Film Reviews

Eternals IMAX review: Dir. Chloé Zhao (2021)

As a fan of huge Sci-Fi epics, I’ve been excited for Marvel Studio’s Eternals since it was first announced. With a huge ensemble cast, an academy-award winning director in Chloé Zhao, and a story which explores new corners of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was hard not to look forward – and not just as another chapter in the MCU, but also as a standalone feature.

In the beginning, the Celestials created the universe, and in order to maintain balance, created the Eternals to keep the new worlds safe from the monstrous Deviants. One group of Eternals, led by Ajak (Salma Hayek), are sent to protect Earth, and integrate themselves with humanity. Seven thousand years later, with the Deviants seemingly destroyed, the Eternals – Ajak, Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan), Gilgamesh (Don Lee) and Thena (Angelina Jolie) – are forced to reassemble as they are warned of ‘the Emergence‘ – and its potential to destroy the entire planet.

I was intrigued to see how Eternals would approach its ensemble cast, and with full credit to Zhao, every one of them feels like a distinct and memorable character. Gemma Chan‘s Sersi is definitely the film’s lead, a character who’s love of humanity and the world they live on drives her to save and protect, rather than directly fighting the Deviants, while Richard Madden‘s Ikaris is a cold and detached character, with a Superman-esque power-set perfectly designed for fighting the sinister alien creatures. Kumail Nanjiani is a comic highlight throughout as Kingo, who has fashioned himself as a Bollywood superstar, and is accompanied by his valet Karun (Harish Patel), who while very amusing also delivers one of the sweetest moments in the film. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that Angelina Jolie‘s Thena feels like a supporting player throughout; she’s given her own story but the character isn’t established as well as the others; ironic given that Jolie is arguably the film’s biggest star. Eternals is mostly focused on a ‘getting the band back together’ plot, meaning that the whole cast are rarely in a scene together, but this does mostly work for the film’s benefit as the story can focus on specific characters at a time.

One of the elements that really stuck out to me in Eternals was the cinematography: much like with Zhao’s Oscar-winning Nomadland, there’s a very naturalistic look to the whole film, with an emphasis on natural lighting and location work. It may not be as vibrant and colourful as the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but this approach really helps to visually ground all the strange and wonderful cosmic elements. When Ikaris is flying in mid-air, it looks very believable – possibly due to some clever wire-work, but partly because it looks like he’s in a real environment. Alas, there are a few fleeting moments when brief shots in sequences have clearly been shot against greenscreens, as the lighting just doesn’t quite match. Ben Davis‘ cinematography is frequently beautiful, and while by no means showy, looks stunning on a huge IMAX screens. Several sequences have been shot with IMAX-certified cameras, meaning that the frame expands (by up to 26%) to cover the whole screen; most of these are the big action set-pieces, which really benefit from the expanded aspect ratio and look great on such a huge screen. The IMAX presentation also shows off the detail in the alien costumes and each character’s unique power set, often accompanied by glowing runes and symbols, and are intricately designed.

Eternals is the most ambitious film of the MCU to date, and I’m interested to see just how wide its appeal is given how complex the story is. While it delivers on the jokes and the spectacle that Marvel fans have come to expect, it also deals with some interesting philosophical ideas, and it takes some time before the full scope of the narrative is explained fully. There’s quite a lot of exposition to get through, and on top of that a number of twists and turns, resulting in a plot that’s sometimes quite hard to predict, and certainly goes in directions I wasn’t quite expecting. The time-jumping to different points in human history also means that the plot can feel a little stop-start – particularly in the first half – yet despite being the second-longest MCU movie, there are still a fair few narrative gaps in Eternals. I’m not sure how much of this is deliberate, or whether we’ll see some really interesting deleted scenes on the Blu-ray release, but with a story that spans seven thousand years, it’s hard to pack so much into any film under three hours. The complex sci-fi shenanigans and exposition may be a bit too much for some audience members, although I do think it builds the universe that Zhao and the team at Marvel Studios are creating. Eternals also has a very open ending, no doubt to be resolved in later movies that will further expand on the universe being developed.

Ultimately, I think Eternals will be something of a marmite film from Marvel Studios. It’s certainly ambitious, and Chloé Zhao explores some really interesting themes and characters throughout, not to mention that the whole thing looks and sounds great (with Game of ThronesRamin Djawadi composing the score). This isn’t by any means perfect, but it’s hard not to at least admire what the creative team have produced: a grand, sweeping, sci-fi epic spanning centuries that manages to actually go for something different to the rest of the Marvel franchise. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait to watch it again, but I am intrigued to see what the audience response will be. If nothing else, I recommend Eternals as a different kind of MCU film – and one that’s almost impossible to discuss in any kind of detail without spoilers…

Marvel Studios’ Eternals is released in IMAX cinemas on 5th November.

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