Back to the movies: The Eternals

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I took a nice, relaxing long weekend at Keuka Lake.  We had some nice meals; went to the Glenn Curtis museum, which I'd never visited before; and we tasted some very nice wines, particularly the Cabernet Frank from Domaine LeSeurre and several of the wines at Dr. Konstantin Frank.  We even did something we haven't done in the almost two years since the pandemic started - we went to a movie!  It was a late afternoon show and there were only a couple of other people in the theater, so it was pretty nice.

The only down side was that the movie we saw was Marvel's Eternals.  Spoiler alert: it wasn't very good.  (But seriously, there are a couple of spoilers.)

Honestly, I didn't have high hopes going into this movie.  I saw the last two Avengers films and, frankly, after those I'm kind of done with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It's not that those particular movies were bad, it's just that I'm tired of the whole concept.  There's too many characters, too many movies, too many attempts to tie them together.  The movies aren't that good and I just don't care enough to even try to keep up with them.  And I went into this film knowing basically nothing about The Eternals other than being vaguely aware that it was the title of a comic book in the Marvel Universe.

On the up side, the special effects were very good.  I mean, for the most part.  (But for the kind of budget Marvel movies get, they damned well better be.)  And I guess some of the action scenes were entertaining.  Unfortunately, that's about it.

I had a number of problems with this film.  One of the overriding issues is probably that they actually try to develop all of the Eternals as characters, at least to some extent.  Normally, this would be a good thing.  But there are like ten Eternals and this is only a two and a half hour film.  There just isn't time to develop that many characters to a significant extent and it didn't really work.  They gave most of the characters a little development, but it wasn't enough to make me actually care about them.  So all it really did was drag out the movie and slow down the pace.

The two characters that they did put more effort into were the leads, Sersi and Ikaris.  This was also a problem, because they didn't do a good job.  These characters were supposed to have had a very long-term romantic relationship in the past, which was shown in a number of flashbacks.  However, the actors had absolutely no chemistry at all.  I mean, to me it not only didn't look like they were in love, I wasn't even convinced that they liked each other all that much.  The end result was that the relationship angle didn't land at all and the scenes that were trying to develop it were just tedious and unengaging.  The only silver lining was that the leads were so boring and unlikable that they made the other characters more relatable.

Not that most of those were much better.  The actors didn't necessarily do a bad job, but they didn't have much to work with.  And I'm a little mystified by the casting.  I mean, aren't Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie kind of big names to be taking what amounted to bit parts?  Are their careers in the toilet or something and I just didn't know it?  It's not like they got no screen time, but they were definitely not focal characters.  Most of the focus was on Gemma Chan and Richard Madden, who are not unknowns, but are decidedly "small" names by comparison (as were most of the other Eternals).  And it's not like this was a compelling artistic choice, like Milos Foreman casting a relatively unknown Tom Hulce as Mozart in Amadeus.  Chan and Madden weren't a phenomenal combination, they didn't have amazing chemistry - they were "fine" at best.  It just seems really odd to have such big names in the film if you're not going to use them.

But, of course, my main issue was with the writing.  Inspired by this movie, I'd like to propose a new law: Screenwriters are hereby prohibited from writing characters who are supposed to be significantly older than the average human life span.  

Seriously, the Eternals are supposed to be 7000 years old.  They've been around humans that entire time.  They were supposed to have disbanded as a team and assimilated into the human population something like 500 years ago.  And yet their actions and motivations are portrayed as the kind of thing you'd see from a teenager or twenty-something.  It's absurd.  I know they're technically not supposed to be human, but they're certainly portrayed that way.  Yet we're supposed to believe that they haven't matured or developed a wider perspective in 7000 years?  Come on!  I know everybody has issues, but I kind of feel like a few centuries should be more than enough time to deal with them.  But maybe my expectations are a little high.  

The one I found especially galling was Ajak's change of heart.  She actually remembered all of planets that she'd helped Arishem destroy to hatch new celestials, but when she saw the Avengers undo Thanos' "snap", she decided that this planet was different, that the people on this world deserved to live.  But what about all those other worlds she helped destroy?  Were they just populated by no-account NPCs who didn't deserve to live?  What about the dynamism added to the universe by the rise of new celestials and their continued creation of innumerable new worlds and galaxies?  Does she just not think that's important anymore?  Does creating a handful of super heroes really make Earth so much more special than all the others?  So nothing she saw in the previous 7000 years convinced her that humanity was worth saving, but the Avengers completely changed everything?  To put it generously, the moral calculus of that analysis seems a little sketchy.  You'd think someone who's been around that long would have put some more thought into ethics.

Sorry, but this whole thing is just stupid.  And that's my main problem at the end of the day: the plot was just stupid.  They spent too much time trying to the develop the characters and didn't leave enough time to make the plot actually make sense.  If they'd been successful in making a compelling, character driven story, then maybe it could have been OK.  But they weren't.  The dialog was clumsy and the characters were one-dimensional, with the result that I couldn't maintain enough suspension of disbelief to overlook the plot holes and simplistic characterization.  This is why I stopped caring about the MCU.

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