PG-13 for violence, potential mass extinction, moral conundrums, and on-screen sexuality without nudity. I learned my lesson from Don't Look Up and put the sex thing last. Honestly, that was pretty shocking. I know that Disney + warned me that there was sex, but it was very awkward distracting my kids from what was going on-screen. It's also weird that I'm going to have shield my kids from Moon Knight. Hopefully nothing canon-breaking will happen in that show because it looks violent as the day is long.
DIRECTOR: Chloe Zhao
It's the first Marvel movie that I didn't watch in theaters and it's the first Marvel movie that I watched out of order. Listen, I take Covid restrictions pretty seriously. I went to go see Spider-Man: No Way Home, thinking that maybe the world got better and it only got worse. Luckily for me, as much as there are major moments in this movie that would affect the MCU as a whole, Eternals is one that can go in any order...at least in the fourth phase of the MCU. Like, it affected No Way Home in no way (home). You'd think that a Celestial visiting Earth would garner at least a comment in either Hawkeye or No Way Home, but...naw.
Now, before you MCU nerds start attacking me saying that No Way Home takes place immediately after Far From Home, I'm going to fight you on that one. No Way Home takes place over the course of months, so there's plenty of time to see a Celestial. But you know what? That's my only argument. So if you know something that I don't know, more power to you.
Anyway, I know that Eternals is probably one of the less successful Marvel movies. I only know one other person who really liked it. Most people I know claim that they were bored. I kind of get it. It's Marvel's riskiest film. I'm not saying it's a completely inaccessible film. Part of it can be chalked up to the source material. But then again, Guardians of the Galaxy wouldn't work if that was the only criteria. Eternals just doesn't necessarily feel exclusively like a Marvel film. There are Marvel elements. Sure, the characters talk about Thanos and the Avengers. Okay, that's something. They also name drop Batman and Superman, which is more off-putting than any Marvel name drop. There's a post-credits sequence. There's connections to the larger Marvel U. But if Eternals wasn't necessarily a Marvel movie, I could honestly see it as more of a sci-fi epic than a superhero movie. There's almost intentionally nothing accessible in the film. Sure, there is some humor in there. I loved Kumail Nanjiani and Harish Patel's back-and-forth. Brian Tyree Henry brought amazing banter. But this is some heavy sci-fi stuff.
I've tried getting into Eternals comics before. My comics collection is insane. I have me some Eternals stuff. But the Eternals are the creation of Jack Kirby. Jack Kirby was a mad genius. He got into some crazy cosmic stuff. While Stan Lee was making relatable allegories for the common man, Kirby was imagining bizarre other worlds, flooded with color and insanity. These stories were the stuff of Frank Herbert and Ray Bradbury. He wanted an excuse to draw absolutely bananas things, so he would create stuff like Eternals or New Gods to justify mind-breaking artwork. I have a deep appreciation for Kirby. In some ways, I love Kirby. But my relationship with Kirby's work has always been one of intimidation. I'm vocally advocating for art to be challenging, but my lizard brain sometimes wants what is easy. Comic books, especially stuff from the superhero genre, tends to be easily digestible. It's not to say that these stories don't go to deep places. I'll argue that some of the greatest moments of melodrama come from the pages of comic books. But the plots of Kirby works are far more challenging. I never really got the Eternals, until now.
That's where Chloe Zhao has done something amazing. Maybe it is because I'm such a visual learner that I appreciate what she's done here. And if some people leave Zhao's version of Eternals completely lost, I don't blame them. But she made something that is relatable, despite the fact that Eternals is composed of alien robot people that formed our cultural history. There's so much going on in this movie that it seems like Zhao combined a wealth of books into one plot. But there's a really strong thread going through the story as a whole. As complicated as it gets, there's a clean thread about truth and identity that overrides the most insane sci-fi premises that the film presents. That's what good science fiction is supposed to do. It's supposed to have us question what it means to be human by seeing these larger than life genre concepts put to the test. For a two-and-a-half hour movie, the movie decides to dole out major character moments every twenty minutes. There's a lot to accept and it has to do with our relationship with God.
That's what a Celestial is, right? I know that Stan Lee was pretty intensely atheist, despite writing a poem about his relationship with God. But the MCU has a very complex theology behind it. Asgard is now the world of other planets, but Thor and Odin are revered as gods throughout history. The Eternals themselves represent multiple religions' beliefs, with Thena standing in for Athena next to Gilgamesh and others. But the notions of Celestials being the gods of science is kind of interesting. There's something remarkably cold and isolating about the notions of Celestials. The Celestials populate the universe through entropy and rebirth. When the Eternals fight back against these Celestials, they are fighting back against God. Sure, it's easy to make the Celestials the bad guys because they are so unfeeling, especially towards the people of Earth. But they are gods in this world. They are responsible for creation and death. There's no afterlife that's mentioned, but that doesn't change the allegory of creation going after the notion of God.
I love Eternals' complex morality. It's really rough. Ikaris is definitely the bad guy for a lot of the film. Zhao gives him his evil moment to justify which side we're supposed to fall on, with the murder of Ajak in the most visceral way possible. I'm on board with that. But it does take some of the nuance of the story out of it. With a lot of the Marvel movies, the villain often has some degree of sympathy. The "Thanos was Right" memes is kind of an example, but it works even better with Black Panther and Erik Killmonger. With Ikaris's choice to support the Celestials, he's--on the most base level --finishing the mission that they all agreed to, despite lack of knowledge of such a concept. But even more so, Ikaris is a numbers guy. He's completely logical in his decision to allow the Emergence to happen. Although Earth has X-number of people on it, he contrasts that to the trillions of lives that will never have been created for this one planet. Yeah, I live on that planet and my morality is definitely in line with the heroic Eternals and their attempt to stop Ikaris. But it isn't necessarily an easy answer.
So when the movie isn't fun (and for much of it, it isn't fun), there's a reason for that. Eternals doesn't coast in the comedy of the Marvel movies because it is dealing with something very complex: what is the value of life? And it is aggressive in the understanding of that argument. The eponymous protagonists find out that they aren't even really organic. They are flesh robots with powers and feeling. But there's this deep and passionate understanding of the value of sentience and a soul. Those words aren't thrown around too much, but Zhao and the storytellers are debating the role of an individual life. This is biblical stuff. The idea that a city wouldn't be considered damned for the value of one good life is something that we've grappled with for a long time. So there isn't a traditional supervillain in the story. Who cares? This is an exploration of what it means to be human. Trust me, my love of humanity has grown really thin over the past six years. I went from thinking that humanity was overall good with a few bad eggs to flipping that dynamic completely. But Eternals screams that humanity is worth saving. I don't want humanity destroyed and maybe fighting for it is what makes it beautiful. Seeing the need for art and culture to expand makes the story interesting.
On a completely superficial level, there are things that bother me about the film. I will probably watch this one this least, which seems pretty damning. It is a long film. It's really odd that Kingo is not in the final fight, considering that Nanjiani is one of the more recognizable people in the movie. I also think that the Deviants are a bit undercooked as a concept, despite having some real potential. But it's a solid film overall. I know that people have been screaming about its beauty and I think that's in there. But I care more about the odd gray area that the Eternals exist in. There's this major Earth crisis and we have to realize how dubious the major players in the story were. But these are people to care about. I was heartbroken at the death of Gilgamesh because Thena cared about him so much. For being ancient alien robot gods, they are oddly sympathetic. And while I can't say I love the notion that gods need to be killed, it does make for an interesting tale.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.