Flicks With Nicki – EternalsNicki Salcedo. Photo by Fox Gradin.
I have Marvel fatigue. After two dozen movies, I’m tired. I need a little break. But Marvel is like a bad ex-boyfriend I can’t quit. Why? Because there’s the possibility that we might get an excellent movie, and excellent movies are hard to come by. Films like “Black Panther” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” are rare. These are A+ stories. Most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) falls into the pretty good category. The truth is, a mediocre Marvel movie is still better than most of the competition. Even the bad ones like “Spider: Far From Home” and “Shang-Chi” aren’t really that bad.
“The Eternals” should be epic on every level. A tale of endless time. Heroes whose power comes from the beginning of the universe. An ensemble that doesn’t need to be assembled. They’ve always been together. How can this story fail? But it does. I wanted to like it. But I didn’t. I don’t say that lightly, because I’m usually able to say something nice about every movie that I see (“Cats”).
Director and co-writer Chloé Zhao will take a lot of flak for this production. She shouldn’t. The reason is simple. It is impossible to cram twenty storylines into one movie. It is even more difficult to make an action movie with arthouse sensibilities. It reminds me of Ang Lee’s attempt at “Hulk” in 2003. Making a movie bigger and more monumental doesn’t make it a better movie. “The Eternals” is visually appealing, and yet the story, the characters didn’t move me.
The Eternals are superheroes whose existence goes back to the dawn of the universe. They are the original Guardians of the Galaxy, except that they’re ordered not to interfere with humans. In Star Trek, this is the Prime Directive. Spoiler alert: the Eternals do interfere! They mingle with humans and don’t change out of their space tunics. They turn stone weapons into metal. This happens in the first scene. The Eternals might be old, but they aren’t wise.
Their mission is to protect the Earth from Deviants, the only beings in the universe the Eternals are allowed to fight. Deviants look like every evil alien you’ve ever seen, and they are bent on destruction. It takes all the Eternals to win a fight against a small group of Deviants. Later, when the question of Thanos comes up, I am not convinced that the Eternals could’ve helped.
The leader is Ajak (Salma Hayek). Her job is wearing Loki’s helmet.
Sersi (Gemma Chan) sees something off in the distance for the entire movie. Her power is changing matter into other matter. Wood to metal. Rock to dust. Sand into a river. She’s like the WonderTwin who could make water turn into ice.
Her boyfriend is Ikaris (Richard Madden). He is not that into her, but he is into flying and using his eye lasers. He’s the only one who can fly. This is a serious flaw in the superhero team. They are each given one power. Sersi and Ikaris get to have superhero sex. Superhero sex looks like our human sex, but the kind you have when you are also secretly thinking of your to-do list.
Sprite (Lia McHugh) creates illusions and doesn’t age. They have all the power in the universe, but one of them is stuck at age 12 like Kirsten Dunst in “Interview with a Vampire.”
Thena (Angelina Jolie) is my favorite character. She dropped the A so we don’t confuse her with Zeus’s daughter. She struggles with Mahd Wy’ry, (“mad weary”) a disorder that sends you into a homicidal rage. This resonated with me deeply. Thena once must have been stuck in the carpool line at Talley Street Elementary school. Whenever a parent gets out of their car during morning drop off, I become a little Mahd Wy’ry myself.
Thena’s un-boyfriend is Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok). He deserves some superhero sex, but got stuck in the friend zone for 7,000 years. He has a good one-two punch.
Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is not fast, but an inventor or mechanic of sorts.
Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) runs fast like The Flash, and her best skill is “saving a child from a falling statue.”
Druig (Barry Keoghan) can control minds. This should be the superhero power that ends fights pretty quickly, except it’s unclear how his power works? How strong is it? How long does it last? How far can his mind control reach? The power is problematic, and I get that it is supposed to be problematic. But it’s still tough watching a “hero” enslave an entire group of people. The neo-colonial impact of this storyline was not lost on me. Fortunately, in “The Eternals,” this is a three-minute plot point like the bombing of Hiroshima. Yes, they went there.
And finally, we have Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) with his trusty valet Karun (Harish Patel). I’m not complaining. I would bring my valet if I was constantly saving the planet. We get the much needed comic relief, but a little voice inside of me has to ask, “Why are the brown characters always the funny ones?” And, “Is this hero really so bougie he can’t carry his own bags?”
There are so many characters and not enough time to learn about them, remember who they are, and care. This includes Sersi’s human boyfriend Dane (Kit Harrington) who really is that into her.
I was tired before the fighting started. And the Eternals fight a lot. Thena is about to snap. Ikaris needs space. Phastos has a family. Sersi is filled with self-doubt. Two boyfriends. All powerful. Immortal. Still has imposter syndrome. In the meantime, the Deviants keep showing up.
The rest of the movie unfolds like a prolonged bedtime story.
Once upon a time, the Celestials created the Eternals to protect humans from the Deviants. Eternals live for eternity, but between assignments they have their memories erased. The Deviants are bad, but when they start absorbing the powers from the Eternals something is really wrong. We discover that the Earth is actually an incubator for a baby Celestial. The team must decide who the villain really is. Honestly, there are many villains. The Celestials, the Deviants, the Eternals, and the giant baby fetus living inside the Earth.
We get betrayal, comedic banter, and superhero fight scenes.
Why does Sersi love Ikaris? Shouldn’t they all have advanced intelligence? Is it okay to tell every human you meet that you are an Eternal?
The various plot points never make sense and never come together. Did Marvel not think we’d notice storylines stolen directly from iconic science fiction books and movies. There were callbacks to everything from “Superfriends” to “Power Rangers.” A giant monster emerged from the ocean, and I wanted the Eternals to transform into a Megazord. They borrowed ideas from “The Matrix,” “Blade Runner,” “WandaVision,” “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “Ender’s Game,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” and “Goonies.” Yes, at some point they make it to Goonie island.
I appreciate the diversity of the characters, but do we need to shoehorn women, LGBTQ+, deaf, and brown faces into the same story? Can’t we sprinkle them throughout all the movies? Marvel took time to develop and evolve Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America. “The Eternals” developed no one. They checked some diversity boxes and added color, but not content or context. They put Gemma Chan in the front of the poster, but not at the heart of the movie. If a confused stare is a superpower, Sersi has it.
Sersi is supposed to be the hero, but I can’t remember why. By the time we get to the muddled ending and two-post credit scenes, I felt sad. Beginning of time, mad weary sad. Beautiful cast and actors. You know I love Brian Tyree Henry and Kumail Nanjiani. Barry Keoghan has some real star power. I’m thankful for Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie. But the story was a mess, and the final production felt stitched together at the hands of Victor Frankenstein. If you love sci-fi and want to see everything you love reduced into a 3-hour Marvel movie, check this one out. I’m not sorry I saw it. I’m just sorry I thought it might be good. Grade C-.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom.
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