Eternals

Written by Anna Harrison

70/100

“In the beginning…”

Thus Eternals, the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, opens. It’s not very shy about its Biblical inspirations, as the opening scroll revamps the Book of Genesis by recasting God the Celestial Arishem (voiced by David Kaye) as God, and the Eternals as his angelic children; its grand ambitions become clear from the first, though whether it lives up to them will be another question.

As we learn through extensive flashbacks, the titular Eternals were there to guide and shape mankind as they progressed, showing them smithing and plowing techniques but ordered by Arishem never to interfere too much (hence their lack of presence in the first three phases of the MCU); now in the 21st century, they have disbanded and scattered across the universe until the threat of the Deviants, a malevolent group of quadruped aliens, forces them to gather together again. It’s the age old “gang getting back together again” story, except we barely know the gang, and the reunion process is laborious at best. Where The Avengers built up its cast of characters over the course of four years, giving them their own solo movies, here the Eternals are all thrust together with zero prior establishment, and even the many flashbacks don’t quite provide enough information about these characters’, well, characters. 

As everyone comes together, we are fed information on their backstories and powers through heavy-handed exposition and stilted dialogue that even Eternals’ game cast stumbles with. Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden), the two ostensible leads, supposedly have an epic love story for the ages (one which involves Marvel’s first sex scene), yet Chan and Madden, despite being talented performers in their own right, have little chemistry here as they tell rather than show the beginnings of their relationship; when Ajak (Salma Hayek), the Eternals’ leader, discusses the psychological break Thena (Angelina Jolie) experiences (called “Mahd Wy’ry” and pronounced, um, “mad weary”), it feels clinical rather than personal, despite the thousands of years the two have shared together. Even in a film series that relies on awkward exposition more often than not, Eternals stands out, as the characters speak only to advance the plot or explain a concept, never to further their own personalities.

This is where recent Best Director winner and Eternals helmer Chloé Zhao comes in. Her first three films—Songs My Brothers Taught Me, The Rider, and Nomadland—all received praise (and rightfully so) for their intimacy and for the way the camera and composition conveyed complex internal processes while the characters themselves stayed silent. When Zhao is allowed to do the same thing in Eternals, and lets the camera do the talking, the movie is utterly unlike any Marvel film before it: the sweeping vistas of South Dakota and Australia, the soft, natural lighting, and the wordless moments where we simply sit and watch the actors do their job create some of the most interesting and beautiful scenes in the MCU, marked by a level of directorial prowess rarely (if ever) seen with Marvel Studios.

Yet as the Eternals slowly make their way towards a conflict with the Deviants and grapple with their role in Arishem’s intelligent design, it becomes apparent the biggest conflict in Eternals is between its director and the studio behind it.

Read More of Anna’s Ongoing Marvel Retrospective Series Here

Marvel has, by now, figured out a very specific formula, and it usually works. Variations are needed here and there, such as with Thor: Ragnarok, but even while Taika Waititi’s Kiwi sensibilities shone in that film, there was still the requisite Marvel fast-paced plot, big action scenes, and ill-timed quips. Zhao’s subtler humanist tendencies become muddied in Eternals’ need to over-explain everything, and while Eternal-cum-Bollywood-star Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) and his valet Karun (Harish Patel) give some excellent comedy, it feels out of place within Zhao’s more serious take on the MCU, as if they only exist to fulfill Marvel’s comedy quota. Zhao is at her best when she lets her camera take charge, but here her characters are forced to explain everything about themselves for the sake of the audience, relying too heavily on clumsy dialogue; where Zhao excels at coaxing out real and naturalistic performances from non-actors, the MCU’s bombastic nature requires its performers to ham it up a bit when the scope is so large, and as a result there are no true standouts, aside from perhaps Barry Keoghan as Druig, despite an extraordinarily talented (and wonderfully diverse) cast. 

This isn’t to say Zhao is the wrong choice for the MCU—far from it. There is an excellent, sweeping epic hidden underneath all the clunky lines, and there are deep philosophical ideas waiting to be pondered more deeply: What happens when your belief system gets turned upside down? Who do you become? What does “the greater good” mean? Zhao has gracefully examined all the intricacies and contradictions of humanity in all her other films, and here and there are glimmers of that same complexity in Eternals, but they remain only glimmers amidst the mandated Marvel beats. The problem is less that the cast is too big, or the story is too large and sprawling, and more that the script feels the need to explain all of these things, rather than respect that its viewers can, with Zhao’s help, infer information on their own. The delicacy with which Zhao handles her stories and characters seems incongruous with the in-your-face, Marvel-y script of Eternals, which keeps viewers at arm’s length even while Zhao’s strengths lie in holding them close; with four credited writers (including Zhao herself), it’s hard not to see conflicting aims in the finished screenplay.

