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The ‘Eternals’ Exit Survey

The latest entry in the MCU introduced a ton of new characters, tackled the very creation of the galaxy, and racked up some of the worst reviews in franchise history. Needless to say, there is a lot to talk about.

Disney/Ringer illustration

The early stages of the MCU’s Phase 4 was mostly devoted to looking back on the fallout from Phase 3. That was not the case for Eternals, a mega-blockbuster directed by an Oscar winner that starred some of Hollywood’s biggest names and introduced a host of new superheroes. But was the rapid push forward in the story a success, and what does it say for the future of Phase 4? Let’s talk it out ...

1. What is your tweet-length review of Eternals?

Arjuna Ramgopal: Marvel’s sample platter of a movie offers a lot of intriguing ideas and characters, but nothing gets enough development or time to truly shine.

Alison Herman: It’s a tough look to trot out a “weird” blockbuster with “cosmic scope” when Denis Villeneuve just showed us how it’s done.

Aric Jenkins: I did not at all expect this to be my main takeaway, but ... did Kumail Nanjiani save this movie?? Without his charm, I think I’d have had no choice but to spend the bulk of the movie stewing on some wildly frustrating storytelling choices.

Jomi Adeniran: Take 20 percent off there and you’ve probably got yourself a much better movie than the one we got.

Kate Halliwell:

Miles Surrey: [The Eternals defender has entered the chat.]

Joanna Robinson: This is a great pitch for an Eternals Disney+ show but it doesn’t work as a feature film.

2. What was the best moment of the film?

Robinson: Any Angelina fight scene.

Ramgopal: The definitely intentional nods to Game of Thrones.

Adeniran: Maybe the movie was boring or maybe I’m boring, but seeing Richard Madden and Kit Harington share even the smallest bit of screen time had me extremely excited.

Herman: For a movie in which not much is as weird or offbeat as it wants credit for being, they let Barry Keoghan be Barry Keoghan! That guy doesn’t have a bland bone in his body, and his “Colonel Kurtz + mind control” setup in the Amazon is authentically creepy. Druig feels as inhuman as an immortal alien is supposed to—which shouldn’t be unusual in a movie about immortal aliens, but oh well.

Jenkins: The flashbacks were hit or miss but I thought the visits to Babylon and Tenochtitlan provided some interesting commentary on the development of technology and the role of human conflict throughout history.

Surrey: It felt like Chloé Zhao was most in her element doing the check-ins with the Eternals over the course of human history, which allowed her to delve into the relationships between the heroes and how they evolved over time. When the movie wasn’t being weighed down by the MCU’s generic fight scenes and one-liners, Eternals worked for me as a character-driven story—one that, like Netflix’s The Old Guard, considered the emotional toll of living through the worst moments of humanity and whether we’re worth saving.

Halliwell: I liked when Ma Dong-Seok bitch-slapped an alien so hard it died. (Also he and Angie are our collective OTP now, right?)

3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?

Jenkins: We’re at the peak of the climax and Ikaris ultimately decides not to carry out his plan because of his love for Sersi … which the story spent about 90 seconds out of two and a half hours developing??

Surrey: The Deviant Kro, as voiced (incredibly, inaudibly?) by Bill Skarsgard, might be the most forgettable superhero villain since Justice League’s Steppenwolf.

Herman: You’d never guess this was shot by the reigning Best Director. Sunsets are pretty, but Eternals holds only a fraction more visual interest than the average Marvel movie; it’s as desaturated and computerized as we’ve come to expect, especially in the sequences that actually drive the plot. The Deviants felt especially half-hearted given the twists and Big Questions Eternals tries to pose. If your generic villain barely even matters to the endgame, why bother with all that CGI?

Robinson: The Sprite story line, which worked a lot better when it was called Interview With a Vampire.

Ramgopal: Sprite’s decision to go with Ikaris was poorly developed and just head-scratching; close second is Kingo sitting out the final battle.

