Movie Review: Eternals (2021)

TL;DR – Eternals are immortal beings that reside on Earth. Their purpose is to destroy Deviants, giant monsters that devour humans. The Eternals have eradicated the last of the Deviants and as a result the human population grows for thousands of years. That is, until a Deviant that exhibits powers not seen previously emerges in London...

Review (warning: spoilers)

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), beings known as Celestials existed before galaxies were born. Fully evolved, they are larger than the size of planets. Arishem (voiced by David Kaye) is known as the Prime Celestial, and in Marvel Comics, his purpose is to judge whether a planet’s civilisation should live or die. In MCU, Arishem is slightly different. He uses planets to plant Celestial seeds, the planet’s population provides energy into the seed and eventually gives birth to new Celestials. Arishem refers this as the ’emergence’. Unfortunately, the emergence results in the planet cracking like an egg and all life on that planet is destroyed.

The Eternals (super powered beings that do not age) were created by Arishem to destroy Deviants (creatures that hunt and destroy life). By eliminating the Deviants, it would allow that planet to produce intelligent life.

The ten Eternals that are sent to Earth are led by Ajak (Salma Hayek) and they arrive in 5000BC. We get to see the group use the full range of their abilities against the Deviants over time:

  • Ajak has the ability to heal
  • Thena (Angelina Jolie) can conjure shields and weapons out of cosmic energy and battles like a warrior supreme
  • Ikaris (Richard Madden) is the only eternal that can fly and shoots lasers out of his eyes;
  • Sersi (Gemma Chan) can manipulate the composition of materials (for example, change a rock to water)
  • Druig (Barry Keoghan) can take over the minds of masses of people
  • Gilgamesh (Don Lee) has superhuman strength and can create gauntlets out of cosmic energy
  • Sprite (Lia Mchugh) is an illusionist, her appearance is the youngest of the group looking like a pre-teen girl
  • Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) has superhuman speed
  • Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) can shoot cosmic energy projectiles from his hands
  • Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is an inventor/engineer.

Eventually, the Eternals believe to have eliminated the last of the Deviants, and Ajak allows them to go off to lead their own lives until such time as Arishem calls them to return home. Fast forward to present day (i.e. in terms of MCU timeline, we follow the Eternals post-Thanos and Avengers: Endgame) and we find out that Sersi and Sprite now live in London; Gilgamesh and Thena are in the Australian outback; Kingo in India; Druig in the Amazon; Iakris and Phastos in the United States and Makkari making her home in the spaceship they used to travel to Earth that is now buried in Iraq.

Sersi has gotten herself involved with a human named Dane Whitman (Kit Harington) and is at the point where she either needs to end the relationship or tell him the truth that she is an Eternal (cause he’s going to notice that as he gets older, she isn’t aging). When Sersi reveals her secret, Dane is not all that surprised given humanity has experienced alien invasions and sentient AI (Avengers: Age of Ultron), the vanishing of half of earth’s population (Avengers: Infinity War), Asgardian visitors in Thor and Loki, the revelation that magic does exist (Doctor Strange), the emergence of Wakanda and their superior tech (Black Panther), and the climatic war between Earth’s Avengers and Thanos and his army. Instead, Dane’s first question is why didn’t the Eternals help when Earth’s mightiest heroes faced off against Thanos?

Sersi’s answer is that their mission was to remove Deviants only and not to interfere in human affairs. This ends up being a minor point of contention for me because the Eternals do influence humanity’s evolution through the course of history. For example, Phastos the inventor/engineer Eternal creates technology that leads to the invention of the atomic bomb, and Druig halts the Spanish invasion on the Aztec Capital of Tenochtitlan by mind-controlling both sides. Regardless, Sersi’s answer is the only insight as to why we have not seen the Eternals previously.

The inciting incident comes when a Deviant charges into London with the express purpose of hunting Eternals. Not only does this Deviant go against its modus operandi of only killing humans by targeting Sersi and Sprite, it exhibits healing powers, which no Deviant has been capable of previously. Sersi and Sprite survive the attack with the help of Ikaris who flies in like superman without the cape.

