WarningMight contain spoilers.

Not a good film. I don’t think Chloé Zhao could handle its scope. It doesn’t understand superheroes; everything is casual and underwhelming. Nor does its depiction of characters who live for millennia feel authentic; they only act like ordinary people of their apparent age. It’s certainly diverse, but let’s not ignore the fact that three members of the team hail from the U.K. alone. Note also that the only representation of India in this movie is:

Given the praise for Nomadland, I would have expected outstanding performances, at least. Not so. Gemma Chan is good but her character is aimless. Kumail Nanjiani does the funny moments so well (Is this new? Because I hate it made me guffaw; so did Dishoom! when he blew up the Deviant) but not the serious ones. Karun was unexpectedly one of my favourite characters: a bit of a caricature, but one with a lot of heart and humour, and not gratuitously stereotypical. He provides a much-needed human perspective in addition to all the hilarity.

Richard Madden is bland. I suspected the caddish Ikaris from the start—and thought he might be involved in Ajak’s death—but confirmation of his villainy comes too late for it to make any difference and it has no impact when he inexplicably flies into the sun. His romance with Sersi is unnecessary, as is the awkward, faintly ridiculous sex scene. The flashback to the two of them holding hands that stops him in the climax is silly considering it was just around 20 minutes earlier. Then again, flashbacks are sprinkled randomly throughout the film, always to remind us of what we already remember.

Salma Hayek is wasted, and Angelina Jolie tries her best—Thena[1] taking on Ikaris with a grin and a glint in her eyes is a highlight—but suffers the same fate. Barry Keoghan expertly sets up Druig as a villain before the film remembers that was a different draft of the screenplay. Lauren Ridloff as Makkari is my favourite (her confrontation with Ikaris being another high point). Ma Dong-Seok makes you feel more for Gilgamesh than the character deserves, but I wish he’d been allowed to speak in a language he was more comfortable with.

Druig sucks is a great joke but the sentiment is more accurately applied to Sprite. She tries to kill Sersi—seemingly her only friend—over jealousy of her relationship with Ikaris. It also doesn’t make sense when she says she wants more. She might look like a child, but she’s 7,000 years old like the rest of them.

I kept wondering whom Arishem sounded like until I remembered Megatron from Beast Wars: Transformers , and yes, it is David Kaye! He’s very good for what the role requires. Kit Harington is adequate as the forgotten boyfriend and plot point. Brian Tyree Henry is decent too.

The terrible opening crawl reeks of desperation. The designs for the Eternals’ energy rings aren’t uninteresting but neither are they good. The two post-credits scenes (Starfox and Dane’s sword) left me thoroughly confused and unmoved. The music is disappointing, coming as it does from Ramin Djawadi (and considering his last MCU outing was the original Iron Man).

I’m also unmoved by the Deviants. Whatever angst they might have against the Eternals, they aren’t being killed at random. The Eternals protect people whom the Deviants want to eat. Arishem should rightly be the object of their anger. Their designs are interesting until Kro absorbs Gilgamesh’s powers and decides to become humanoid. (Speaking of which, did he simply ignore all the presumably human-esque memories he absorbed from Ajak until then?) It’s convenient that his saying Remember in Gilgamesh’s voice restores Thena’s memory.

It makes me very unhappy that, after all of Sersi’s talk about not killing the Celestial, she displays no hesitation upon gaining the power to do it. On a related note, I have to imagine that if she turned the dead Tiamut into dust to dispose of it, that would logically end life on Earth in any case by blocking out the sun. I certainly hope this planet-sized Celestial (never mind the varying scale that makes fingers the size of countries small enough to fit inside a single neighbourhood) doesn’t fail to appear in other movies.

The Eternals interacting with Phastos’s son at the end is hilarious. How awkward that Superman evidently exists in the MCU. I do think the film takes a smart approach to the larger universe: since the Eternals are supposedly duty-bound not to interfere, they really can casually debate who’s likely to lead The Avengers next, and Kingo can grumble about how Thor followed him around as a boy, without any of it being important. No one can pretend it makes a lick of sense that they stood idly by as Thanos removed half of all life in the universe, of course.

It’s true that this is, in a way, Marvel failing at the ‘group movie first’ approach, but hardly any of these characters could carry a standalone movie, so I can’t blame them for that aspect of it. Perhaps seeding the same stories in other movies would have been enough, perhaps not; the failings of the movie are really its own. What’s more, an obvious counterexample to the theory are the Guardians of the Galaxy, whose first movie singlehandedly turned them into stars.

I also disagree that a miniseries would have been more effective. It might have provided a little additional background, but the problem here is quality. More mediocre filmmaking wouldn’t help. As Film School Rejects puts it:

Eternals teases some legitimately interesting conversations, dilemmas, and questions about blind obedience, the one versus the many, and moral obligations while soft shoeing around them to get to the expected beats and booms. Just as the title characters follow orders to their detriment, so do Zhao and her fellow screenwriters offer only mild pushback before giving in to their overlords. Some filmmakers have found ways around those obstacles to deliver supremely entertaining superhero fare whether in Marvel’s house or DC’s, but Zhao hasn’t managed the same. Instead, she’s delivered with Eternals an epic that feels far smaller than it should.

  1. The play on ‘Athena’ is a nice touch.