Let me preface by saying that I would love to be a certified critic under the Rotten Tomatoes label, with my reviews contributing to the scores for films. It’s official and it’s one of those things that make you feel like your work has wider value (though personal satisfaction is paramount). But by no means is it the be all and end all of film criticism. If a film has a certain score, that is a fair metric to identify what the conversation amongst critics and audiences might be, but your individual perspective is more important.
What is more depressing is how the score given by Rotten Tomatoes’ data of collecting hundreds of film reviews for major movies is what most determine quality of said film on, whilst ignoring the more accurate average rating that Rotten Tomatoes now hides. Or actually reading the reviews themselves would help people who want to use the website as a source of information, but these things cannot easily be marketed or spread around on social media.
We are in a world where one number without context is all people ever believe. Why? Perhaps this is a deeper conversation about our relation to art and its presence on social media, but let’s not get that deep. What I want to question is: do you care if Eternals is the lowest rated Marvel Cinematic Universe film on Rotten Tomatoes?
Does it truly matter? This is coming from someone who enjoys a few films deemed “rotten” on the website. Three in fact from 2019 (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Glass) and also John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness, and while I wouldn’t consider them absolutely perfect films, they are more than some green splat.
I enjoyed Eternals.
As an MCU film, it suffers under the weight of trying to introduce ten new characters and have them all be fully rounded and established people. Perhaps we didn’t need every single one, the 157 minute length is an effort rather than an entirely fluid experience that flies by, and the humour here is especially weak and forced. When your characters are trying to come to terms with the true nature of their existence, having them suddenly quip about phone service and YouTube content doesn’t work. Our characters don’t develop much in the present day as they have already had their major revelations in the past, so we don’t have much change in the finale.
What works best is the fact that this is a Chloé Zhao. I would have much preferred if, as well as directing, Zhao had completely incepted the story and wrote the full screenplay, but still what we have is a superhero film that questions the nature of doctrine, dogma, creation, existence, and the strength of humanity. Our Eternals are divided against themselves as to what should be done with the people of Earth. Some spare humans no second thought, like Gilagmesh (Ma Dong-seok) and Thena (Angelina Jolie), others see humanity as weaker lifeforms without purpose or the ability to make the right choices, like Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sprite (Lia McHugh).
Some find humans fun but fleeting, something to study but understand their temporary nature, like the charismatic Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) and the supersonic Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and Druig (Barry Keoghan), despite their differences, have complicated relationships with humans where they want to do good by small groups but have been traumatised by our self-destructive nature. And finally we have Ajak (Salma Hayek) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) who instantly have a love of humanity that allows them to either inspire or divide others.
Each character feels wholly unique, something we don’t seen enough in Marvel films that introduce brand new elements. They are complicated people with different personalities that conflict wildly with each other, leading to action sequences driven only by character drama and not just fist-fighting. There’s plenty of superhero action delivered in spectacular form by the end, and despite the lengthy runtime, it naturally builds to a point of conflict for almost all of our characters.
Eternals is in need of a stronger screenplay when it comes to dialogue and the pacing of events, Lia McHugh’s Sprite unfortunately stands out as the weakest actor and character, and trying to two competing villains in the final battle makes for some awkward execution. Chloé Zhao still delivers a film bursting with heart and ambition, displayed in awe-inspiring beauty with cinematographer Ben Davis and composer Ramin Djawadi. So many shots and sequences stand out as some of the most gorgeously realised set-pieces of any MCU film, to the point that all of the visual effects look perfectly keyed in. I am happier that, flaws and all, Eternals exists.
I would rather Marvel Studios continue to take daring swings with unexpected filmmakers delivering particular visions of superhero characters than make another by-the-numbers movie like Captain Marvel or Thor: The Dark World. If superhero cinema is to survive, it needs to have individual identities and not feel like assembly-line products. Eternals is a film made by a visionary filmmaker who aimed for something epic and mostly delivered.
Director: Chloé Zhao
Writers: Chloé Zhao (solo credit), Chloé Zhao & Patrick Burleigh (team credit), Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo (also wrote the story)
Starring: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok (credited as Don Lee), Harish Patel, Lia McHugh, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie
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