Words: Shane Ramdhany
Shane Ramdhany is the lead writer for Revamp’s The Inner Screen.
Chloe Zhao’s Marvel debut enters with pristine cinematography and mysticism that is at times mesmerizing but is ultimately bogged down by a convoluted script that underserves its strong cast. While it is a film that achieves a sense of wonder through visual flair, it can’t seem to avoid indulgence in exposition through it 2 and a half hour runtime. As a result, the viewer is left fumbling in the dark rather than completely immersed in this celestial story.
The film quickly leans into visual-effects driven scenarios in its opening in an effort to firmly establish its Marvel infused magic. However, as the ballet of swords and sorcery dwindles and the film pivots to its narrative, one can’t help but feel that the hope is for the viewer to feel inoculated from its complex nature at this point. Instead of riding the action’s euphoric wave, it is immediately clear that presenting these characters in both an accessible and relatable manner yields great challenge behind the scenes.
Hopefully you would have had a chance to review my and the great Nick Thony’s take on Zhao’s unparalleled film of 2020, “Nomadland.” Back then, I referred to it as a film that “permeates the soul of its audience,” so it is a shame to come into Zhao’s latest project with the feeling that she has barely penetrated the surface. In Zhao’s defense, depicting one of Marvel’s more obscure mythologies is in itself an ordeal as she tries to sift through its dense lore and provide a filter to a casual audience. Perhaps she may have fared better with Marvel material that is already embedded in pop culture.
The film is not without its entertaining moments. The action sequences are indeed stylish and razor sharp. These sequences, in conjunction with cinematography evocative of Zhao’s own “Nomadland,” drive the film’s best moments. Its cast elicits earnest performances across the board. While some of the characters draw familiarity to some DC icons (Thena and Wonderwoman, Ikaris and Superman), the actors effectively portray them with precision and evade copycat territory.
The Eternals is an uneven, complex story that ultimately suffers an identity crisis, landing in a void between a murky adult drama and a lighthearted, family friendly epic. Its attempts at humor are often unsuccessful and can feel quite jarring as it tries to convey its adult themes simultaneously. When Its most entertaining moments are realized, they just leave us wishing they were in more abundance.