Do not trust Rotten Tomatoes. That is what I learned after watching Eternals. People predicted this movie would flop. Homophobic users review-bombed the movie prior to even watching it. And when the critic scores finally came out, expectations were at an all-time low. As of writing this, Eternals has a 48% rating from critics. But I thought Eternals was fantastic. It is not boring or dull or lacking in action. It’s an amazing character-focused Marvel movie with positive diverse representation. The audience score on RT seems to agree with me, currently at a solid 81% rating.
Why did the critics rate Eternals so poorly? Brie Larson, our Captain Marvel, may have predicted this in her powerful speech at the Crystal + Lucy Awards in 2018 where she pointed out how most movie critics are white men. So, movies about underrepresented groups are more likely to get worse reviews because the critics are not their target audience. She called for more diversity and inclusion among movie critics. I suspect that may partially explain why Eternals received such poor reviews from critics. It also may have received bad reviews because it isn’t a “typical Marvel blockbuster”. Eternals has action and a compelling plot, but where it truly shines are its characters. Spoilers ahead.
Each character in this film has a clearly defined power set and personality. Despite the large cast, they’re all easy to follow. However, also because of the large cast, we don’t get to delve as deeply into each character as we should. Yet, each character is still likable and compelling. I would love for some of the Eternals to have their own Disney+ shows. This film also does a great job of exploring the relationships between them. They have what the Avengers always wanted: a family dynamic.
Ikaris is one of the most compelling characters in the movie. The writing for this character is one of the best. Richard Madden gives a stoic portrayal of a soldier while also making him a sympathetic character through his love for his family, particularly Sersi. Ikaris is such an interesting character because of the binary of his personality. He’s a great villain because he’s a loyal soldier, a cold-hearted killer, a man on a mission. Ikaris best exemplifies what the Eternals were created to be: robotic soldiers incapable of change. Yet, Ikaris is still likable because he’s human in many ways: he grieves over Ajak because she was like a mother to him, and he is ultimately unable to complete the Emergence because of his undying love for Sersi.
Ikaris and Sersi’s love is the heart of this story. So, it’s a bit disappointing when the chemistry between Richard Madden and Gemma Chan isn’t there. Unfortunately, they suffer from what I dub the “boring straight lead romance” syndrome, in which their relationship is not well developed and doesn’t justify all of the drama surrounding it. They’re only together because they’re supposed to be. The pair don’t have the romantic or sexual chemistry required to make it seem like they were in love for centuries. The only ways their relationship is conveyed is via short flashbacks, discussion from other characters, or yearning looks from Ikaris. Ikaris spends most of the movie staring intensely at Sersi, making me wonder how Madden was directed. While he makes a compelling antihero, he does not work as well as a romantic lead in this film. I found this strange because if you’ve seen Cinderella (2015), you know Madden can make for a very hot romantic lead (even without a sex scene).
On that note, I have to address the sex scene. It’s under a minute and feels awkward. Like most other parts of their relationship, the scene feels very sudden—it happens right after Ikaris declares his love for Sersi. They immediately get down and dirty in the sand dunes. All I have to say about that is: Anakin Skywalker would not approve.
Meanwhile, Gemma Chan as Sersi is lovely as always. It’s especially exciting that an Asian woman is leading this film. But she also isn’t given as much to do. As the female lead, she gets the short end of the stick when it comes to development. While Ikaris is dealing with betrayal, regret, etc., Sersi is caught in a love triangle and her main obstacle to her own success is her insecurity. Sersi is chosen by Ajak to be the next leader, but she never quite gets there. Her teammates never treat her with the same respect and admiration they did Ajak or they do toward Ikaris. Sersi is clearly insecure about her powers and ability as a leader. It’s unfortunate because her powers are arguably the coolest out of the team’s, but she doesn’t use them very often. I would have enjoyed seeing her use her abilities more in battle, but she’s a passive player in the film. Instead of making choices that move the story forward, Sersi is pulled along by the plot, following where Ikaris or the others tell her to go.
