“Hawkeye” Episode 3 Tells Echo’s Side Of The Story

SPOILERS FOR HAWKEYE EPISODE THREE AHEAD!

Of the few people who are actually talking about Hawkeye and making their opinions known on what is potentially the least-watched live-action Marvel Disney+ show yet, it seems from social media that most are just sticking around to witness the return of Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk, better known by his supervillain alias, Kingpin. And after Hawkeye‘s third episode debuted yesterday, the series may have just ensured that Kingpin will continue to overshadow the rest of the story, much like how the character looms over everyone thanks to his impressive 6’7″ stature.

Hawkeye
Echo | epicstream.com

And mind you, all we see of Kingpin in episode three, in the roughly five seconds that he’s onscreen, is one of his hands, and a little bit of his suit. We hear him chuckle, but he doesn’t actually say a word to confirm that Vincent D’Onofrio is back in the iconic role. I’m excited to see Kingpin, don’t get me wrong, but it’s slightly frustrating that in five seconds he managed to pull focus away from everything else that happened in this episode, including our official introduction to Hawkeye‘s primary villain for the moment – Echo (Alaqua Cox).

To some degree, that’s on head writer Jonathan Igla and directors Bert & Bertie for not giving Cox’s adult version of Echo a standout action sequence or emotional beat, even though there were plenty of opportunities to blow audiences away on both counts. Her child version, played by Darnell Besaw, has one brief fight at a karate class that translates her photographic reflexes from page to screen, but while promising, we have yet to see Cox’s Echo utilize those abilities again. And her final scene with her father, who famously dies in the comics leaving a bloody handprint on Echo’s face, is significantly less impactful when Disney shies away from showing much blood.

But at the same time, it’s worth noting that MCU stans will find a way to overshadow Echo no matter what. Even when it was revealed that she would become the first Marvel character introduced on Disney+ to receive their own spinoff, all that anyone could talk about was how Kingpin and Daredevil could use Echo’s show as an arena in which to continue their conflict from the Netflix Daredevil series, as if Echo doesn’t have any stories worth telling from her own viewpoint.

And that’s a shame, because Echo happens to be a fascinating character, and Alaqua Cox in her debut performance brings a commanding presence to the role. A deaf Native American woman (and in the MCU, an amputee like Cox), left in the care of Kingpin after her father’s murder, Echo in the comics has a reputation as one of the most formidable street-level antiheroes in the global criminal underworld. There’s already so much going on with her in this episode that Hawkeye doesn’t even have time to reference the fact that in the comics, Echo was the original Ronin before Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) took on the mantle.

Nonetheless, the two characters still have a very intriguing dynamic in the MCU. There’s a somewhat generic revenge storyline going on, with Echo under the (most likely false) impression that Clint as Ronin murdered her father, but what’s most compelling about their relationship to each other is how they interact as two characters with hearing disabilities. Hawkeye depicts a range of experiences through Echo, the MCU’s second deaf character after Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari in Eternals, and Clint, who has partial hearing loss.

Hawkeye
Clint, Kate, and Lucky the Pizza Dog | denofgeek.com

This includes depicting the stark differences between the two, as well as the similarities. Echo uses sign language and as a child had to rely on lipreading because she wasn’t able to attend a deaf school, while Clint is still in the process of learning sign language and can’t hold a full conversation with Echo without the help of a translator using simultaneous communication (or SimCom), a controversial method where one signs and speaks at the same time, sometimes to the detriment of both languages but particularly to the signed language because the speaker is often a hearing person who mentally prioritizes their spoken language even while using SimCom.

I have not been able to find any articles specifically regarding the use of SimCom in Hawkeye, and thus it would be impossible for me to say as a hearing person who doesn’t speak any sign languages whether the SimCom in the show is accurate and intelligible. But something that I have seen others address, and that I noted myself while watching this episode of Hawkeye, is that the way shots are framed, the characters’ hands are often out of frame while they’re signing. It might seem like a small thing to some, but it also demonstrates why representation can’t stop at onscreen visibility. It takes a diverse team behind the camera to make sure that visibility is…well, visible.

