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Review: ‘Eternals’ is a Heartfelt and Heroic Origin Story that Both Charms and Amazes

October 28, 2021Ben MK

The co-creator of such iconic Marvel characters as Iron Man, Thor and the Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby is widely regarded as one of the comic medium's most influential artists. But it's his 1970s creation, the Eternals, that some consider to be his greatest achievement. A masterwork of science fiction and fantasy set against the epic backdrop of space and time itself, the Eternals represent a corner of the Marvel comics universe that has largely gone untouched by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With director Chloé Zhao's big screen adaptation, however, all that is about to change — and the MCU will never be the same.

A tale that unfolds over the course of several millennia, the film follows a group of ten super-powered cosmic beings led by the wise and powerful Ajak (Salma Hayek). Sent to Earth in 5000 B.C. by the Celestial Arishem to rid our world of the vicious alien beasts known as Deviants, these Eternals are prepared to devote their entire immortal lives to their mission. But when they finally complete their objective and vanquish the Deviants, the Eternals find themselves at a loss for what to do next. Instructed by Arishem not to interfere in any human affairs unless Deviants are involved, they decide to part and go their own ways, falling out of contact with one another for centuries. Fast forward to the present day, however, and the Deviants have apparently resurfaced, giving cause for the Eternals to reunite once again to save humanity.

It all begins with a Deviant attack in modern-day London, England, which prompts material-manipulator Sersi (Gemma Chan), Superman-like Ikaris (Richard Madden) and illusion-caster Sprite (Lia McHugh) to travel around the world in search of Ajak and their former colleagues. As they begin to reassemble the team, though, they quickly come to the realization that none of them are what they used to be. Druig (Barry Keoghan) has become something of a recluse, using his mind control powers to command his own personal army; Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) has left his inventing days behind to start a family; Kingol (Kumail Nanjiani) has traded superhero status for celebrity stardom, and is now a Bollywood movie star; and faster-than-the-speed-of-light Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) now prefers to stay still, immersing herself in books and art. As for the super-strong Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok), he's resigned himself to watching over the elite warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie), whose mind has been infected by a strange disease that has left her unable to distinguish her friends from her enemies.

Nevertheless, with the ruthless Deviant warlord Kro (Bill Skarsgård) on the loose, it's only a matter of time before our heroes find themselves suiting up for battle. Yet, despite their superior abilities, nothing will prepare them for discovering the truth — not only about their mission, but about the very nature of their own existence. It's a revelation that will shock the Eternals to their core, pitting former allies against one another and leading to the formation of new alliances. At the end of the day, though, Zhao and co-writers Patrick Burleigh and Ryan and Kaz Firpo prove that they have a firm understanding of who these characters are and what makes them tick. And in a movie that's practically one hundred percent built from the ground-up, having a creative team as deeply invested in their protagonists as they are is infinitely more important than any visual effects or action set-piece.

Of course, this is Marvel Studios' 25th film, and as per the franchise's modus operandi, everything must come down to one epic climax. Still, it's the emotional journey of these diverse personalities that will resonate most with moviegoing audiences. After all, if the Eternals were meant to be examples for the human race to aspire towards, then shouldn't their namesake movie also be an example for the rest of the MCU going forward? Thankfully, that's exactly what Eternals is — and, because of that, Jack Kirby himself would be very proud.

Eternals releases November 5th, 2021 from Walt Disney Studios Canada. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, some language and brief sexuality. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 37 min.

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