Has the MCU jumped the Celestial shark?
Before getting into the new Marvel Cinematic Universe film, Eternals, I think it’s relevant to air out some musty old thoughts on the movie’s 45-year-old source material, the original comics by Jack Kirby.
I’m a huge fan of Kirby’s and if you are reading this review then you are probably a fan too, even if you don’t realize it. Jack Kirby is largely responsible for creating the characters and worlds celebrated and brought to life in the MCU. He deserves just as much credit as (and probably more than) the late Stan Lee.
That being said, Jack Kirby’s The Eternals (1976), a comic series he both wrote and illustrated, was never as entertaining as it was ambitious. For me, the artwork was a wonder, but the story was so sluggish I could hardly make it through a single issue. Even trying to reread those books today is a chore, and I think most comic fans probably agree, which is why the comic has never been very successful.
I had high hopes that Marvel would pull off another Guardians of the Galaxy moment and surprise everyone with a story and characters that are better than some of their more well-known and popular, four-color brethren. Unfortunately, the new Eternals live-action film is not much better than the comics they are based on.
It’s a convoluted story and one that may or may not offend your personal religious beliefs, but, in a nutshell, the Eternals are super powered beings created by the gods (the Celestials) and sent to Earth to guide and protect mankind from the Deviants (demonic creatures set on destroying and devouring the puny humans).
The story jumps between the dawn of time and modern times (post-Blip) as the Eternals go about serving their special super-purposes. We don’t really care much about the characters as we don’t really know anything about them … other than they are like gods and live forever and can’t really be hurt. So, what’s to care about?
Slowly, as the two hour and 37 minute story slogs along, some character development does take place, and the second half is definitely more entertaining than the first. But what about those characters? Marvel has deemed it necessary to jam almost every type of diverse character possible into the Eternals line-up.
To be clear, I’m all for diversity in comics and movies and in life, but the writing and casting decisions here are so obviously trying to appease every conceivable type of person in existence that it just seems to me like the worst kind of pandering. (Maybe I’ve got it wrong.)
Although the special effects are quite good, the Eternal versus Deviant battles seem like action sequences we’ve watched dozens of times before, in both Marvel and DC films. And the Deviants themselves are much better developed in the Kirby comics, with each character having a unique look and personality. Not sure why that concept was thrown out the window for the film.
I’m not familiar with the later Eternals books or plotlines, so I can’t speak to how much the storyline of the film matches anything in print, but I can say there are some plot twists and turns I did not see coming.
The most important thing I wanted to see in this film was the transition of Kirby’s masterful and unique artwork to the big screen and director Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), who is allegedly a fan, doesn’t come even close to delivering on Kirby’s vision – with a couple of very big exceptions that I won’t mention.
Zhao and her production and art design teams make a half-hearted attempt to bring some Kirby-isms to the film, but to my mind this should have been of greater focus and importance. This film should have been of the crazy scale of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien and it mostly falls short.
The cast includes (takes a deep breath) Richard Madden (Robb Stark from Game of Thrones) as Ikaris, the “Superman” type among the Eternals; Gemma Chan as Sersi, who has the power to change elements; Angelina Jolie as Thena, kind of the “Wonder Woman” of the group; Salma Hayek as Ajak, the leader and communicator with the Celestials; Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, the charismatic movie star; Lia McHugh as Sprite, a mischievous, elfish-like Eternal; Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, the technological wizard; Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, the speedster of the team; Barry Keoghan as Druig, who has the ability to control minds; Don Lee as Gilgamesh, the strongman with a heart of gold; and, lastly, Kit Harington (Jon Snow on Game of Thrones) as Dane Whitman, whose name may ring a bell to Marvel fans.
That’s a lot of characters to try to establish and spin into a single, cohesive film. So, all things considered, director Chloé Zhao does, in the end, pull off a film that at least mildly entertained me. The MCU may have misstepped on delivering another surprise hit like Guardians of the Galaxy, but the last half of Eternals pays off, for the most part, and the end-credit scenes left me curious to see what comes next. Hopefully, we won’t look back on Eternals as the point where the MCU jumped the Celestial shark.