Here is a tip for those of you who watched Eternals for the first time on Disney+; you can watch it in normal wide screen if you go to the settings rather than the infernal IMAX version that smashes your senses with every seemingly random change in the aspect ratio.
Unfortunately, the disappearance and reappearance of those black bars was the most exciting thing about watching Eternals. It has been called the MCU’s worst movie – and it has the Rotten Tomatoes rating and slightly disappointing box office to back this up – but is Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao’s first blockbuster a proper turkey, an ambitious failure, or a misunderstood gem? Well, let’s cut to the chase: i’s a fucking turkey, with hints of ambitious failure, and very little to misunderstand.
I’ve been thrilled by Marvel, I’ve been raging at them, but I’ve never been as bored as I was watching Eternals. Perhaps this is a cursed property – after all, there was a TV adaptation a few years ago that is only remembered because it was somehow worse than Iron Fist. These God-like characters have proven to be a tougher sell than the criminals with hearts of gold that make up the Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s other cosmic storyline, so, what went wrong? Simple, really: nothing about this movie is very good.
An ensemble blockbuster like this lives and dies with its characters, and Eternals gives the DCEU a run for it’s money when it comes to boring gods. The titular Eternals are not only weak characters to begin with, stripped of humanity to an unrelatable and uninteresting degree – they are brought to life, or cursed to death, by a mix of terrible and very worthy actors universally putting in their worst performances. Gemma Chan takes on the mammoth task of carrying the lead of the movie as Mother Nature stand-in/symbol Sersei, but is about as exciting to watch as talking about the weather. There are brightish spots as Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, and Barry Keoghan do their level best to imbue their characters with some humanity beyond the pompous godlike premise, and Angelina Jolie’s Thena is cool in places when you forget that her plot doesn’t make sense. But for the most part, it’s wobbly actors in dreadful roles giving uninspired performances and failing to lift the ensemble out of anything other than a vague sludge.
Ticking the Romance Box/The Villain Problem
The real culprit here is Richard Madden as Icarus, Eternals’ romantic lead and eventual villain. I’ll be honest, despite my joy at seeing a young Scottish actor in one of the biggest movies ever, I have never thought that Madden was more than a pretty boy who can smoulder to the camera like he’s in a perfume advert. If you like that kind of thing, then Eternals is your perfect movie, but if you want more than Hugo Boss’ latest summer fragrance, you’re in trouble.
Granted, Madden has the hardest job here, as he has to convince us that what he is doing and why he is doing it makes sense. But I just don’t believe him. He and Gemma Chan have no chemistry, he’s clearly not a comedic talent, and did I mention the smouldering? Kit Harrington – Kit Harrington – body-slams him in acting over the phone, for fuck’s sake! I found myself laughing as he and Chan were making moon faces at each other and the famous sex scene left me as tired and bored as the Celestial that we’ve apparently been growing for thousands of years. That big bastard wasn’t trying to destroy the Earth, he was trying to get away from those two arseholes staring meaningfully at each other.
It’s not just the characters that makes Eternals so bad. The action is stilted and dull, the plot makes absolutely no sense in places, and we never feel the weight of the choices that these god-like beings have to make. It’s a waste, but I can’t think of a way that Zhao and her team could have made this better apart from recasting half the actors.
Is Eternals the worst MCU movie? Yes. It sinks below the likes of Iron Man 2 and the Ant-Man movies because it has the least to offer on the most basic entertainment level. Maybe in the times we are currently in, it’s hard to relate to a bunch of Gods – especially ones that secretly harvest planets and only stop at ours because they’ve grown mildly fond of us. Nah, fuck off, you big red Iron Giant-looking motherfucker; you’re not getting a pass from me. And neither is this movie.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Vanity Fair)