I do appreciate, however, that Hawkeye actually utilizes its diversity for more than just surface-level visibility; Clint and Echo’s disabilities are an integral part of both their characters, and in this episode at least both deal with unique situations and challenges that arise because of their disabilities. At one point, Clint’s hearing-aid gets smashed under Echo’s boot during a fight, which in turn requires him and Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld) to work together more closely, culminating in a scene where she helps him through an abrupt phone call from his son. It’s strongly reminiscent of a scene in The Umbrella Academy‘s season one finale, but still poignant and powerful.

In the superhero genre especially, it’s also important that diverse characters get the chance to be cool, which is why Makkari’s magnificent power display in Eternals was such a joy to behold. And here, it’s great to see that Clint at least is finally being given that chance thanks to his collection of trick arrows, each more dangerous than the last. Even though it’s pretty obvious that the show’s CGI budget got diverted elsewhere (let me guess, it’s all going into making Kingpin look taller), several of the arrows are very well-used, and the Pym Tech size-alteration arrow is particularly clever in theory.

In next week’s episode, we’ll also presumably see Clint take up a sword as he deals with the Swordsman himself, Jack Duquesne (Tony Dalton), who pops up right at the end of episode three (wielding Ronin’s blade) to remind us that, oh yeah, there’s a whole separate plot revolving around that unsolved murder mystery in episode one that has yet to tie into everything going on with Echo and Kingpin. At this point, with my theory that Echo would be connected to the MCU’s Red Room officially very unlikely to materialize into anything substantial (a shame, I thought it was a good theory), I have no idea when or why Yelena Belova will show up.

Hawkeye
Kate Bishop | hollywoodreporter.com

Perhaps, in trying to wrap up all these storylines with a neat little bow (and arrow), Hawkeye will bite off more than it can chew, but for the time being I’m just enjoying the ride. As long as Renner and Steinfeld continue to have great banter and chemistry, and Echo continues to develop into a more well-rounded antagonist to the duo, that shouldn’t be hard. I just have to hope that they don’t let Kingpin steal the show from them without putting up a fight.

Episode Rating: 7.5/10

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” 2nd Trailer Puts The Villains Front And Center

There’s a certain irony to the fact that Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and his villains are so extensively intertwined with the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that Spider-Man: No Way Home already feels more like a proper Spider-Man movie simply because Peter Parker is facing off against villains from pre-MCU Spider-Man movies, but hey, I’m not complaining…at least not about the villains that we’re actually getting in No Way Home. Yeah, it’s sad that the MCU hasn’t got their own versions of these iconic characters (yet), but I’m not sure I’d have trusted director Jon Watts with that great responsibility either.

Spider-Man
Doc Ock and Spider-Man | buzzfeed.com

The villains that Holland’s Spider-Man has fought up until this point, like Holland’s Spider-Man himself, have suffered from being weighed down by MCU baggage. To be fair, Vulture actually makes sense as a victim of Tony Stark’s ruthless pursuit of profit, but then Marvel undermined their own creativity by doing the same storyline again, only worse. Mysterio’s generic quest for vengeance against Stark did little to benefit a potentially interesting character.

And Stark is only one of several MCU characters who have loomed over the franchise, pulling focus from Holland and his actual supporting cast, most egregiously the underutilized Zendaya. Every Spider-Man movie features a big-name MCU hero in a major supporting role (Stark in Homecoming, Nick Fury in Far From Home, Doctor Strange in No Way Home) who invariably makes a mess that Peter Parker then has to spend the entire movie cleaning up. Fans often critique solo movies, like Doctor Strange or more recently Eternals, for feeling disconnected from the broader MCU, but MCU Spider-Man perfectly demonstrates the dangers of leaning too far in the opposite direction.

Shoehorning in all these connections has given Watts and his writers an excuse to stop fleshing out the characters they’re actually supposed to be building a franchise around, which is how we end up with only a vague idea of who Holland’s Peter Parker is, much less his circle of friends and family. I don’t know if No Way Home will actually remedy this issue, because it’s a sprawling Multiverse epic with a lot of characters and subplots, but at least this time around Tom Holland’s onscreen competition comes from other Spider-Men and their own villains.