Halliwell: Everything related to Sprite sucked. An annoying movie kid for the history books!

Adeniran: How did Sprite beat the case so easily??? Sersi, she LITERALLY STABBED YOU IN THE BACK. How was anyone OK with that? Ikaris felt so bad he flew into the sun and Sprite gets the one thing she’s always wanted??? Wild.

4. Eternals is the worst-reviewed Marvel movie ever, currently sitting at 48 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. So … what happened here?

Robinson: I can’t believe people think this is worse than Iron Man 2 or Thor: The Dark World. I have to wonder if it’s being graded on a curve because of (a) the expectation of extreme competence from any Marvel movie at this point, and (b) the high expectations placed on Zhao off her Oscar win.

Jenkins: Working through a scope of 7,000 years of human history was probably a tad too ambitious, but ultimately I just don’t think anyone really cared about these characters. It doesn’t matter if they’re relatively unknown to casual Marvel fans; the story did very little to make them three-dimensional besides their powers and surface-level traits. So we get to the end of the movie with all of the characters and, you know, the entire human population in danger of dying, and I couldn’t really muster much thought besides “Brian Tyree Henry’s fight scenes are pretty neat.”

Surrey: I’m genuinely surprised? It’s not flawless by any means, but Eternals is a lot more interesting than most MCU films simply because it doesn’t totally adhere to the usual formula. I’ll take a centuries-spanning epic about immortal space beings from an Oscar-winning filmmaker over Black Widow any day of the week.

Ramgopal: It’s by no means the worst MCU movie to date. But an overstuffed plot with too many characters and some half-baked ideas likely left many wondering what they had just watched. I appreciate the risks the creators took, but I do wish they had made a leaner movie. Sometimes less is more.

Herman: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a movie gets bad reviews because it’s overlong, overstuffed, visually incoherent, full of middling performances, and screened for an audience burned out on stakes so high they feel nonexistent.

Adeniran: Too much happened. There are 10 characters who need to be introduced and fleshed out, a millennia-spanning plot, the Celestials, and the numerous subplots working to connect the story back to the larger MCU. What you’re left with is a film that, while very ambitious, doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts.

Halliwell: You guys take these movies too seriously. Relax and enjoy the chaos!

5. Tag yourself as one of the Eternals.

Herman: I’m Makkari—sitting out the tedious setup to tap in for the final battle and a quick makeout with Barry K seems like the move.

Robinson: Thena—but only the mahd wy’ry (mad weary) version.

Ramgopal: Kingo. It was really cool to see a fellow South Asian as a superhero in a major Hollywood blockbuster film.

Surrey: Like Druig, I find most people annoying and would prefer to spend my days chilling out in nature. (I don’t agree with the whole “brainwashing a bunch of people to make a cult in the Amazon” thing, but I think that’s something he can work out through therapy.)

Jenkins: My guy Druig—aloof, rocks a leather jacket outstandingly well, and the only one who seemed to be asking any big questions about the Eternals’ relationship with humanity.

Adeniran: I’m Kingo because I’m also leaving when everyone wants to fight. The end of the world is upon us and you want me to throw hands?! Please.

Halliwell: It’s gotta be Gemma Chan as Sersi, merely because when she lost the sexier Stark bro she resigned herself to settling for the other one. Relatable!

6. It’s time: Review the first-ever sex scene in a Marvel movie.

Halliwell: I was honestly shocked—Marvel movies are so deeply sexless as a rule! But since this cast was so extremely hot, I’m glad they threw us a bone. (Pun extremely intended.)

Robinson: A very pretty scene between two ridiculously pretty people with no heat between them whatsoever.

Herman: Four and a half seconds of chest-up missionary is basically the MCU as a sex scene, so points for consistency!

Ramgopal: It was kind of awkward?

Adeniran: We didn’t need it! We could have gotten the gist of their connection without it, considering they had their first kiss and got married 900 years apart.

