MCU’s latest addition

Rita Lai and Karen Wang

Expecting a dramatic revolution from Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao’s entrance into the Marvel world may leave fans who enjoy the typical fast-paced, solely action-packed quality of Marvel movies disappointed. Although “Eternals” fell short in terms of character development and unexplored plot, its groundbreaking diversity and indie-style cinematography sets it apart from the classic Marvel formula, making it a worthy watch.

Led by the “Prime Eternal” Ajak (Salma Hayek), 10 Eternals with distinct powers fueled by cosmic energy defend Earth against Deviants, a mutant Alien race they eradicated centuries earlier. Following Ajak’s death, the group reunite to stop the new Deviant threat, distracted by complicated relationships and ultimately grappling with their new-found roles on Earth. With an all-star cast including Hayek, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden and Angelina Jolie, among many others, “Eternals” explores the moral value of humanity and the purpose of existence for not only the mortals, but also the immortal Eternals and Deviants.

Unfortunately, with 10 new characters to the MCU, the 157-minute runtime isn’t nearly enough for the audience to build a connection with each of them. Deaths and betrayals, clearly intended to be hard-hitting, were difficult to connect with due to weak character establishment. On the sidelines, without strong emotional build-up, the romance between Sersi (Chan) and Ikaris (Madden) feels difficult to root for as the film forces a lovers-turned-enemies trope to catalyze its core conflict.

As in any action movie, the film began with several gory fight scenes, but the fighting grew boring with repetitive battles against the sinewy creature-like Deviants. There was potential in the scenes featuring Deviant leader Kro (Bill Skarsgård), but his emotionless nature and unexpected extermination by Thena (Jolie) cut his role short. The connection between Deviants and Eternals, facing the same fates and borne from the celestial Arishem (David Kaye), wasn’t fully explored, though with the hints dropped in the film, there’s likely a sequel to address these plot holes.

Regardless, “Eternals” breaks new barriers as the first Marvel movie to include an openly gay superhero and the first to depict those with hearing loss. Zhao takes a direct approach with Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), who is the only one that truly integrates into human society, with a deliberate kiss with his husband and demonstration of protective instincts over his son. Exchanges between Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and other characters were accompanied with sign language and subtitles. Diversity throughout the movie never comes off as forced despite indignant reviews claiming “Hollywood wokeness” from those who may prefer more formulaic superhero stories. 

Perhaps the most outstanding aspect of the film are the scenic ocean shots as the camera pans over vast expanses of landscapes and historical sites, with much less CGI and post-production effects than expected. Zhao’s insistence on shooting on-site certainly makes a difference, with the lack of greenscreen lending to the authentic style she’s known for. Though unwise to directly compare an indie film depicting the struggles of the Great Recession to a blockbuster franchise movie, “Eternals” retains Zhao’s notable style recognized in her acclaimed prestige films such as Oscar-winning “Nomadland.”  

The ending cuts off with a cliffhanger as the Eternals enter a phase of judgement under Arishem, all but guaranteeing a sequel, typical of Marvel movies. However, the plot of “Eternals” is largely independent of the Avengers’ storyline, so it’s easy for new Marvel fans to follow along. 

Be sure to wait for the post-credits as a certain former One Direction member makes an unexpected cameo. While Marvel shifts into Phase Four of the MCU, it’ll be interesting to see how “Eternals” furthers its reputation for its potential plot-twists rather than its initially shallow storyline.