“I don’t wear a cape.”

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!

Ughhhhh…

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.

BUT.

“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.

Or should I say “he excelsiored”?

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.

SARCASM. THAT WAS SARCASM. PITCH BLACK AND BITTER AS AN EXE’S KISS.

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.

Like the Icarus of myth, he flew too close to being an asshole.

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.

Scoring

Adaptation: 20/25

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?

The Stinger

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?

22 comments

  1. I have such mixed feelings about this one. I think it really needed to either have been split in two movies or have been a Disney+ miniseries instead. The pacing is awkward and the movie drags but I actually really like the actual story.

    Sersi definitely feels like she was executive-meddled to be meh. Like okay she’s the leader but she can’t be TOO abrasive or like have any defining traits beyond being smart and strong or like have flaws cause we’ll get ‘She’s a Mary Sue’ Captain Marvel/Rey backlash or ‘feminist’ ‘she’s a bad role model’ Ariel backlash or something. On the other hand, girl got to bang Robb Stark AND Jon Snow so clearly she’s doing something right.

    I hope Ikaris isn’t really most sincerely dead because I need more Richard Madden looking pretty and tortured. Sigh.

  2. I too like this movie, though it took me a couple of tries.
    I’ve never read Eternals comics, so I spent my first viewing trying to insert all these new characters into my nerd database, frantically logging who was who and could do what and what their relationship was to the others, even as I also tried to absorb the story (complicated), enjoy the action (mixed), and appreciate the atmosphere (pretty). By the time I had fully processed that no, the one whose name sounds like “Fastos” is not the fast one, and the one who sounds like “Cersei” is not one of the two Game of Thrones actors, and “Droog” isn’t here for a bit of the old ultraviolence, the movie was almost over.
    But really it doesn’t matter because unlike the Avengers movies, a group of distinct individual heroes who have their own stories and sometimes those stories merge into one big story, this one really is about the team. I don’t think we’re gonna get, say, a Thena trilogy out of this which will come into its own when Werner Herzog comes onboard to direct the third one.
    Nah, this is about “The Eternals”, not each individual Eternal. And while I’m obviously biased in favor of the “don’t destroy earth” viewpoint (I live here. For tax reasons.), I can appreciate that beings who are literally eternal and think in terms of eons might not have the same perspective. And I like that there’s kind of no hard feelings toward the ones who weren’t on Team Human (in addition to Sprite being forgiven, it took until my second viewing to notice that Kingo straight up didn’t participate in the climax, and nobody holds it against him).
    Maybe this would have been received better as a Disney+ show, introducing a character or two per episode to keep from Superhero Overload, but I doubt it would have looked half as nice. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but I’m glad it exists.

  3. Kirby sure loved blending high myth concepts with sci-fi now didn’t he?

    Eternals is….interesting. The FX and action are pretty distinct and well executed, but the cast is pretty hefty and not everyone gets the proper development. Heck not even in the film’s climax.

    I think the major sins are One: the Deviants are even more forgettable than Phase 1 Marvel villains. Two: They are throwing a crap ton of lore and plot twists that can’t be fleshed out properly even with the long run-time. And Three: Going for a distinct artsy look, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but could’ve been used for more character interaction.

    Eternals fell flat thanks to its own ambition. And it boggles the mind why they didn’t make this a Disney+ series. You could’ve spent some time each episode watching history unfold from their perspective. See their coming-togethers and their falling-outs, the ennui that comes with immortality. Then in the penultimate episode reveal the lie that is their life and mission before setting the stage of their battle and who falls where.

  4. The dead god sticking out of the earth like a grotesque mountain might be the single greatest image in the mcu. Twenty bucks that people think its an art installation.

    Also, I too would defy my all powerful master to save a lovely old indian fellow (and also the earth or whatever).

    Did part of this get cut? Feels like you skipped over all the Druig, GilgaDeath and MCU’s Best Surviving Dad Phastos stuff

      1. Get high as a kite on the unbelievable fact that Sinn Feinn somehow became the largest single party in the Northern Ireland election?

        Laugh, scream and facepalm as you observe the neighbouring government make a fool of itself on the domestic stage?

        Shiver with existential dread as Ukraine and Russia … well, ‘nuff said.

        Ach, I hope you’re being kept busy by much, much nicer distractions (and with a wife & two small children you’ve got a fair chance of that, at least).

  5. I do hope you’ll enjoy NO WAY HOME when you come to it Mouse; I look forward to seeing you cram three continuities worth of explanation into one article!

    Also MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS is really, really good – even if Mr Cumberbatch STILL hasn’t received that all important note “More crime fighting Vincent Price, please” he’s still quite good, The Scarlet Witch is excellent and I can most certainly assure you that a viewing of WANDAVISION et al is not required to get the most out of the film (I have yet to see that series, but didn’t miss it).

    Oh, and for some reason DRACULA is trending on Tumblr (Not just the character, people are actually reading the BOOK).

      1. There’s this thing you can sign up for where you get emailed Dracula in real time. Like, if Mina wrote a journal entry dated May 17th, you’ll get it on May 17th.

        It’s the least efficient way to read a novel ever, but I guess it’s getting people to read Dracula purely to join in the fun. Internet’s been used for plenty of dumber things.

      2. Oh yeah. There was actually a gift box thing you could sign up to and you’d get a crate full of handwritten letters and telegraphs and diaries so you could experience the story with the actual media.

  6. Of the three non-Spidey MCUs that came out last year, I thought this was the most interesting. Black Widow was extremely average the whole way through, and Shang-Chi started out strong and fell down hard. Both were pretty standard MCU fare. But at least Eternals was trying something new for the MCU, even if it wasn’t always super interesting. Like, my girlfriend almost fell asleep during the movie, which she almost never does.

    IMO, Eternals would have worked better as a Disney+ series. With so many characters, a show would have given them more time to flesh everyone out and give them more screen time. They could have made Moon Knight a movie instead.

    Also, is it just me, or was the CGI on the first mid credits scene really, really bad? With other MCU stuff, the CGI looks good even thought you can tell it’s CGI. But this guy looked so fake that it took me right out of the scene. Did they think they didn’t have to try because it was a mid credits scene?

  7. Easily the most shippable MCU film in a long long time for me. There were some fun elements (mostly Kingo honestly) but the two leads in Sersi and Ikaris were just awful. No chemistry between them whatsoever. And Druig really does suck.

  8. We’re only two movies away from the first X-Man in the MCU so that category ain’t gonna be hanging around that much longer.

  9. By the way Mouse, my condolences on Ireland being kicked out at this stage of Eurovision – I’m not saying that Sweden’s plot to FINALLY pull level with dear old Erin is proceeding Just As Planned, but I note that Sister Svenska is still in the running even as I write this. . .

    Also, Ireland Vs Sweden-in-the-ascendant would be a great hook for a Eurovision comedy film (Especially if both contestants are keen as mustard to gain victory by hook, by crook and by rocking their hearts out).

    1. Wait a minute, wait a minute, there are no fewer than three nations sitting on five victories and two of these nations are France & GB?

      There might even be a comedy waiting to happen right there… (or at least a fairly funny subplot).

  10. This is the film which caused me to quote you because it was. Fine. I guess. Angelina Jolie was there to provide cheekbones. And it’s so stupid because I really loved everyone except her, although, again, cheekbones were on point. But the film put together was.. fine. Like if it had been 120 minutes of shorts it would have been better. I think it was the juxtaposition coming from having just watched Shang Chi, which was amazing, but was even more incredible because it came after Black Widow. Which was also fine.

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