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The Marvel Cinematic Universe filmography is arguably the most popular in the industry today. Whereas the previous decade had the Western, we now have actors in spandex fighting CGI monsters. Audiences came out in droves since “Iron Man” was released in 2008 and felt a sense of completion when “Avengers: Endgame” occurred in 2019. After that film, it did leave fans (like myself) scratching their heads and asking “what’s next?” Enter the Academy Award-winning director Chloé Zhao’s latest MCU effort, “Eternals,” continuing the saga. The Eternals follows a race of immortal alien beings, including Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani and Salma Hayek (to name a few), who’ve helped shape earth through centuries. Scattered across the globe for centuries, the team is forced to come together when the threat of the deviants returns.

From that description, you might be prone to expecting your typical Marvel blockbuster adventure. If you’re familiar with the work of Zhao, or not, please know that isn’t the case in the slightest. We’re certainly treated to the typical action and banter we’ve come to expect, but also given some big ideas to chew on. The formula that built this mega-franchise attempts to create the first faith-based superhero film. Besides just a classic good versus evil story, these new heroes are forced to find their true purpose. That’s not to say they don’t have foes to go against, but that isn’t the main point of this story. To get to these heavy topics, we’re still given pieces of the formula we’ve come to know.

A massive highlight in this latest MCU effort would be the talented cast. Besides the “big names,” we are treated to some of the best up-and-coming actors working today. Instead of focusing on the massive stars like Jolie or Hayek, we’re wisely given time to get to know some of the lesser-known characters/talents. Actors like Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Barry Keoghan and newcomer Lia McHugh are given space to craft very memorable characters. Yes, they are all playing certain archetypes, but their performance is incredibly engaging. Each character leaves enough of an impression that left me eager to see where they end up in the future.

Our remaining Eternals include Richard Madden as Ikaris, whose one true love is the fellow Eternal Cersi (Gemma Chen). In a small “Game of Thrones” reunion, Madden and Kit Harrington (mortal Dane Whitman) bid for Cersi’s affection. Between these two relationships, the definitively more compelling is Harrington and Chen. Their relationship feels much more genuine, whereas she and Madden just don’t have the chemistry. Without spoiling who Harrington’s character winds up being in the comics, I will say the possibilities are exciting. We’re treated to many possibilities throughout the almost 3 hour runtime, which is the film’s biggest blessing and curse.

The story’s ambition is very admirable for those (like myself) who were starting to be hit with superhero fatigue. It’s quite easy to tell where the more divisive and negative reaction from the press is coming from. These more complex themes of mortality and faith are a lot for a superhero film to try and discuss. Some moments and discussions are admittedly riveting, but others are quite heavy-handed. When characters are forced to convey their thoughts through speeches essentially, it’s cringe-inducing, especially in the film’s third act, where a lot of the action takes center stage. I found these moments to be incredibly frustrating when earlier moments aim for more subtlety.

Having seen the film twice now (including IMAX), these early moments of debate and beautiful imagery are spellbinding. It’s just incredibly difficult to wonder where Chloé Zhao’s creative control ended, and the Marvel formula put her in a corner. My biggest hope would have to be that Marvel learns from their slight missteps. Their exploration of broad ideas is fascinating when given a chance to breathe. Even at nearly three hours , you get the feeling Marvel is scared to break away from what made them popular. It’s frustrating, particularly when certain characters aren’t used in ways that could’ve been more exciting. Regardless, the future of this universe seems ready to subvert the audience’s expectations in the future.

Rating: 8/10

Watch The Trailer Here:

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