“We have watched and guided. We have helped them progress, and seen them accomplish wonders. Throughout the years, we have never interfered... until now.” - Ajak
There was a time of darkness. And it lasted for ten years.
Between the years 1976 and 1986, though it shames me to say it now, I succumbed to pressure from no doubt well-meaning parents to “grow up” and I quit reading comic books. (I kept my existing collection, I wasn’t stupid.) During that time, a lot of things happened in the fast-moving world of super heroics, a lot of new characters were introduced and developed. The industry had moved relentlessly onward before I got my head straight and returned to the fold.
(To clarify, what brought me back to reading comic books was the publication of The Dark Knight Returns in ’86. It was like giving crack to a junkie – I’ve never looked back since, and I realised how much happier I was indulging in my harmless pursuit.)
Since my return, I’ve gravitated in my reading, more to DC than Marvel, but then, on reflection, it was always that way. Possibly because the person who lured me to those spinning racks of “American comics” in the summer stores in the mid-sixties was Batman. But another reason, is that I find DC comics to be generally more accessible. Marvel’s comic book universe is so intertwined, I’ve found it difficult to find a suitable “jump-in” spot that doesn’t involve reading several dozen back issues of several titles to get the full story.
It was during this blackout time that Marvel introduced the Eternals, created by Jack Kirby. Now, again, I have to admit that although I like Kirby’s earlier work, I never cared much for his later stuff. (Blasphemy or even heresy in comic book circles) I tend to find his artwork post 1966 to be needlessly exaggerated, his writing overblown and pretentious. I didn’t even care much for his DC stuff back in the early seventies either. He kept trying to re-invent some Asgardian mythology he’d created for Marvel, with names changed for DC. I still think that of all his later work, the greatest and most enduring character is Darkseid. Of the earlier characters – take your pick, starting with Captain America in the forties.
So, quick history lesson done, this explains how I managed to come to Marvel Studios’ latest offering Eternals completely “cold”. But – this isn’t the first time. I had never read a single page of Guardians of the Galaxy before seeing the first film, I hadn’t read any of Captain Marvel since a couple of issues in the early seventies, when the good Captain was male and hadn’t died… But the difference was that somehow, I just wasn’t feeling this one. Normally, before a Marvel release, I’m anticipating and looking forward. But this one just didn’t capture my attention that well. The trailers didn’t sell the film to me in a way that made me want to drive down to the multiplex on opening day to see the first possible showing. And the word of mouth wasn’t good on opening weekend.
I get a little nervous when people babble on about how “inclusive” and “woke” films are. This doesn’t mean I don’t think that inclusivity is a bad thing. I don’t. What I think is inclusivity for the sake of inclusivity is pointless. If you’re pointing out to people that your cast is inclusive just to make the point that you’re being inclusive, and it’s not part of a storyline then surely, you’re not being inclusive – you’re pointing out the differences between the cast members. So, it’s kind of a reverse inclusivity. There’s a TV show that’s notorious for doing this in every episode I’ve seen, to the point that a show I’ve enjoyed is now a tedious box ticking exercise that I refuse to watch. I didn’t want to see Marvel Studios falter and fail, and I didn’t want them to stumble to that level “look at us, we’re inclusive at the cost of a decent story”.
Actually, given all that I’ve written so far, it’s nothing short of a miracle that I went to see the movie at all – but I did. And this is what I thought.
Marvel films are in a transition stage. The first three phases gave us onscreen epics, each episode feeding in to the next, while also for the most part, working as standalones in a cohesive universe of ongoing continuity. They started off strong, with their best-known characters. Characters that were well known to the mainstream public, people who haven’t spent most of their lives buried in comic books. Practically everyone knows who Spider-Man is, or Captain America, The Hulk, or Iron Man. (Okay, Iron Man wasn’t THAT big a deal before the first movie, but is now.) But now they’re established, and some of them have been killed off, Marvel are left with what can only be described as their second-tier heroes until they introduce the Fantastic Four and the X-Men. We saw proof of this when Black Panther was released and the mainstream public hailed it as the greatest film EVER. Finally, a black super hero. The FIRST black super hero (In the comics, yes. Films? Nope – that would be Blade). And the fact that there were people out there who literally…read that again, literally…thought Wakanda existed. Shang-Chi was one I didn’t think would work, because I saw him as a quick cash-in on the kung-fu craze following Bruce Lee’s death and the release of Enter the Dragon in the seventies.