We all know that Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield are in No Way Home at this point. Technically it’s still only a rumor and I still need to point that out, but this is not another case of Mephisto fever – hard evidence exists, and you can find it in this very trailer. Doc Ock even indirectly mentions Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man when he confronts Tom Holland in what looks to be their first fight. We can see that Ock’s instantly iconic introductory line, “Hello, Peter”, is followed by confusion when Ock actually unmasks the MCU’s Spider-Man and is taken aback, saying “You’re not Peter Parker”. Who’s he referencing? Probably the same guy who’s very clearly punching Lizard in a frame from the Brazilian version of the trailer.

But Sony wants the Maguire and Garfield reveal to be a surprise for moviegoers, and I respect that. So for now, this trailer just focuses really heavily on all of their villains – okay, well, five of their villains; just enough to indicate that Marvel is assembling a Multiverse Sinister Six team, but one short of completion. Personally, I think that empty slot has to be filled by someone from Holland’s own universe. If the MCU really can’t come up with one Spider-Man villain of their own, that would be extremely embarrassing and very telling of how this franchise has been mishandled. My bet’s on Mysterio posing as Doctor Strange, because I still don’t get why Benedict Cumberbatch is acting so weird in these trailers, but Vulture would work.

Spider-Man
Electro | comicbook.com

Of the villains pulled from other universes, the stand-out to me is Jamie Foxx’s Electro – because my god, what an upgrade. Last time we saw his version of the iconic villain, he was inexplicably neon blue. Now, he’s wreathed in comics-accurate yellow lightning, and most importantly he’s wearing a proper costume and his starfish mask. Granted, the mask is made of CGI lightning, but it works better than I ever expected it to. Scratch that, I never expected them to adapt the mask in the first place, so this is a welcome surprise. Electro has been my favorite Spider-Man villain since as long as I’ve known about Spider-Man at all.

Doc Ock and Green Goblin both look pretty good in costumes lifted from the Sam Raimi films in which they originated, although there’s a clear difference between how Raimi directed both characters and how Watts tries to mimic his style, and that lessens the impact of both characters’ long-awaited reappearances ever so slightly. There’s discourse on social media about Peter Parker making fun of Doc Ock’s name, but honestly I think the real problem is that very few of Peter Parker’s jokes in the MCU are actually clever or funny, not that he makes jokes.

As for Sandman and Lizard, they’re kind of just…there. I don’t expect them to have a particularly large role in No Way Home, and honestly I don’t want them to, either. Sandman has been reimagined as a floating cloud of dust particles similar to the shapeless elemental beings that Spider-Man fought in Far From Home, while Lizard’s design doesn’t appear to have been touched up at all – and that’s not a good thing. I’d have swapped out either one for Rhino, and I don’t even like Rhino. Ideally, Black Cat would be on this team, but at this point she’d be better off waiting until after Catwoman has debuted in The Batman to avoid copy-cat accusations (I’m worse at making puns than MCU Peter Parker, I know).

But the really interesting thing about how No Way Home is utilizing these villains is how they seem to play into Peter Parker’s character arc. The trailer sets up the major conflict at the heart of the story, but it’s not between Peter and any of these Multiverse baddies – it’s between him and Doctor Strange, who sees them as potential threats to the universe and basically instructs Peter to kill them all, one by one. Peter doesn’t want to have to kill any of them, so he very forcefully chooses to defy Doctor Strange and liberate the villains. The twist is that they still want to kill him (except Ock, who seems like a genuinely good guy), so the challenge of returning them to their respective universes is going to test Peter’s ability to save everyone without getting any blood on his hands.

Spider-Man
Green Goblin | indiewire.com

That’s a really compelling conflict, but No Way Home can’t be afraid to “go there” in terms of showing the consequences of Peter’s wavering. It’s been theorized that someone close to him will die in this movie to drive the point home, and the trailer ends on Zendaya falling from the Statue of Liberty in a sequence evocative of Gwen Stacy’s horrific death in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – but that’s crossing a line even for me. If Marvel actually kills off Zendaya, especially in such a callous manner, we riot. We can all agree on that, right? Just take Happy Hogan instead. Kill Uncle Ben again, for all I care. But don’t fridge Zendaya, okay?