Sersi also has a passive role in her relationship with Ikaris. When it comes to their romance, it always feels very one-sided. We see why Ikaris fell in love with Sersi but we are given no reason for why Sersi loves Ikaris. He declares his love for her and she hesitates before accepting it. Then they’re just together. What made her fall for him? I would still love to see more of Sersi because I feel she has so much potential, shown best when she uses the Uni-Mind to kill the growing Celestial. That’s insane power! What will she do next? I hope she escapes Arishem.
By the end of this film, Druig was one of my favorites. Barry Keoghan is one of the few cast members who’s not extremely famous, but he holds his own alongside the likes of Madden and Jolie. Druig is extremely powerful; he has the ability to control the minds of everyone on Earth. He’s a loner and enjoys antagonizing his fellow teammates. With that personality and power set, you’d think he’d be a villain. However, Druig is one of the most peaceful of the Eternals, choosing to use his powers for “good”—defined by Druig as making a secret cult in the middle of the Amazon. His choices are still admirable, though. Druig chooses to retreat from the Eternals when they won’t let him use his abilities to stop all human violence. He uses his powers to protect his group from the outside world. He has a bit of a god complex, but hey, one of the Eternals was bound to have one.
What has made Druig a fan-favorite is his relationship with Makkari. A surprise pairing (even to the director), the two have the instant chemistry that the leads lack. At times, their relationship outshines the main one. Druig has a soft spot for Makkari and the pair share a mischievous streak. Druig instantly melted the heart of this viewer along with countless others as soon as he said, “My beautiful, beautiful Makkari.”
Makkari is the speedster of the group. Lauren Ridloff is an absolute treat in this role. She’s fun and mischievous. Her smile is infectious. The visuals done for her powers are amazing, too. Makkari feels like a unique speedster. While sequences for previous speedsters like the Flash and Quicksilver have shown their action in slow motion, Makkari’s action is shown in normal motion, showcasing how fast she is. She runs circles around the planet in minutes. Her speed is also used very creatively and effectively, like when she uses sonic booms to knock opponents away and lays a million blows on Ikaris from all angles. Makkari is my new favorite speedster.
Makkari also breaks many boundaries for representation. Ridloff is a Black, Mexican, deaf woman. She is an amazing example of intersectionality and I’m so glad she’s in this movie! Ridloff is making history as the first deaf superhero in the MCU. Her deafness is never a defining aspect of her character, nor is it a burden or something that eventually gets fixed. It’s simply a normal part of who she is, as it is in real life. Moreover, she is a deaf woman of color. While deaf representation has been getting more attention in Hollywood recently, deaf POC are extremely difficult to find onscreen. Now we’re seeing that represented in one of the most popular movie franchises!
Another boundary-breaking character is Phastos. Brian Tyree Henry plays the inventor who seemingly loses faith in humanity after the Hiroshima bombing. However, he finds hope in humanity again through love. Phastos is the first gay hero in the MCU. Not only that, but he has a husband and child. Even more exciting, Phastos is a Black man. Black gay men are another severely underrepresented group in Hollywood. It often seems like the only people who can be gay are white men and a very specific type of white man: they are usually either very feminine-presenting, out and proud, or straight-adjacent. Phastos fits into none of those categories. What’s more, the film features a passionate kiss between Phastos and his husband (Haaz Sleiman). Unlike previous gay moments in Disney films, this kiss is between the only two characters in the shot, in the forefront, and the kiss isn’t a peck but a deep kiss that you’d expect to see from spouses when one is about to go off and save the world. Phastos isn’t perfect representation. He doesn’t get much development and we don’t see much of him until the final act, but he’s very positive representation for any gay viewers. This is also a great opportunity show a good example of a family with gay parents. Now, if only Arishem would return Phastos home, please!
Kingo is another gem in this movie. Kumail Nanjiani brings his great humor to this role, imbuing almost all of Kingo’s lines with his hilarious wit. Whenever he’s around, the energy of the characters seems to rise. He steals every scene he’s in, from his entrance to his exit. The Bollywood dance scene is a spectacle and Nanjiani’s egotistical facial expressions are the cherry on top. The inclusion of Bollywood as an ode to Kingo’s Desi heritage was wonderful. I wish we could have seen more of the Eternals connect with their cultures like that, but this film is already so packed with other elements.