Surrey: There’s a major difference between a movie having a sex scene and a movie being sexy. Guess which one Eternals is.

Jenkins: Hard to get invested when the preceding scene was Ikaris simply being like “You’re beautiful.” Where’s the buildup?! Felt undeserved.

7. What is the biggest lingering question you have after seeing this movie?

Herman: Why would you hire people like Chloé Zhao or Angelina Jolie if you’re not gonna make the most of their talents?

Jenkins: Did Chloé Zhao make this movie to adhere to the Marvel formula or did Marvel want Chloé Zhao to make something different but she defaulted to the Marvel formula because she thought that’s what everyone wanted?

Surrey: What do Celestials do all day floating in the far reaches of space? Do they have hobbies? Is there a Celestials WhatsApp group chat? If the Celestials made the Eternals and the Deviants, who or what made them?

Ramgopal: What does Dane Whitman’s future for the MCU mean?

Adeniran: So uh, spoiler alert, but the voice at the end of the film talking to Dane Whitman was confirmed to be Mahershala Ali’s Blade. Is that a setup to the Midnight Sons? A new take on the Dark Avengers?

Halliwell: Is Gemma Chan just too unrealistically beautiful to play an actual human being?

Robinson: How could Marvel bungle a launch like this when they’re usually so good at the slow and steady?

8. Harry Styles is officially a part of the MCU. Your thoughts?

Halliwell: I have never felt more alive.

Herman: The audience at my screening reacted more enthusiastically to his cameo than any part of the two-and-a-half-hour movie that preceded it. Seems like a smart play!

Jenkins: If he brings that Dunkirk energy, I greatly look forward to it.

Ramgopal: I don’t mind it. He was good in Dunkirk. He can pull it off. I’m more intrigued about him potentially being an Eternal and Thanos’s brother, though.

Robinson: I’m very into this! He’s a charm bucket and could bring some much-needed lightness to this particular world.

Adeniran: Perfect casting. Eros is a space rockstar and nobody in this day and age comes closer to filling that role in their everyday life than Harry Styles.

Surrey: Give him the next Marvel sex scene.

9. There’s still plenty of Marvel content to come in 2021—Hawkeye, No Way Home—but after seeing Eternals, what is your current evaluation of Phase 4 of the MCU?

Robinson: Currently, Marvel may be better at TV than it is at film … currently.

Herman: When a “bad” opening weekend nearly doubles up on Dune, you’re doing just fine—or you’re a victim of your own success, narrative-wise. Creatively, I assume Marvel will take this as a sign to stop taking even minimal risks on non-commercial directors.

Ramgopal: It’s actually been pretty good. Shang-Chi and Loki were really good entries, and WandaVision and Black Widow introduced some important characters and story lines. Ultimately, though, the health of the phase will hinge on Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Adeniran: It’s time to preach patience. With the Infinity Saga, we knew exactly where the story was heading. We don’t have that luxury now. Maybe we’ll look back at this time as the stepping stone to something greater, but until then, listen to the words of the great scholar and NBA All-Star Joel Embiid: trust the process.

Jenkins: Even as someone suffering from the ailment of Marvel Fatigue, I think developing MCU TV shows was a neat idea (and pretty successful so far). The tried-and-true movie formula has worn a bit thin and the small screen opens up some exciting new avenues for the franchise—less emphasis on blockbuster CGI battles and more on character development. That said, I can’t wait for Spider-Man to return to the movies in December.

Surrey: The pandemic has made it hard to tell if there’s waning interest in the MCU, but at the very least, it does feel like Marvel has embraced a quantity over quality approach with Phase 4. While I liked Eternals and Loki, it’s mostly been downhill since WandaVision (unless Venom: Let There Be Carnage counts as part of the MCU, in which case it’s responsible for the pinnacle of cinema).

Halliwell: Apologies to Jeremy Renner, but can we fast-forward a bit? Bring on Blade!