Trailer Rating: 8/10

What’s Next For The Eternals After Their First Film?

SPOILERS FOR ETERNALS AHEAD!

Eternals may not be the sure-fire Best Picture nominee that Marvel Studios thought they had on their hands when they debuted it at the Rome Film Festival to a lukewarm and increasingly negative critical reception, but in the long run, fans of the film needn’t fear that the Eternals will be ret-conned out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or that their storylines will be abandoned going forward. The box-office has been strong enough to ensure that heroes like Sersi and Thena and the newly-knighted Dane Whitman will return somewhere down the line, in various other MCU projects if not in their own sequel.

Eternals
Arishem and the Eternals | cbr.com

If you ask me, the instantly endearing characters of Eternals are easily the film’s greatest strength. I’m sure Marvel has their secretive reasons for wanting to get us acquainted with the complex (and somewhat convoluted) lore of the Celestials and Deviants and the origins of the universe itself, all of which will be revealed in due time, but it’s these characters who make continuing this story worthwhile right now. Director Chloé Zhao infused almost all of the ten earthly Eternals with vibrant humanity, and they each have seven-thousand years of individual stories to explore in prequels and spin-offs even before we look to their collective future.

So in today’s post, we’ll be looking at where the Eternals will be headed next in the MCU, both separately and as a team unit. There’s a spoiler warning at the top of the page, but in case you missed it, I’ll be discussing the film’s shocking ending, mid-credits scene, and a number of other plot-points including character deaths. You’ve been warned.

Now, speaking of character deaths, let’s start there – because by the end of Eternals, there at least two characters whose arcs conclusively end in their deaths, and a third whose death is satisfying and oh-so-poetic, but who might be too good a character to waste this early. Salma Hayek’s Ajak and Don Lee’s Gilgamesh fall into the former category, and Richard Madden’s Ikaris is of course the latter.

Ajak is the first Eternal to die, surprisingly early in the film, and her teammates happen upon her lifeless body outside her home in South Dakota without being given a chance to properly say their goodbyes to the caring yet deeply flawed woman who led the Eternals for seven-thousand years. We’re initially led to believe that Ajak was killed by a Deviant who absorbed her regenerative powers, but it’s revealed in the third act that there was a little more to it than that. Ajak was sacrificed to the Deviants by her own right-hand man, Ikaris, after he discovered that Ajak didn’t want to complete the Eternals’ top-secret mission to destroy the earth.

As I explained in my review of the film, Ajak’s entire character arc is scattered over just a couple of out-of-order scenes, so it’s hard to initially feel much grief for a person who until the third act is largely depicted as turning a blind eye to various tragedies, including the genocide of indigenous Mesoamericans in Salma Hayek’s home country of Mexico. But when we learn how she used her last few years to evolve and find the good in humanity just before Ikaris brutally executes her, well, it doesn’t make up for any of her wrongdoings, but it perfectly illustrates how the Eternals’ centuries of inaction caused all their problems and how they nearly were too late to change. So I think Ajak’s death is fitting.

Gilgamesh’s death also comes at just the right moment in the story, although I’d be less opposed to some fantastical resurrection plot device being used to engineer his return in the future. He and Angelina Jolie’s Thena are platonic soulmates for thousands of years, and their relationship only grows deeper when Ajak diagnoses Thena with Mahd Wy’ry, which she misleadingly describes as a buildup of memories in the brain over centuries that can cause an Eternal to become mentally unstable and violent. Gilgamesh brings Thena to Australia, where they settle down in the desert and live quietly for the next few centuries, with Gilgamesh caring for his friend and giving her love and support.

With Sersi’s help, Thena discovers that everything she thought she knew about Mahd Wy’ry was a lie. Long story short, her visions, panic attacks, and aggressive outbursts are actually a result of her glimpsing into the memories of other Eternals on other planets across the universe – or rather, former planets. Thena and Gilgamesh join the Eternals’ quest to stop the destruction of earth, but sadly Gilgamesh dies not long thereafter, killed by the same Deviant that took Ajak’s life. He and Thena share one last moment together, one which actually drew tears from my eyes, as he pleads with her to remember. The fact that even as he’s dying he wants her to remember her life and not specifically him is heartbreaking and hard-hitting.