What unfolds are several revelations that propel the story along. We discover Ajak and later Ikaris are the only Eternals that know the truth behind Arishem’s intentions (i.e. the Earth is a mere incubator for a new Celestial, and all life on the planet will be destroyed through the emergence). Ajak is found dead, killed by the Deviant who absorbed her healing powers but later we find out it was Ikaris who sent Ajak to her death. The reason for this is Ajak, having spent all this time with humans, now feels humanity should be allowed to live while Ikaris holds on to Arishem’s mandate. Ikaris doesn’t want Ajak to rally the others to try and stop the emergence, so he sends her plunging onto a frozen lake where awaits several Deviants.

The Eternals become split into two groups: those that believe humanity is worth saving (Sersi, Gilgamesh, Thena, Phastos, Druig and Makkari) versus those who hold to Arishem’s intention to birth a new Celestial (Ikaris and Sprite). Kingo opts out, he believes humanity is worth saving but that they can’t defeat Ikaris (who is basically superman without any kryptonite weakness).

The final battle between these two sides is epic. Makkari’s speed powers versus Ikaris was the absolute highlight for me.

But importantly, it’s not simply action that is worth the price of admission, it’s also the inner conflicts within each Eternal. While Ajak and Ikaris already know, the rest receive the revelation that they are mere copies of other Eternals, and their memories are wiped by Arishem when they are tasked to go to another planet to kill Deviants. The Deviants themselves were created by Arishem to exterminate apex predators on the planets they are sent to, but the Deviants evolve outside of Arishem’s control and start killing all life not just apex predators. The Deviants themselves are looking to survive the emergence by preventing population growth feeding into the Celestial egg.

I had to turn off my brain on this (another point of contention) because Arishem appears so powerful that he could easily wipe out the Deviants that he created in the first place. Instead, he creates Eternals to wipe out the Deviants, who themselves then rise against him. This reminded me of how humans try to introduce biocontrol to wipe out pests but end up replacing the pest with another pest. For example, in Australia, they introduced cane toads to wipe up cane beetles to prevent the beetles from destroying sugar cane crops. The toads did the job, but they are now the pests. But I digress.

Each of the Eternals struggle with their own lives and the revelations presented to them. Sersi (like Ajak) comes to love humanity, and she also falls in love with Ikaris. And while he loves her in return, it conflicts with his belief in Arishem’s mandate. Then we have an interesting relationship between Gilgamesh and Thena. Thena suffers from Mahd Wy’ry which causes mental instability and results in her attacking the other Eternals. It appears as a form of dementia but is actually Thena recalling memories of past missions that were meant to have been wiped by Arishem. Gilgamesh loves Thena and helps her through these periods. His death by the Deviant that killed Ajak puts Thena on a path of revenge. Sprite having the appearance of a young girl envies the lives of others who have the appearance of adults. She has an unrequited love for Ikaris but knows he will never look at her like he does Sersi because she presents like a young girl.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Phastos ends up in a relationship with a human man and they adopt a boy as their son. Kingo becomes a Bollywood star and has some of the funniest scenes. And Druig is the communal leader of a small tribe living in the Amazon (it is a bit cultish given he can mind control the people, but he mostly chooses not to because he knows by mind controlling them they lose their free will and thus are less human).

The finale opens up many other questions that will see the Eternals return to our screens in the future and tie in with new threads of the MCU. Though the emergence is prevented, Arishem takes Sersi, Phastos and Kingo away to examine their memories and judge whether Earth should be spared. Thena, Makkaris and Druig fly off in their spaceship to find other Eternals and tell them what they have experienced. Their ship gets an unexpected visitor in the form of Eros (Harry Styles) who is introduced as Thanos’s brother. And then there is Sersi’s human boyfriend, Dane, who has his own secret which is revealed post-credits involving a sword in a case with the inscription ‘death is my reward’. For Marvel fans, this is the first reveal of the Black Knight.

Great popcorn flick with plenty to digest.

8 out of 10

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