The Eternals: a nice reboot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe [critique]

Chloe Zhao’s superhero movie offers a welcome change of tone on the MCU grind. Imperfect, of course, but generous.

How do you keep the flame of the MCU intact? During the pandemic, TV shows like WandaVision and Loki kept fans alive. But we have to bring the fans back to the cinema. After the miss Black widow and the “first Asian Marvel movie” in the form of Shang-Chi, The Eternals embodies the new Marvel strategy: making cinema films real total cinema events, real auteur films; the proof by hiring a real star director, in this case Chloé Zhao, author of Nomadland which made her the second woman to ever receive an Oscar for Best Director. And for her arrival in the MCU, she sets the bar very high, adapting not one of the most popular comics in the catalog but one of the most ambitious. It all started 7000 years ago, when the Celestials (quasi-divine cosmic creatures) created the ten Eternals, superhuman beings responsible for protecting the Earth from Deviants, creatures sowing chaos and destruction. Using their powers, the Eternals defeated the Deviants, advanced ancient human civilizations, and eclipsed themselves posing as normal people. And guess what? When the film begins, the Deviants are back, and this comeback obviously foreshadows a catastrophe of planetary magnitude.

At the heart of the MCU’s DNA – sorry for the abuse of acronyms – there is a formula, not at all magical, that we could synthesize as follows: a very laudable mixture of the will of great popular cinema and prudence. politically correct artistic whole around the predictable structure of the “hero’s journey”. With a good dose of computer-animated action scenes before the shoot, over which the directors often have no control. The good news of Eternalsis that the film gives the impression of wanting to exist against this formula. By taking care of his characters, by making them exist outside of a pre-digested heroic scheme, by multiplying the flashbacks telling a few millennia of human history, by refusing the a little heavy meta valves without refusing the lightness, and finally by integrating a lot better its epic action scenes to its storytelling. Completely omitting everything else in the MCU (except for very brief winks), The Eternals wants to be a new beginning for the franchise, in the form of a choral film of unknown characters, ready to be invested with a new life of cinema. Zhao, who seems to have had carte blanche – an extremely rare event in the history of superfranchise, she is also credited with the script – thus opens her film on a opening crawl to the Star wars, less to mean that this is a separate film than to use the same introductory process as George Lucas. No, The Eternals is not a film of absolute and visionary author, but a good choral film, wanting rather to give the priority to the collective.

Even if, visually, we are in a clean design, very 2010 -the Deviants make think of the animals ofAvatar– light years away from the visual delusions of the creator of Eternals Jack Kirby (whose style would be impossible to transpose to the cinema, so much he embraces the medium of the paper page of the comics), the film works. The heart is there. The Eternals exist, sometimes clumsily, sometimes imperfectly, but this awkwardness and this imperfection do not derail the film, on the contrary: we end up believing in these overpowered and fragile beings who turn their backs on humanity. In particular during a very beautiful scene, that of the Noche Sad, during the plunder of Tenochtitlan by the conquistadors in 1520, when Eternal Thena (Angelina Jolie) goes mad with warlike anger under the weight of her memory and the overflow of her memories accumulated over thousands of years.

The Eternals also suffers from this overflow, which takes the form of more or less exploited narrative arcs condensing in 2:40 what could have held in an entire season of the series (the tripguru of Barry Keoghan, the life of a couple of Brian Tyree Henry , Kumail Nanjiani’s career as a bollywood actor, all this could have given good standalones …),: we are obviously thinking of Sense8, which seems to be the dream model of these Eternals -same colors, same planetary feeling, same gay-friendly vibes. If at the very end the MCU will take back its rights (this remains a constant in the universe: nothing and no one can escape gravity), that’s not so bad. We want to love these Eternals, heroines and heroes well embodied, offering a nice reboot of the MCU in a movie more feelgood that one would have thought. Take advantage of it, because we don’t know if it will last.

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