Eternals
Gilgamesh and Thena | thewrap.com

Then there’s Ikaris. The second highest-ranking member of the Eternals and the only one besides Ajak who knows their true purpose on earth, Richard Madden’s Ikaris is defined both by his unwavering loyalty to the mission and by his age-long love for his teammate, Sersi. It’s unfortunate that their romance is almost entirely devoid of chemistry, because it had the potential to be truly epic. Sersi loves the earth and its inhabitants from the moment she first looks upon it, but Ikaris has only ever pretended to love humans so he can get closer to Sersi and try to relate to her. They find themselves on opposite sides in the film’s third act, with Sersi fighting to save earth and Ikaris to destroy it.

But when they confront each other face-to-face in the film’s most dramatic moment, Ikaris has a change of heart – not because he realizes for himself that humanity is worth saving or that he’s loved earth all along and didn’t want to admit it, but because he finally understands what earth and its people mean to Sersi. And in the end, his love for her outweighs his devotion to the mission and his belief in the Celestial plan for the Eternals. Ikaris stops fighting, leaves earth, and looks back at it one last time – mirroring his and Sersi’s first scene in the film, where he only had eyes for Sersi while she was the one staring down at earth – before flying into the sun.

This bleak and beautiful death is obviously intended to evoke the myth of Ikaris’ namesake in Greek mythology, Icarus; a boy with wings who flew too close to the sun in a moment of reckless pride and burned up. But the parallels to ancient mythology go deeper than that surface-level reading: mythology is uniquely full of stories of tragic couples in which one or both lovers will die by their own hand, usually after some misunderstanding and horrific moment of revelation. It’s a story structure that’s not quite as popular nowadays, and to see it used in a Marvel film is actually extraordinary. But another common theme in mythology, particularly Greek mythology, is that of the hero’s descent into the underworld to retrieve the soul of a lost loved one.

Could we see Sersi or another Eternal attempt to resurrect Ikaris? It’s not as implausible as it sounds. Halfway through Eternals, it’s explained to Sersi in one of the film’s several exposition-heavy monologues that the Eternals were forged, not born (an interesting and perhaps deliberate parallel to Agatha Harkness’ description of Wanda Maximoff), and that all of their memories from before arriving on earth were implanted into their heads by their true maker, the Celestial Arishem. He keeps these memories stored away in a chamber of the World-Forge, which is where he designs, builds, and breathes life into his Eternals.

So there is a path for Ikaris to come back, or more likely for his memories to be transplanted into the body of a new Eternal (i.e. a different actor). And Arishem himself might have already arranged for that to happen. At the end of the film, the Celestial arrives on Earth and summons Sersi, Phastos, and Kingo to join him in deep space, presumably at the World-Forge judging by Arishem’s remark that he will look through their memories to determine if they and the planet they love so much are actually worth saving. I can’t wait for Chloé Zhao to get the chance to explore that location in more depth and detail, but most importantly it will give our characters a chance to find Ikaris’ memories.

And something else Arishem doesn’t realize is that Sersi, Phastos, and Kingo aren’t the only Eternals left from the team he sent to Earth. Shortly before Arishem’s arrival, Thena departed the planet along with the speedster Makkari and telepath Druig on a mission to find other Eternals scattered across the universe and try to persuade them to save the planets which they’ve been assigned to destroy. The mid-credits scene picks up with this trio sometime later, arguing about whether they should head back to Earth to find out why their friends aren’t responding to their messages or continue their objective.

That’s when they’re rudely interrupted by the arrival of not one but two characters new to the MCU. Patton Oswalt voices Pip the Troll, an obscure Marvel Comics antihero who’s usually paired up with Guardians Of The Galaxy characters like Adam Warlock, Gamora, and Yondu Udonta’s Ravagers. In the MCU, he serves a different role as the herald and traveling companion of a maverick Eternal, Eros. Pop-star and Dunkirk actor Harry Styles portrays Eros, a stunning casting choice that was unfortunately ruined for general audiences long before the film’s release by a professional critic.

