn’t really make a blind bit of difference. Muskets at the time were so weak and inaccurate that they didn’t really offer much tactical advantage against the stone blades and arrows of the Aztecs. What DID make a big difference was the fact that they had metal armor. And what made the biggest difference of all was the fact that they were absolute filthy with Old World disease and basically coughed their way to victory. Anyway, moving on.
Thena suddenly snaps and attacks Ajak for no reason. The other Eternals are able to restrain her and Ajak tells them that Thena has Mahd Wy’ry, a degenerative mental disorder caused by the the thousands of years worth of memories she’s had to process. Ajak wants to wipe Thena’s memory to cure her but Thena begs to be spared. Gilgamesh then offers to take care of her and promises to take her somewhere remote where she won’t be a danger to herself and others. Druig then decides he’s had enough of all this and mind controls all the Aztecs and Spaniards and walks off with them into the Amazon. And that’s how the Eternals went their seperate ways.
So I think that one of the reasons this movie got a lot of flack is that it’s very languid for a superhero film. Most of the movie’s muscular 2 hour run time is the Eternals putting the band back together, travelling to gorgeous locales, having flashbacks and just hanging out and exploring the relationships with the various characters. And that ain’t for everyone. I’m honestly not sure it…am…for me. But it’s definitely different.
Anyway, back in the present day, the gang travel to India to meet Kingo, who’s been using his eternal youth to mascarade as India’s greatest Bollywood dynasty. Of course Kumail Nanjiani is actually Pakistani which I wouldn’t bring up except that it makes this scene from Community so much funnier. Kingo’s valet Karun also tags along as comic relief and to remind the Eternals what they’re fighting for; adorable older Indian men. As are we all.
Next stop is Australia where they pick up Gilgamesh and Thena. Gilgamesh meets Karun and compares him to Alfred from Batman which is just a casual little throwaway line whose implications will haunt me to my dying day.
Sersiwho is now Prime Eternal thanks to Ajak’s death, has a vision of Arishem and is given some on-boarding into her new role. Basically, it’s like when you’ve worked the cash desk in McDonald’s for five years and get promoted to manager and have to learn the horrific secret of what ACTUALLY goes in the McNuggets.
So Arishem tells Sersi that everything she ever thought she knew is a lie. She’s not an Eternal from the Planet Olympia because the Planet Olympia was just cooked up by the Celestials Marketing team. The Celestials reproduce by implanting their seed in planets, with the infant celestial emerging from the planet like an egg when civilization on the surface has reached the “Tik Tok” threshold of social complexity. They would originally send the Deviants to cull the planets apex predators so that intelligent life could arise. This is what happened to the dinosaurs, incidentally, as the Deviants arrived on the Asteroid that caused the K-T extinction even. I mean, fine, the thermal radiation, earthquakes, mile-high tsunamis and subsequent near collapse of all plant life on Earth following the nuclear winter helped but it was mostly the Deviants. But the Deviants went rogue so the Celestials created the Eternals, machines whose task was to protect the locals from the Deviants until the infant Celestial could emerge.
Arishem explains that they have done this on many worlds, and that each time their memories are wiped. The Eternals are shocked to realise that, while their purpose was protecting humanity and encouraging it to progress, it was only so that the could all be sacrificed for a giant alien robot god.
The Eternals are then split on what to do. Should they try to stop the Celestial, whose name is Tiamat, from being born and save all of humanity, even though they’ll be murdering Tiamat as well as preventing countless future civilizations that would have been seeded by Tiamat from coming into existence. At first, they settle on a middle compromise, putting Tiamat to sleep for a few more centuries to give humanity a chance to become space borne and leave the planet. Great. Acceptable compromise reached.
But Ikaris insists that they can’t interfere with the Celestials’ plan and reveals that it was HE who killed Ajak when she revealed to him that she was going to try and stop Tiamat’s Emergence.
The team basically split in two, with Ikaris and Sprite trying to safeguard Tiamat and the rest of the Eternals trying to prevent the emergence.
