Earlier this week, I watched Chloé Zhao’s Eternals at the cinemas, my first movie on the big screen since the pandemic began. I’ve always been a massive MCU nerd, so you can only imagine how thrilled I was to watch Eternals finally. I’ve loved Zhao since I saw Nomadland and have resonated with everything she does (I mean, she writes fanfiction, guys!) and was impressed to see the vision and eloquence she brought to her Marvel directorial debut. But there’s something I need to say- I’m afraid I have to disagree with the film’s Rotten Tomatoes rating. Phew! Now that it’s out of the way, let me dive in!

Zhao finally introduces us to the Eternals, god-like beings from Olympia sent to Earth by the celestial Arishem. These heroes are tasked with wiping out the Deviants, ravenous monsters who are destroying human life on Earth. Although the Eternals came to Earth 7,000 years ago, they are still waiting to return home, waiting for Arishem’s call. They haven’t interfered in any human conflicts and didn’t help the Avengers fight Thanos, because they were instructed to stay away from any wars unless Deviants were involved. And now, 7,000 years later, a new race of constantly evolving Deviants have returned to Earth, clobbering the lives built by the Eternals over the centuries. 

The film spans thousands of years and takes the viewers back to events occurring in Babylon, Mesopotamia, Hiroshima, and the Amazon, among other places. Zhao gives each of the heroes individual stories and lives through the years. In the centuries they’ve been apart, the Eternals found friendship, love, and family, either with each other or the humans. From Richard Madden’s sexy-yet-flawed, silver-streaked Ikaris, to Gemma Chan’s powerful and empathetic Sersi, to Bollywood superstar Kingo’s laugh-out-loud antics masterfully delivered by Kumail Nanjiani, and the glowering Sprite (Lia McHugh); a god trapped in a 12-year-old’s body, there is no stone left unturned in making Eternals’ team dynamic one-of-a-kind.

Angelina Jolie’s Thena displays exactly why she is the Goddess of War, and Don Lee’s (Ma Dong-seok’s) Gilgamesh documents vulnerability and emotion next to his colossal strength. But for me, it’s Barry Keoghan’s Druig, a character as complex as his powers, and deaf actress Lauren Ridloff’s remarkable portrayal of the speedster Makkari who steal the show. Whether it’s their on-screen chemistry or the fleeting moments they share across centuries, I feel compelled to say that I would watch Makkari and Druig glance at each other longingly for hours, over anything that happens between Ikaris and Sersi.

Eternals was posed as this massive, all-star cast ensemble brimming with diversity and action sequences, but the most prominent theme prevalent throughout every minute of the movie, love, was missing from its marketing strategy.

Zhao delivers on her minimal-CGI promise and takes you across picturesque landscapes while rebuilding empires long gone. Still, beyond the exciting space and time aesthetic that Zhao weaves into the narrative, this is a movie about love. It’s what makes the film so special in a franchise teeming with superhero stories.

Eternals is about Ikaris’ love for Sersi. It’s about Thena’s love for Gilgamesh, Ajak’s love for her heroes, and Sersi’s love for planet Earth. It’s Druig and Makkari’s companionship. It’s Phastos’ love for technology and family and Sprite’s dream to love and be loved. And, of course, it’s about Kingo’s love for Bollywood. I’m still unable to forget this scene, where he annihilated a Deviant by using his energy projection abilities in true Bollywood movie style, going as far as declaring “Dishoom!” which is the Hindi equivalent of “Kapow!”

That being said, you don’t have to love Eternals as much as I did. It’s long, the glacial-pacing isn’t for everyone, and most of the film follows one group of heroes trying to reunite with the rest. It also doesn’t fit in with the other Marvel movies; there’s no cameo from a familiar character, no teasing an already-announced project. It is unlike anything you’d see in a typical Marvel movie, but I genuinely believe that’s a good thing. It’s emotionally intimate and it doesn’t need you to revisit three other films to understand it.

Eternals introduces an impressive range of characters that do well to fill the Avenger-size void we’ve been living with since Endgame was released. It’s a valiant effort from Chloé Zhao and makes me feel excited about the future of the MCU, particularly the rest of phase 4 and the fifth phase that is yet to come. So no, it might not be the quintessential Marvel movie that centers on the fight between good vs. evil, but it raises important questions about what makes humanity so special. It invites the audience to feel what these characters are experiencing. It makes you marvel at how the people of Earth have grounded even god-like beings, and changed them, mainly for the better. The director’s eye for detail makes Eternals as convincing as a movie-going experience can be. Chloé Zhao’s vision and eloquence is her superpower, evidently. 

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  • Fatemeh Mirjalili

    Fatemeh Mirjalili is an entertainment writer based in Mumbai, India. Her work has appeared in publications such as TheThings, Film Companion and Times Knowledge among others. She loves writing about pop culture, watching Disney musicals and re-reading Pride & Prejudice for what may seem like the millionth time.

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