Eternals is certainly, definitely, positively not—though its recent press would suggest otherwise—Marvel’s worst film. It has more emotional heft and a stronger directorial voice than most MCU films, and the fact that it even tries to differentiate itself at all shows a huge step in the right direction if Marvel wishes to stay artistically relevant post-Avengers: Endgame; Eternals’ third act, which succeeds at being both intimate and operatic at the same time, is one of Marvel’s strongest and certainly its most unique, and shows the enormous potential of this Zhao/Marvel team-up. But that’s all it is: potential. Eternals could have been great, and indeed it has tantalizing moments of sublimity, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of hiring someone like Zhao, the least you could do is trust her. 

Eternals Trailer

Eternals is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

2021 Golden Globes Preview

Written by Alexander Reams

Well folks, it’s that time of year, where all of Hollywood’s best and drunkest get together, have one big cocktail party, and hand out a few awards.

In all seriousness, the Golden Globes aren’t the most prestigious or serious awards show, but they can boost or take away from a film more than people realize. Thinking back to 2019 BC (Before COVID), 1917 did not have much steam, until the Golden Globes where it picked up the Best Director and Best Motion Picture: Drama awards and became the frontrunner to win those awards at the Oscars.

Now this Sunday, February 28, are the 2021 Golden Globes and I’ll be giving my predictions as well as my insight into the upcoming night. 

BEST MOTION PICTURE; DRAMA 
– The Father 
– Mank 
– Nomadland 
– Promising Young Woman
– The Trial of the Chicago 7


These nominees are very similar to what we’ve been seeing throughout the critics awards nominees, with the surprise addition of Promising Young Woman. I agree that Carey Mulligan gives a great performance, but in my opinion it has no place being in this category. Be that as it may, I still think that the HFPA will award The Trial of the Chicago 7 with Best Motion Picture; Drama. My personal pick would be Mank, as my other choice was not even nominated Da 5 Bloods

BEST ACTRESS; DRAMA 
– Viola Davis: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom 
– Andra Day: The United States vs. Billie Holiday 
– Vanessa Kirby: Pieces of a Woman 
– Frances McDormand: Nomadland 
– Carey Mulligan: Promising Young Woman


Full disclosure, I have not seen The United States vs. Billie Holiday and Nomadland yet, however I believe that the winner will be neither of those films, Viola Davis or Carey Mulligan are who I believe will take home the award, Viola Davis is (FINALLY) getting more and more recognized for her fantastic work, and while Ma Rainey, might not be her best performance, the HFPA has always been about those career wins, and I think this would be another one after her win for 2016’s “Fences”. On the flipside, this is Carey Mulligan’s second nomination for a Globe after a very impressive career filled with fantastic performances so the HFPA might award her since Viola Davis already has won before. My personal pick would be Vanessa Kirby for Pieces of a Woman. 

BEST ACTOR: DRAMA 
– Riz Ahmed: Sound of Metal 
– Chadwick Boseman: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom 
– Anthony Hopkins: The Father 
– Gary Oldman: Mank 
– Tahar Rahim: The Mauritanian


While I have not seen The Mauritanian yet, I think we can all agree that the Golden Globe Best Actor race is already done, with the late Chadwick Boseman locking it up. Some have said that he is only getting the buzz because of his untimely passing earlier this year, however I believe that whether or not he had passed, he would easily be winning the Globe for his performance in Ma Rainey.

BEST MOTION PICTURE: COMEDY/MUSICAL 
– Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 
– Hamilton 
– Music 
– Palm Springs 
– The Prom



I’m gonna take a quick minute and gush over the fact that a film like Palm Springs is nominated for (what will probably be) its biggest nomination this awards season. Palm Springs is one of my favorite Golden Globes nominations this year. Now the winner? I’m still on the Hamilton train, it took the world by storm, and while Borat might have more of an obvious political statement, I think that Hamilton will be taking the award home. 

BEST ACTRESS: COMEDY/MUSICAL 
– Maria Bakalova: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 
– Kate Hudson: Music 
– Michelle Pfieffer: French Exit 
– Rosamund Pike: I Care A Lot
– Anya Taylor-Joy: Emma


I’ll keep this short and sweet, the only nominee who could challenge Maria Bakalova in my opinion is Rosamund Pike, whose nomination came out of nowhere.

BEST ACTOR: COMEDY/MUSICAL 
– Sacha Baron Cohen: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 
– James Corden: The Prom 
– Lin-Manuel Miranda: Hamilton 
– Dev Patel: The Personal History of David Copperfield 
– Andy Samberg: Palm Springs

This Best Actor race is a bit more tied up than its other comedy/musical counterpart, between Baron Cohen, Miranda, and Samberg being the three vying for the award, but in the end I think that Baron Cohen will take it. 

BEST DIRECTOR 
– Emerald Fennell: Promising Young Woman 
– David Fincher: Mank 
– Regina King: One Night in Miami… 
– Aaron Sorkin: The Trial of the Chicago 7’ 
– Chloé Zhao: Nomadland 

The only person who could challenge Zhao at this point is Spike Lee, but seeing as he wasn’t nominated, Zhao is a lock, I’ll be shocked if anyone other than her wins. 

Thank you for checking out my Golden Globes preview, don’t forget to tune into it on NBC at 7PM EST/ 4PM EST.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.