Movie Guy: 'Eternal' ennui in Marvel’s latest – Idaho Press-Tribune Leave a comment

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Richard Madden, left, and Gemma Chan in the film “Eternals.”
Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy”
Richard Madden, left, and Gemma Chan in the film “Eternals.”
Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy”

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Believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t like Marvel superhero movies.
Shocking, I know, but there are those who complain that these movies are overly reliant on an anodyne formula that makes it too easy to predict what’s going to happen in each of the films. That these are mindless movies built to please mindless audiences.
I’ll counter by pointing to the box office as proof that the obvious formula works, and that it’s entirely understandable that the studio would want to double down on giving the audience more of what they want to see.
Still, in an effort to breathe some new life into their movies, Marvel hired Academy Award-winning Chloe Zhao to direct their latest film, “Eternals.” Zhao is known for making contemplative films that showcase small, outcast characters being dwarfed by the landscapes of the American West. She makes intimate, thought-provoking movies, so her hire left many scratching their heads. They wondered how her directorial style would translate to the world of big-budget superhero movies.
The answer turns out to be that she is only partially successful, but I’ll give her credit for a game attempt at the impossible task of launching a new phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with nearly a dozen new characters and villains and overarching plotlines. It’s no surprise that “Eternals” gets bogged down with lots of exposition, as we struggle to get up to speed.
The basic idea behind this movie is that a band of superhuman warriors was sent to protect Earth from monsters known as the Deviants. The heroes have been in the shadows, guiding humanity for so long that many of our oldest myths are based on their ancient exploits. That’s a cool idea, and perhaps the basis of a much more traditional Marvel movie.
Unfortunately, “Eternals” picks the story up in contemporary times, with the warriors still stuck on Earth, bored by their never-ending assignment and wondering if their life’s work has any meaning. Don’t fret, they will get a chance to test their mettle against interstellar monsters, but there’s a lot of sitting around talking about the meaning of life in between the big battle sequences.
A lot of that dialogue is clunky, making it hard to take the character’s ennui too seriously. Once again, kudos to Zhao for trying to add intellectual drama into this movie, but the bottom line is that it doesn’t really work. The screenplay is all over the place, leaving the actors struggling to bring their characters to life.
The biggest problems in this movie can be traced directly to the screenplay.
On the other hand, Zhao does deserve credit for her beautiful cinematography. This is a gorgeous movie, which is a hallmark of any Zhao movie. It’s not just the landscapes, but even the battle sequences have a warmth to them that marks this as a movie apart from the rest of the Marvel movies. It’s easily the best aspect of this movie.
Ultimately, I’m torn by the idea that this is a film that’s not deep enough to draw serious cinema fans, and it’s too scattered to please the regular Marvel fan base. “Eternals” is a minor disappointment that deserves credit for taking a big swing, but it still ends up being a swing and a miss.
Reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in the Idaho Press. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.
“Eternals”
Marvel Studios
Directed by Chloe Zhao
Starring Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harrington, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani and Brian Tyree Henry
Rated PG-13
2 Stars
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