Eternals
Harry Styles | esquire.com

Eros is a fascinating addition to the MCU, for several reasons. Sure, he’s the younger brother of Thanos and it’ll be interesting to explore more of the history of their home-planet Titan and the branch of Eternals that lived there before they and everyone else were wiped out by famine and war. And yeah, he’s a part-time Avenger with strong connections to Mar-Vell and the Kree that could be depicted in The Marvels. But let’s be honest, that’s hardly the most noteworthy thing about a character who, just like his Greek mythological counterpart, can manipulate the brain’s pleasure centers in a number of ways.

This bizarre power comes with greater responsibility than most, and I don’t expect Marvel to utilize it to the same degree as in the comics – not unless they’re prepared to adapt all the stories in which Eros is accused of sexual assault, and even stands trial at one point with She-Hulk acting as his lawyer. I mean, they could do that, and it would allow them to explore some important real-world topics, but I’m wary of them handling those topics well. And honestly, I think Harry Styles’ Eros would make a much better superhero intimacy coach than sexual offender. If the dispassionate sex scene in Eternals is any indicator, the MCU could use a lesson or two from the god of love.

That being said, Eros is probably as morally ambiguous as any of the Eternals, and I won’t be surprised if he uses his powers recklessly at first – perhaps playing matchmaker with Sersi and a resurrected version of Ikaris. If he runs into the Guardians of the Galaxy anytime soon, I could easily envision a scenario where Eros gets entangled in Peter Quill’s awkward relationship with the time-displaced Variant of Gamora who doesn’t love Quill the way Quill loves the deceased version of her from the main MCU timeline, using his powers with disastrous effects. Basically, just don’t romanticize the removal of consent, and things should work out.

Back on Earth, there’s one last wild-card to consider. Lia McHugh’s Sprite, an Eternal trapped in the body of a child, made the difficult choice to become a human so that she can finally grow up and live a normal life – with the chance to experience love being one of her primary motivations for giving up her illusion-casting powers. Arishem didn’t take Sprite with him to the World-Forge, but it’s hard to believe that she’ll be completely absent from the story going forward. She could help Sersi’s distraught boyfriend back on Earth, Dane Whitman, as he musters the courage to embrace his destiny as the Black Knight and take on the Celestial host.

I don’t expect we’ll see the full team reassembled for a long time, perhaps not ever seeing as Ajak and Gilgamesh are probably really dead and Ikaris might not come back in the same form. But we now know there are hundreds of thousands of Eternals scattered across the universe, including several important characters from the comics who didn’t make it into this film. I suspect we’ll even meet a few in Thor: Love And Thunder, if Gorr the God-Butcher considers Eternals godly enough to make worthwhile targets for his Necroblade. And the distinctions between Eternals and Greek gods are already blurry enough that Hercules could easily be another member of their species.

Eternals
The Eternals | cnet.com

As long as Makkari, Thena, Kingo, Druig, and Phastos stay on the team, I wouldn’t object if others come and go. Sersi could make her way onto the Avengers team just as she did in the comics. Druig has a comics history of villainy and connections to the Soviet Union that haven’t really been touched upon (I’m still waiting for the reveal that he’s Natasha Romanoff’s biological father). And Kingo is delightfully off in his own world most of the time, so give him a Bollywood spin-off with lots of over-the-top musical numbers, and I’ll be more than happy.

So where do you hope to see the Eternals pop up next, and which character are you most excited to follow throughout Phase 4? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Eternals” Is Two Movies In One, But They’re Both Excellent

It’s simultaneously unfair and unsurprising that the conversation around Eternals has been dominated by discourse about the film’s abysmal Rotten Tomatoes score. Marvel Studios very obviously wanted Eternals to resonate with critics, and they were confident enough in its ability to do so that they reserved the film a spot in the Rome Film Festival in the expectation that it would lead to favorable word-of-mouth and kick off a strong awards season campaign – so when it didn’t, and Eternals instead got saddled with the dishonorable distinction of becoming Marvel’s first “rotten” entry, everyone took notice.