At first they try to put Tiamat to sleep in the battle, but after Druig is injured they make the decision to kill Tiamat, meaning the Earth now has a big corpse just sticking out of the surface like those Garfield toys people used to have on the trunks of their car.
Deeply conflicted over what they’ve done, the Eternals go their seperate ways. Ikaris leaves without a word. Sersi uses her powers as Prime Eternals to make Sprite able to age so she can live a normal life. Thena, Druig and Makkari decide to leave Earth and find other Eternals to tell them the truth and Sersi goes back to London to be with Dane. Just as he’s about to reveal a big secret to her, however, Sersi is pulled into space by Arishem along with Phastas and Kingo and he tells them that he will spare humanity if they prove worthy of living. Which is…remarkably chill of him all things considered. I would have expected him to casually vaporise the planet and then go out for golf with Galactus. Arishem then vanishes along with the three Eternals. And, back on Earth, Dane Whitman looks like he’s about to do…something.
The word I kept finding myself coming back to describe this movie was “refreshing”. It feels very different from the other MCU films, quiet and almost elegiac. It’s beautiful to look at, with some of the most gorgeous cinematography this series has seen so far. The superhero movie I found that it most reminded me of was 2017’s Wonder Woman with its mixture of loving period detail and sincerity. That’s the thing. It’s sincere. Old school. Kinda dorky. Noticeably lacking in the “too cool for school” snark of its stablemates. That’s certainly not enough to make it a great film, but it’s more than enough to make it a pleasant change of pace.
Take this with a pinch of salt. I’m not a fan of the Eternals so this movie did not have to work all that hard to improve on the source material for me.
Our Heroic Heroes: 09/25
Honestly, a mixed bag. The movie makes an unwise decision in pushing Sersi as the main character despite her being the least interesting Eternal with the least interesting performance. Honestly, I can see this movie re-centred on literally any of the other Eternals and being a stronger movie for it.
Our Nefarious Villain: 18/25
I really dig Richard Madden in this. Charming, brooding and the twist is genuinely shocking.
Our Plucky Sidekicks: 16/25
Kit Harrington gives a nice turn as supportive boyfriend Dane Whitman. But, be honest, you really thought they hired a big name actor with oodles of screen sword-fighting experience to play the boyfriend?
Druig, Makkari and Thena are having no luck finding more Eternals when suddenly two beings beam onto their ship. The first is Pip the Troll, who introduces his companion: STARFOX.
And the audience went…
Okay, if you care that Starfox is played by Harry Styles you went:
Otherwise you probably went:
But me? I was like: “Starfox in a post #metoo world, eh Disney? Ya got balls, I’ll give you that.”
The Second Stinger
So we cut to Dale opening a box that presumably has a connection to his dark family history and inside we see a sword with a red eagle emblem. He reaches out and the blade responds to his touch and a voice offscreen asks him if he really wants to touch the obviously evil sword.
And the audience went:
So, this may be the single most bafflingly inept stinger I’ve ever seen. Firstly, the Black Knight is not really a well known enough property that you can get away with this kind of cutesy-poo tease. I mean, I’m pretty deep in this shit and even I had to google who Dane Whitman is in the comics. Secondly? That mysterious voice that addresses Dane from offscreen? THAT’S FUCKING BLADE. THAT’S BLADE. DAY-WALKER. KILLS VAMPIRES. DOESN’T PAY HIS TAXES. THAT GUY.
Now Blade absolutely is the kind of big name hero who you’d get a massive pop from teasing. But…we never even see the guy. We were apparently supposed to recognise Masherala Ali’s voice just from that one line and piece together that it was Blade. I don’t know, is Masherala Ali’s voice that iconic? Is he the new James Earl Jones? Am I the problem here?
Are there X-Men yet
Eternals, Celestials, Deviants, Titans, Vampires and Brits but no X-Men.
FINAL SCORE: 63%
NEXT UPDATE: 26 May 2022
NEXT TIME: Oh, you like memes do ya?