They have been on Earth for seven thousand years, Ajak, Thena, Sersi, Ikaris, Kingo, Phastos, Makkari, Gilgamesh, Druig and Sprite, Eternals sent by the Celestial Arishem to encourage the human race to develop and evolve, protecting them from the monstrous Deviants, but to never directly interfere. Any sufficiently advanced technology indistinguishable from magic, from their arrival on their ship Domo their power made them appear as gods, and thus their names entered history.

The Deviants apparently eliminated, they went their separate ways, waiting to be recalled to Olympia, yet in London, Sersi and Sprite are attacked by a powerful Deviant able to regenerate from the wounds they inflict upon it. Only able to repel it with the help of the timely arrival of Ikarus, the threat is imminent and directed and it would seem to be time to put the gang back together.

Directed by Chloé Zhao, Eternals is the 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now fully into Phase Four and introducing ten lead characters created by Jack Kirby in 1976 but only now making their debut in the series, a challenge which is only partially successful, setting itself apart from the events of the main sequence tied to the Avengers and their associates but never matching their achievements or energy.

Led by Sersi and Ikarus (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them‘s Gemma Chan and Game of Thrones‘ Richard Madden), the near-omnipotent beings are aloof and disconnected from the humans whom they claim to have come to love after watching over them for centuries, as evidenced by the frequent flashbacks to their time on Earth which only serve to emphasise how little they have changed in that period, speaking in great pronouncements but saying little.

The crisis of 1521 presented as a moment of great emotion, it is unearned, the characters still strangers to the audience who they are expected to care about simply because they are ostensibly heroes, though sharing a backstory and with generic powers they are largely interchangeable, only the disenchantment of the perpetually scowling Druig (The Green Knight‘s Barry Keoghan) setting him apart.

The Deviants entirely digital in their twisted metamorphoses, evolving faster than their stagnant adversaries who don’t even change their hair, Eternals suffers having neither a specific protagonist nor a clear purpose, the midpoint cosmic info-dump which should draw the battle lines instead leading to hand-wringing from the lethargic immortals when urgency is needed.

Marvel having presented something novel on their previous departures from their established mainstream, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange and Shang-Chi, the visuals of Eternals feel derivative, the magic and London buses emulating Harry Potter while the volcanic wastelands and their hovering rock formations are somewhere between Zardoz and Prometheus, a bleakness more akin to Warner Brothers, perhaps appropriate as Ikaris seems to be Madden’s audition for the Man of Steel.

A film about preserving a balance which has been artificially constructed and maintained, Eternals is undoubtedly Marvel’s most inclusive and diverse film, but that alone is insufficient when from the farmlands of South Dakota to the Amazon Rainforest it is ploddingly dull, lacking the dazzle and sparkle which makes the difference between adequate and essential.

Eternals is now on general release and also screening in IMAX



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