Eternals
The Eternals | blazetrends.com

Of course, the initial critical reception led to backlash from fans. But with everyone pointlessly bickering about whether it’s critics who are too biased against superhero films or fans these days who are too easy to please, it’s hard to get a word in edgewise about Eternals itself – its merits and its flaws. And having now seen the film, I think that’s both unfair and ironic, given how much of the story revolves around the subject of nuance, which is sorely lacking from most online arguments. Baseless declarations are great if all you’re looking for is attention, but to paraphrase my man Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), don’t do it for the views.

Eternals is primarily a story about the complexity of being human, and the various nuances that comprise our individual personalities, ideologies, creeds, virtues, and vices. Provided with an all-star cast of ten main characters representing a broad spectrum of gender identities, races, ethnicities, body types, sexual identities, ages, and disabilities, through which to explore all of these nuances, director Chloé Zhao jumps at the chance. Eternals is intimately engrossed in the personal lives of all its titular characters, and Zhao’s camera is especially fascinated with parsing out how these god-like beings either embrace the trappings of humanity, or else reject it, in their mannerisms, fashion choices, found families, and careers.

And yet at the same time, all of the Eternals – those who choose to immerse themselves in human culture as much as those who isolate themselves in enforced solitude – are keenly aware that they are meant to be othered. The MCU has an understandable desire to try and humanize even its most outlandish cosmic characters, from Thor to the Guardians of the Galaxy, but the dichotomy of the Eternals is that most of them desire to be human without understanding fully the responsibility of being human and sharing a planet with billions of other people. Whether descending from the stars in eerily perfect formation or striding gracefully into battle, the Eternals have an aloofness that isn’t easily cast aside.

These are the same unearthly qualities that have earned the Eternals a place in mythology, revered under many different names as gods and heroes around the globe. There were concerns prior to the film’s release that the Eternals would take credit for the accomplishments of early humans in much the same way that (usually racist) conspiracy theorists attribute the construction of ancient landmarks across South America and Africa to aliens, but I feel that the film mostly steers clear of that pitfall. There are one or two weird plot-holes, but everything starts to make more sense as the full backstory of the Eternals comes to light in the second act.

As a history buff, I really wanted to enjoy the film’s frequent movements across time to events and regions we don’t often get to see onscreen, from the heyday of Babylon to the fall of Tenochtitlan, as well as scattered references and allusions (some of which are…extremely poetic) to the mythological counterparts of the Eternals. But as a viewer and a critic, this is one glaring weak-spot in Chloé Zhao’s screenplay (cowritten with Kaz and Ryan Firpo), which strains to remain laser-focused on its ten characters across a span of seven-thousand years.

Every flashback sequence in the film is beautifully shot, featuring lavish production design and an impressive attention to detail, but the transitions between past and present feel increasingly random and even clumsy as the film goes on, and the flashbacks are so long that it feels like you’re switching between two separate storylines rather than enjoying a single cohesive narrative; both storylines are almost equally compelling, mind you, but neither is given the necessary space to breathe. Keeping track of so many dates and trying to piece together what’s happening when and in what order is also more of a chore than it likely needs to be.

The characters who suffer most as a result are Ajak (Salma Hayek at her most elegant), whose arc is sprinkled over a couple of scenes placed at roughly opposite ends of this gargantuan film; and Sersi (a disappointingly mellow Gemma Chan), who fades in and out of the story, never fully solidifying into a three-dimensional character, much less the face of the franchise that she’s theoretically intended to be. Her contributions to humanity’s development as one of the team’s five scholars are left rather vague, and her transmutative powers – while visually stunning – are poorly defined. Miss or forget an early reference to Sersi being unable to transmutate sentient beings, and nothing that happens afterwards will make sense.

Eternals
Druig | ign.com

Seeing as there are currently no other Eternals projects in development that urgently require these characters, I wouldn’t have objected if this first film were either set entirely in the past like Captain Marvel, or almost entirely in the present, following the format of Neil Gaiman’s run in the comics, in which the Eternals were mind-wiped by Sprite (Lia McHugh) and only slowly regained awareness of who they used to be…which, interestingly, is also like Captain Marvel. Neither alternative would make for an objectively better movie, and I think Eternals is still very enjoyable regardless, but sometimes less is more, and this is one of those instances.

