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Eternals
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by Jay Seaver

"Adventure almost as big as its ideas."
4 stars

Jack Kirby's comic book series "The Eternals" was published by Marvel Comics but only retrofitted into the shared universe later, and not always well (one gets the idea later writers would have more use for the grand mythology than the individual characters), and one often gets the sense that the movie adaptation would be better off outside the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well. Though not perfect, Chloe Zhao's film is grand fantasy with its own big ideas, and is at its best when one doesn't have to worry about it fitting into another framework as this month's apocalypse.

Seven thousand years ago, it tells us, the Celestial Arishem deposited ten heroes from the planet Olympia in Sumeria to protect the emerging human civilization from the Deviants, monsters from deep space driven to consume intelligent life. Through their guidance, the city of Babylon would grow into humanity's first great civilization and they would travel the world hunting down the Deviants, their names becoming part of mythology, until the creatures were defeated and leader Ajak (Salma Hayek) told them to explore the world they had saved. Or so they thought - the Deviants have re-emerged, seemingly targeting the Eternals themselves, starting in London where Sersi (Gemma Chan), with the power of transmutation, and eternal child Sprite (Lia McHugh) are only able to fight one off with the return of flying powerhouse Ikaris (Richard Madden). This calls for getting the band back together - warriors Thena (Angelina Jolie), Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-Seok aka Don Lee), and Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani); telepath Druig (Barry Keoghan); engineer Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry); and fleet-footed Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) - but the evolved Deviants are not the only surprise awaiting them

Ten is a large number for either the major figures of a pantheon or a superhero team, especially when you're starting from scratch rather than pulling previously introduced characters together, and it takes Zhao and her co-writers time to introduce everyone and let the audience soak in the scale of their mission, to the point where it's fair to wonder if they've bitten off more than they can chew: The detours into the past are crowded and go on kind of long for what they tell the audience but seldom give those viewers a feel for how they and humanity are interacting and changing each other over that time. Zhao uses action well, in that there's seldom a fight that doesn't change the direction of the story, but it still sometimes feels like those scenes are there to break up a lot of talking.

Even if Chloe Zhao's jump from intimate, near-documentary films to millennia-spanning epic isn't always smooth, one can still spot the woman who made The Rider and Nomadland in this movie, especially when layers get peeled away and the characters start asking themselves who and what they are when they're not protecting humans from Deviants. As the film barrels toward its finale, one can see its demigods having crises of faith and she plays it out honestly and smartly there, with room for many permutations of some hope for the humans they represent as she drives it home. There's plenty going on, but the film's last act resolves into characters asking the question of what to do when one's religion and its leaders seemingly conflict with what one thinks is right, and if that's not exactly what Jack Kirby had in mind when he created these characters, it's the sort of grand idea kept larger than life but made into an easily-swallowed adventure story that made him the king of comics.

It's also gorgeous, even if its location-shot golden-hour vistas and unified costume design aren't exactly classic Kirby. In some ways, the world has caught up with him - the big square spaceship that has no business just hanging in midair has become its own sort of cliché now - but the filmmakers create nifty combinations of earthy or ancient mythology and the science-fictional spin that Kirby put on the ideas. The latter in particular pop in 3D and giant screens, and Ramin Djawadi's score does something similar in how it pulls together a number of influences to at least get close to being epic iiib a global manner.

The large cast is also used quite well, although its definitely a case where the simpler characters around the edges get more chance to make a splash than the folks in the middle. Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, and Lia McHugh are easy to like as the folks whose connections drive the plot, but they seldom make it feel big enough that a breakup 500 years ago is the sort of fantasy melodrama that could change the course of human history. Meanwhile, Salma Hayek's empathetic leader, Bryan Tyree Henry's frustrated builder, and Angelina Jolie's traumatized warrior have clear automatics, and personal favorite Don Lee is given the chance to both demonstrate great punching-monsters and being-generally-charming skills.

"Eternals" is stylish and self-contained enough that one can't help but wonder what it could have been if Zhao had the chance and inclination to go full-Kirby on it. On the other hand, the stuff in the end-credit buttons sure looks like it could be a whole lot of fun when these characters intersect with the greater Marvel Universe.<i>Eternals</i> is stylish and self-contained enough that one can't help but wonder what it could have been if Zhao had the chance and inclination to go full-Kirby on it. On the other hand, the stuff in the end-credit buttons sure looks like it could be a whole lot of fun when these characters intersect with the greater Marvel Universe.<i>Eternals</i> is stylish and self-contained enough that one can't help but wonder what it could have been if Zhao had the chance and inclination to go full-Kirby on it. On the other hand, the stuff in the end-credit buttons sure looks like it could be a whole lot of fun when these characters intersect with the greater Marvel Universe.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=29827&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/21/21 23:11:03
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USA
  05-Nov-2021

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Australia
  05-Nov-2021




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