<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>

Directed by Chloé Zhao. Starring Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Ma-Dong seok (Don Lee), Barry Keoghan, Lauren Ridloff, Lia McHugh, Kit Harington, Haaz Sleiman, Harish Patel

Going in with little expectation considering it’s a Marvel movie, I was pleasantly entertained by this offbeat superhero movie that will convince people who don’t like Marvel superhero movies to give some of them a chance.

Perhaps it’s because director Chloé Zhao is an Oscar winner (2020) for her Nomadland that the critics have lambasted Eternals. Maybe they want her to stick to independent films and art cinema and not be sullied by the evil and vacuous space of superhero content. Or they thought that she’d make an arty superhero film that would win another Oscar. But hey, this is Marvel and has a much wider chance of reaching out to more people than Nomadland ever did.

And it’s a good thing that it can do that since Eternals is by far the most diverse superhero – or for that matter action – film than any other till date. The fact that Zhao and Marvel refused to show Eternals in markets where they wanted to cut out the gay kiss and the mild nudity scene shows us that they’re finally putting their money where their movies values are. It shouldn’t be representation for the sake of it.

The film explains the whole background behind the Eternals, Celestials and Deviants so I won’t even try to get into it here. The Eternals live forever and after completing their mission on Earth they blend in and lead ‘normal’ lives until the ’emergence’. This doomsday scenario brings old enemies out and creates new ones from within. It pits good guys against good guys and makes a great Bollywood documentary-drama for Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) and his human sidekick Karun (Harish Patel).

The film’s narrative goes back and forth between present and past centuries to show us the story of Earth and how it was shaped by creation and destruction. Do humans deserve to exist? Are we worth saving? Will we save ourselves or will the heroes among us think we warrant one more chance at salvation? Such serious questions are asked but the script is infused with wit (not the mindless banter of the Avengers films) and intelligent conversation that keeps things from getting too dark.

At 2 hours 37 minutes it’s a long film and so the audience tended to get a bit agitated but it’s just the sign of the times. With 15-20 second ‘reels’ at everyone’s disposal, our attention spans are getting alarmingly short. Even for the new James Bond movie No Time To Die, I noticed the complaint was: ‘It’s too long and slow’. People don’t want to see emotion, debate, discussion and real issues. They want an Insta-story that makes them laugh. It’s a surprise some people stayed back in the theatre to watch the two end-credit scenes after Eternals finished.

Harish Patel as Karun, Kingo’s trusty sidekick, is a revelation and the Indian audience lapped his performance up and cheered him on. In fact, the Indian elements have aided in making the movie popular in the country. But then there’s also the deaf character of Makkari (deaf actor Lauren Ridloff), the obviously gender non-binary Sprite (Lia McHugh), the gay Eternal Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) who is so obviously bisexual (if not gay) after he declares he’ll follow the super Eternal Ikaris (Richard Madden) wherever he goes and his comment about Dane Whitman (Kit Harington) looking ‘cuter in person’. And many more instances of the diversity of characters and preferences. This is what we need to see more of in mainstream films. Not a token black man, or a token gay couple kissing at the end of a film in a blink and miss scene (courtesy Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker).

Props to Marvel for making a superhero film with a difference. We’ve seen enough of the wisecracking Avengers and cutesy Spidey to last a lifetime. We need superheroes with depth, that tackle real world issues and truly make a difference by changing people’s minds and hearts and propagating inclusivity and love rather than just senseless violence and destruction. Eternals may have a low Rotten Tomatoes score but it has a very high audience rating, which I’m sure matters more to Marvel.

Go watch Eternals for the diversity, the emotion, the thrills, the great character chemistry, the message of hope and of course, for Angelina Jolie as warrior queen Thena (not Athena).


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