It’s doubly frustrating because otherwise, Chloé Zhao really gets that – more so than any Marvel director before her. Her filmmaking style is simplistic, even stark. She doesn’t shy away from using CGI, but at the same time she’s careful to always be artistic with it, crafting intricate designs and patterns from the tendrils of sinuous golden energy that cling to the Eternals. Kingo has his finger-guns and Ikaris his laser-eyes, but Zhao goes to great lengths to ensure that neither character clogs the screen with meaningless energy-blasts and explosions, the bane of most MCU action sequences.

Zhao also displays an extraordinary talent for directing character-driven action with an emphasis on teamwork – comparable, dare I say it, to the Russo Brothers’ work on Captain America: Civil War, which is pretty much the gold standard for superhero action, as far as I’m concerned. Because the Eternals all possess visually consistent powers, I don’t know if audiences will necessarily feel the same way, but Zhao knows exactly how to play with her characters’ strengths and weaknesses, whom to pair up on the battlefield, and how to ensure that every hero has at least one awesome moment. Given how frequently Marvel movies fall apart in their third act, it’s commendable that Eternals truly delivers on an epic and emotional finale.

In particular, I want to give shout-outs to both Angelina Jolie and Lauren Ridloff. Jolie instantly commands the screen with an effortless majesty befitting one of Hollywood’s last real movie-stars, and she draws on her background in action to craft a unique fighting style for the warrior goddess Thena, both ethereal and efficient. But the true revelation of Eternals is Ridloff’s Makkari, the MCU’s first deaf superhero. Ridloff has an incredible physicality that helps Makkari stand out as arguably the coolest speedster around. Instead of simply running, Makkari springs across continents, causing sonic booms whenever her feet touch the ground, and Ridloff sells that raw power with ease.

His role isn’t as action-heavy until the third act, but Brian Tyree Henry also makes a strong impression as Phastos, the team’s tech genius and inventor. Although we only get to see the bare-bones of his character arc (another fault of the split-timeline), there’s so much substance to his story that it’s honestly a mystery why he’s not the main character. After eagerly encouraging humanity’s progress for centuries, Phastos is left dumbfounded and disillusioned in the wake of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, unable to wrap his head around the human capacity for destruction on such a vast scale.

In the present day, we discover that Phastos’ husband and son are his only remaining link to humanity, which allows for a few touching moments between the family – including the MCU’s first onscreen gay kiss. It’s a lovely kiss, but in a film that also boasts the MCU’s first awkwardly modest attempt at a sex scene between Sersi and her partner Ikaris (Richard Madden), it’s sad that it’s still groundbreaking for two men to even display the most basic form of romantic affection for each other onscreen. The door is officially open for more solid LGBTQ+ representation in the MCU, but only a smidge.

With all these characters and their individual storylines, there’s already a lot going on in Eternals before you even get to the overarching plot, everything having to do with the Celestials and the villainous Deviants, the winding backstory of the Eternals themselves, and a score of other small worldbuilding details that should have been simplified or excised entirely to help the whole movie flow with the same grace as any one of its characters. Zhao relies heavily on long exposition-heavy monologues (and even an opening credits crawl, à la Star Wars) to make sure you don’t accidentally miss anything, but if the effect she was going for was biblical, she succeeded a little too well.

To use a comparison I hope most of my readership will understand, there were several points in the film where I remembered how normal people feel when they read The Silmarillion for the first time, how I myself felt when I read The Silmarillion for the first time: disoriented by a seemingly endless deluge of information and names, while still entranced by it all. But if anything, that bodes well for Eternals‘ rewatchability factor. It took me a long time to try reading The Silmarillion in full after my first unsuccessful attempt, but when I did, and when I finally got it, everything changed. It’s one of my favorite books now.

Eternals
Ikaris and Sersi | forbes.com

I will likely discuss Eternals‘ mid-credits and post-credits scenes in a separate post, but for now I want you to leave you with this note. If Eternals is dense and disjointed, it also has heart, soul, beauty, and genuinely thought-provoking themes – all of which are lacking in several Marvel films considered “fresh” by critics. Zhao’s film resists any generalization, just as she argues through Eternals that there is no universal definition of goodness, and that we are all far more complex and multi-faceted than we often choose or want to believe.

Movie Rating: 8.5/10