Film and drama Opinion

WHAT'S ON: Eternals — big, bold and beautiful

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A group of god-like beings are sent to Earth at the dawn of time to protect humanity, but discover their biggest threat comes from within. Digital editor Dan Jensen reviews a bold new step for the Marvel franchise.

★★★★☆

ETERNALS is the 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, yet feels like nothing that has been seen before within the franchise. This is not a bright, colourful action film filled with fight scenes and explosions, but offers a more cerebral experience. This is a thinking person’s comic book film.

Directed and co-written by Chloé Zhao (winner of the Best Director Academy Award for Nomadland), Eternals tells the story of a group of ten demi-gods who were sent to Earth 7,000 years ago to protect humanity from a plague of creatures called Deviants. Along the way, this group has shaped the course of history despite being told not to interfere in our progress. Cut to present day and it’s discovered that not only do some Deviants still remain but there is a much greater secret threat that forces the group to set aside differences and reunite for one last fight.

Featuring a stellar ensemble cast including Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Richard Madden and Kumail Nanjiani, Eternals offers something different to those who are tired of the formulaic style that most comic book films adhere to now. It’s a slow-burner, but never dull. It’s rich in themes and nuances that give the film a mesmerising quality, enhanced by stunning cinematography, gorgeous special effects and an epic score by Ramin Djawadi.

Zhao’s direction is outstanding here, every performer fleshing out the characters and making them believable. It’s a character-driven narrative, with each demi-god having complexities that make them unique and interesting. Each has an individual superpower, but those are not what make the characters engaging. It’s the humanity within them and the dynamics between each member of the group that matters most and makes the story so compelling. It’s also quite charming how the characters were supposedly the templates for our real-world gods, with Ikarus (Madden) laying the foundation for the tale of Icarus, Sersi (Chan) becoming Circe and so on.

Visually, Eternals is an absolute treat. With a story spanning 7,000 years, we’re taken to ancient civilisations and various time periods that are brought to life by Zhao’s insistence on mostly shooting in real locations as opposed to filming against a green screen. Everything from the Amazonian rainforest to the Australian outback looks as authentic as Babylon and Mesopotamia. Aside from that, many of the special effects in the film are also beautifully done, especially the magical weapons used by Thena (Jolie) that glow gold and are filled with intricate designs.

In terms of themes, there’s a lot to unpack with Eternals. One of the most prominent is a glimpse at humanity and what we’ve done to ourselves and our world. Even the godly characters driving the story have moments of doubt as to whether or not it’s worth saving us. There are also explorations of loyalty and moral choices, of love and loss, of finding out what matters most in your life and going for it.

Eternals is also Marvel’s most diverse and inclusive film to date. There’s a gay couple who share a kiss. There’s a sex scene between two characters (nothing too risqué). We have a number of ethnicities covered in the central characters and one of them is deaf. Aside from the latter handicap not being explained, none of it feels forced or on display just for the sake of showing it and it’s commendable that Marvel is bold enough to take this direction.

There were only some minor gripes that let the movie down a little, the main one being the use of humour in places where it didn’t feel appropriate. The character of Kingo (Nanjiani) is the comedic relief character in the story, but there are times where his jokes disrupt the seriousness of a moment. When the jokes are timed right, they’re great. But at certain moments, they just felt out of place.

The only other minor nit-pick was that there were a few times when the non-linear storytelling device felt a little confusing, particularly skipping backwards and forwards a few thousand years. Sure, it’s written on screen where and when we are, but it still meant having to keep a mental log of how various events affect each other.

Overall, Eternals was a breath of fresh air for the comic book film genre that is beautiful to look at and poetic in its narrative. It's worth mentioning that you don't have to have seen any of the previous Marvel films to understand this one, with only minor references to events that happened prior. Absolutely worth seeing on the biggest screen possible, but clocking in at just over two-and-a-half hours, make sure it’s at a cinema with really comfortable seats.

Eternals is now showing in cinemas across the country.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @danjensenmovies or check out his YouTube channel, Movie Talk with Dan Jensen.

Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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