Marvel is building something new. In the same universe that has lost Captain America and Iron Man, and is still reeling from “the blink” that eliminated half of all living beings and then saw them brought back, a few years later. Nothing is the same, and this new phase of films reflects this.
The Eternals have been here on Earth for a very long time – around 7000 years. They were sent here by The Celestials to defend us against the evil Deviants – and they did, wiped them out. Now, 7000 years later, they’re still here, practically immortal because they don’t age. They’ve helped shape civilisations throughout the millennia. But now, the Deviants appear to be rising again, and though the Eternals have gone their separate ways over the centuries, hiding the fact that they don’t age by never staying in one place too long, they must band together against the rising menace.
Like Shang-Chi before it, Eternals leans heavily into myth and legend, even explaining why they didn’t get involved when Thanos clicked his fingers – their mission is somewhat specific to the threat of deviants. It’s epic in scope, but I think its problem lies in our complete unfamiliarity with the characters presented here. We don’t have the same buy-in. Which is a shame, because the characters are pretty interesting. Kumail Nanjiani shines in every scene as Kingo, who blasts energy rays through his fingers when he’s not acting in Bollywood films. Gemma Chen is excellent in the role of Sersei, an empath who can transform matter via physical contact. Sprite (Lia McHugh) is an Eternal teenager and mischief maker, Ikaris is played by Richard Madden and can fly and shoot energy beams through his eyes – also bears a resemblance to Henry Cavill as Superman, which is noted in the film in (unusually) one of two direct references to DC comics characters. Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is their technical genius, Druig (Barry Keoghan) can manipulate people’s minds, the muscle is Gilgamesh (Don Lee) Mikkari (Lauren Ridloff) is deaf, but can move at super speed, Thena (Angelina Jolie) is an elite warrior who can form weapons out of energy, but is also mentally unstable, and their leader is Ajak (Salma Hayek) – a healer.
That’s a solid cast, and a diverse one. Mikkari is the Marvel Movie Universe’s first deaf hero, while Phastos is their first gay hero. We have characters who are black, white Asian, a mixed age group, and disabilities, both physical and mental. And here’s the important thing. NONE of this is pointed out. All these qualities are shown, but not highlighted. THIS is how diversity should work. Just people working together, effectively. Accepting each other as they are and getting on with the task at hand. I salute Marvel for this.
As I said at the beginning, there has been some bad word of mouth about the film. And I admit, it’s not perfect. And here’s my honest take on what doesn’t work. The cast is, as I said, solid. But there’s one thing that I’d change – Angelina Jolie is off the wall awesome as Thena, wildly unpredictable, both a savage warrior and coolly aloof. But Salma Hayek is no leader. She’s no goddess-type benevolent being. She’s woefully miscast, I think. Personally, I think a better fit for her would’ve been the fiery and tempestuous Thena (despite Jolie’s great portrayal) and I’d have cast Jolie as Ajak because she would’ve brought a gravitas that Hayek, bless her, just doesn’t have.
Another thing is the running time – the two and a half hours went by quickly, but for the opening film with a new set of unfamiliar heroes, it seems a tad overlong and bloated in places – but that could be down to either me not understanding a few bits here and there due to never having read the comics, or it actually being bloated and overlong due to it following Kirby’s original bloated comic book plots.
How would I rate it against other Marvel films? Well, it’s clearly not the best. It’s not their worst either. (I liked it a lot more than Dune, which I watched a couple of weeks ago and was completely bored by) I’d place it above Black Panther (some fantastic scenes, but a lot of padding) and Thor: The Dark World, and just below Captain Marvel (which I had to watch twice to fully understand). It’s not as instantly engaging as Shang-Chi. But I’ll happily watch it again and again on disc at home when the time comes, and I’m more than happy to watch a sequel (unlike Dune).
Oh, and before I go – there are TWO stings, the last is the more important one as it gives a hint of where the Marvel Universe is going. Yes, that’s ex-Jon Snow as Kit Hartington, Sersei’s human boyfriend who becomes a super hero called the Black Knight at some point in the future – but the off-screen voice who addresses him in the sting? You want to know?
You REALLY want to know?
Shall we reinstate the Spoiler Zone?
Welcome to the Spoiler Zone
You really, REALLY want to know?
Blade, voiced by Mahershala Ali who has been cast as the character in an upcoming Marvel Studios film.
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