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Eternals

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What it’s about:

The Eternals, immortal superbeings who have been protecting earth for thousands of years, must band together to face a reemerging threat and the truth about their true mission on our planet.

Names you might know:

Gemma Chan (Westworld, Crazy Rich Asians), Salma Hayek (The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, Frida), Angelina Jolie (Maleficent, Tomb Raider), Richard Madden (Game of Thrones), Don Lee (Train to Busan), Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley), Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta), Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk), Lia Ryan McHugh (Into the Dark), Lauren Ridloff (The Walking Dead), Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones).  Directed by Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), Screenplay by Chloé Zhao, Kaz Firpo  (Child’s Play).

Why it’s worth your time:

Why? Because Chloé Zhao is clearly a Marvel movie fan. And, if you’re a Marvel fan and a writer and director with Oscar award-winning indie movie cred, then this is the perfect superhero movie for you. As only Ryan Coogler could have helmed Black Panther, and only Taika Waititi could have tackled Thor: Ragnarok, only Chloe Zhao could take on Eternals.

It is a truth universally recognized that, despite all the CGI, it’s the relationships between the characters that are the heart of every Marvel movie. It’s why these films are so popular. Like the Avengers, the Eternals aren’t just a superhero team, they’re a family. They’ve been sent by the Celestial being Arishem to protect Earth from the Deviants, vicious creatures that draw power from killing the human population. Zhao’s unique and powerful perspective is from the Eternals’ love of this world and the people in it — protecting, nurturing, and living among them is a joy and privilege.

Zhao’s Earth is a beautiful one, with sweeping vistas, majestic ranges, and dark and deep forests, and everything and everyone in it is one big “Wow.” Coming from the cold darkness of space, you can understand why the Eternals dig it. The dark flip side is the Eternals are not allowed to interfere in human affairs, so they have to stand by and watch their charges (and Thanos) commit terrible atrocities on one another.

Introducing 10 basically unknown superheroes is a challenge, but I felt Zhao handled it really well by throwing them immediately into battle with the Deviants, showing off both their powers and their personalities as they work together as a team. Their matriarchal leader, Ajac, played by Salma Hayek, is a healer. Gemma Chan’s Sersei, who more or less serves as the film’s lead, can convert any matter into any other matter, which is convenient when you’re trying to block Deviants from chomping up people. Her soulmate, Ikaris, played by Richard Madden, flies and gains the high ground as he shoots the creatures with laser beams from his eyes.  Then there’s Kingo, played by Kumail Nanjiani, who covers the ground game with the same energy bolts from his hands. Makari, played by Laura Ridloff, has superhuman speed.  Barry Keoghan’s Druig controls minds, pushing the tiny humans to get to safety. Sprite, played by 15-year-old Lia McHugh, casts illusions to confuse the demon-like creatures. Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos is a technology wizard, creating new tools and weapons as needed. Don Lee’s Gilgamesh is the brute strength of the crew. And finally, there’s Angelina Jolie as Thena, the warrior, able to create weapons out of pure energy. They work seamlessly to defeat the Deviants at the dawn of man, and for another five thousand plus years, until the monsters are seemingly eradicated.

But when observing one genocide too many angers a cynical Druig to the point of no return, and an eons worth of memories start to break Thena’s mind, Ajac releases the Eternals to live the rest of their time on earth as they wish… until Arishem calls them back to Olympia, their home world.

“Olympia is a magical place”

Zhao shares a grounded perspective of what immortality looks like thousands of years later. Because after a while, nothing you do really matters, but the good news is that after a while — well, nothing you do really matters.  There is sadness to that, but there’s also a certain freedom there that Zhao leans into. For example, when Sersei tells Ikaris that when he left her, she waited for him to return for over a century, and then she had to stop waiting and move on; it is what it is.  I loved the acknowledgement that at this  point in MCU history, people are used to strange things happening, so the Eternals are able to get away from being asked a lot of questions. Sersei’s boyfriend Dane (Kit Harrington) thinks she might be a wizard, but maybe not, he says, and really, is it any of his business? Kingo, on the other hand, has been a Bollywood star for 100 years, currently claiming to be his own great grandson. Could be. Who’s to say?

When one of their own is killed, the Eternals slowly reunite to figure out how and why, and to face the truth and the lies about their existence, and their part in the imminent destruction of the planet they’ve been protecting for millennia. The chemistry among the cast is so, so good, and it’s not hard to believe that they would fall back into an easy rapport after hundreds of years apart, or the deep grief they feel at the loss of a loved one they haven’t seen in that time, either.

Once again, Marvel has chosen great actors for the cast. I was especially impressed with Salma Hayek’s fierce and compassionate portrayal of Ajac, and Gemma Chan, who plays Sersei with a lovely and ethereal strength. Angelina Jolie dutifully steps back from the spotlight as an ensemble cast member, even when her story becomes an integral part of the plot. Like I said, I was impressed.

The takeaway:

This is a Marvel Movie, okay?  So, there are explosions, destruction, epic fight scenes, intricate hand to hand combat, magnificent set pieces, and lightly funny dialogue. But this is wholeheartedly Chloé Zhao’s movie, too, a kinder, gentler tale of God-like creatures that’s rooted in nature, humanity, and the fierce drive to protect what you love at all costs. Add in a few honestly surprising plot twists, and you have a little bit of something for everyone.

Watch it with:

Someone who has a love for family drama and Marvel movies.

Worth noting:

Eternals marks a lot of MCU firsts: first (VERY comic-book-esque) sex scene, first onscreen gay relationship and kiss, first deaf character, first mention of that other comic book movie universe, and the first “recycled” MCU actor — Gemma Chan played Carol’s Cree teammate Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel.  Ooh, and the first time the actors playing the Stark half-siblings have shared a screen since Game of Thrones,  a cute hint that Sersei has a “type”. I’m pretty sure it’s also the most multi-international cast Marvel has ever had.

There is a mid-credit scene AND an end credit scene, so stick around until the very, very end. It drives me absolutely nuts when people stand up to leave once the credits roll.

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