Eternals movie cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok, Harish Patel
Eternals movie director: Chloe Zhao
Eternals movie rating: 3.5 stars
God, free will, grand design, meaning of life, purpose of humanity — Chloe Zhao explores a lot in the latest film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eternals. The Oscar-winning director of Nomadland does so while giving us no less than 10 super superheroes, a Sentient being, a lot of ever-evolving Deviants, an end-of-the-world scenario, and the start of a series that is expected to fill the gap the Avengers left.
It’s a lot to pack into one film, even if it comes in at a long 2 hours and 36 minutes. Zhao, though, almost pulls it off, keeping a complex story that spans from outer universe to ancient Mesopotamia, via Bollywood of now, relatively uncomplicated. Her characters or Eternals also pack in genuine diversity, good acting and a warmth that is unusual to find in films such as it, which are more intent on impressing than winning over.
So, as the story goes, Eternals are beings with powers sent from planet Olympia by Arishem to fight the Deviants who are destroying humans on planet Earth. They came 7,000 years ago and are still around because, well, Arishem hasn’t called them back yet, though the last of the Deviants were done and dusted thousands of years ago. Why haven’t the Eternals interfered as humans stumble from one conflict to another? It is to let humanity develop, as it was intended to. Why haven’t they helped mankind along with the scientific progress at their disposal? It is to let humanity find its way, as it was intended to. Human beings have come to revere some of them as gods over the years.
Then, Deviants resurface, and the lives of the Eternals, most of whom have now settled down as humans, is upended. Zhao gives Sersi (Chan), Ikris (Hadden), Sprite (McHugh), Thena (Jolie), Gilgamesh (Dong-seok), Kingo (Nanjiani), Phastos (Tyree Henry), Makkari (Ridloff), Druig (Keoghan) and their leader, Ajak (Hayek), all individual stories and lives — some invariably getting more time than the others. In the years that they have been apart, they have found love, families, solitude, delusions of grandeur, or companionship, even fear.
Are humans worth saving? What is it that makes them special? Is it okay to sacrifice anyone for a larger cause? Zhao raises all these questions, and satisfactorily nudges one towards the right answers. At least in the first two hours of its length, Zhao’s eye for detail, open spaces and landscapes make the Eternals as lifelike as they can be. Their powers, visualised as golden curlicues, are interesting and not overpowering, even though it is disconcerting to hear characters constantly talk of mankind as insignificant small things to be looked after.
As different as superheroes can get from their militant personas, Chan is fabulous in her role as the anointed leader. Chan bears a nobility that never lets us question why she should be chosen from among Eternals with better powers, fighting abilities, and strengths than her. Nanjiani is also gratifyingly more than a desi face, lending some real humour to the bonding between the group. Phastos is the inventor, Ikris is the most powerful, Dong-seok is the gentle protector.
Surprisingly, it is Jolie as Thena, the Goddess of War, who seems the most overwhelmed and is the most underwhelming. She barely makes an impression despite the tortuous memories her character carries — unlike the others. Among a cast that together can’t be presumed to hold a light bulb to her star presence, Jolie’s invisibility should have been unconceivable. Maybe, achieving that is Zhao’s superpower.