My only gripe with Kingo is: why did he disappear from the final act? He jets off after Ikaris declares his intentions and doesn’t show up again until the last moments to bring Sprite to wherever she’s going. He was the only living Eternal not present in the final battle; what was the reason? His absence was felt.
Thena is the gorgeous, badass, and vulnerable goddess of war. Angelina Jolie is stunning in this role. She gets quite a compelling storyline, suffering from a mental illness called Mahd Wy’ry (basically an Eternal version of dementia). Jolie does a wonderful job with what little screentime she has to give a nuanced performance of a former gloried warrior now suffering from dementia and insecurity. Thena is understandably worried about her strength—something that’s always defined her—now that she has a debilitating mental illness. But it doesn’t matter how great she is in battle; it just matters that she’s still here. The Eternals’ reaction to Thena’s struggle with Mahd Wy’ry is a veiled metaphor for destigmatizing mental illness. After her first “episode,” the first thing Ajak does is tell her that she is loved and that she will always be “Our Thena.” That assurance from loved ones is so important for many suffering from mental illness to hear. I love the way the Eternals handle Thena’s illness. They never treat her as a burden afterward and do their best to take care of her.
That leads me to Gilgamesh, played by Don Lee. He’s a gentle giant and a strong fighter. He gives off great himbo energy. Don Lee’s character is surprisingly funny, and he hits all of the right notes with his performance. It’s sad he’s killed off in the movie, but it makes for an interesting revenge arc with Thena. Gilgamesh’s unconditional love for Thena is another beautiful example of destigmatizing mental illness and of the movie’s success at depicting relationships. Thena and Gilgamesh’s relationship is never outright defined as romantic or anything more than friendship. I liked this because it allowed us to focus on them as partners: in battle against the Deviants and in battle against Mahd Wy’ry. And they make a wonderful pair.
Ajak is the leader of the Eternals—a mother figure. Her short screentime is used to establish her influence over the others. It’s clear from the start that all of the Eternals respect her opinion and admire her. So, her absence is felt throughout the rest of the movie as the Eternals struggle to remain the functional, tight-knit family they once were under her leadership. Salma Hayek is the first Hispanic superhero in the MCU. Seeing a Hispanic woman as a leader (and a functional one) is something I can’t recall ever seeing in film before, which makes her role all the more important. I wish we could have seen more of her, but she dies early on in the film. Her death sets the stakes for the film, signaling Chloe Zhao is unafraid to kill off main characters, unlike most other MCU movies.
Sprite is the only “child” of the group, played by Lia McHugh. Though her character is rather unlikable by the end, I found McHugh’s performance to be very strong. All Sprite wants is to grow up after she watches Sersi and the others gain things she never could: a spouse, a family, etc. Sprite is trapped in the body of the child, but one thing I questioned was whether she had the mind of one. Sprite is portrayed as a trickster, impulsive, and childlike. Only once does she ever refer to a grown human man as “young man.” I would have liked to see more of that. It isn’t clear if she has a mature mind like the others. She seems younger internally, particularly in her teenage angst over her unrequited love for Ikaris. Her love for him came out of left field. None of the Eternals were aware of it until it was directly stated, and neither was I. I immediately got worried about the age gap, about all the things that could go wrong with this storyline, but luckily nothing ever steps into the uncomfortable zone. Sprite loves Ikaris but never tells him and never truly shows it in her behavior around him. Her romantic interest always looks like friendship, which is probably why I didn’t catch onto it.
Now, for the post credit scenes. These were some of the craziest we’ve seen in a long time. These got me really excited for the future of the MCU. They manage to introduce four new characters: Eros/Starfox, Pip the troll, the Black Knight, and Blade. I couldn’t believe they did so much. Harry Styles is now in the MCU. I don’t need to tell you how insane that is. I only wonder what they’ll do with him next. Also, Dane Whitman opens up the box containing the Ebony Blade. But as he’s about to touch it, Mahershala Ali’s voice is heard from beyond the frame questioning if he’s sure he’s ready for it. I was most shocked by this offscreen debut. How did Blade find Dane? What will he do next? I’m not sure, but I’m so excited for the next chapter of the MCU.
Eternals is now exclusively in theaters.