Eternals (3 stars)

Eternals

Chloé Zhao brings her indie filmmaking chops to the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Oscar-winning, history-making director of Nomadland, Chloé Zhao, adds a touch of class to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in this glowing, ambitious, occasionally funny, sometimes exciting but mostly desperately sincere introduction to the titular immortals that's tied to the director's oeuvre by its hopefulness and love for humanity. Those expecting something on par with her previous film will no doubt be disappointed, but Zhao turns her hand to big budget filmmaking with relative ease.

Alien superbeings (the Eternals) have for thousands of years been Earth's protectors. After ridding our planet of their arch-enemies (the Deviants) many moons ago, the team eventually went their separate ways and have continued to live secretly amongst humans. When the Deviants re-emerge, the film adopts the familiar getting-the-gang-back-together shtick so beloved of ensemble actioners, with Gemma Chan's Sersi, Lia McHugh's childlike Sprite and Richard Madden's Ikaris seeking out their leader Ajak (Salma Hayek), Angelina Jolie's mentally fragile swordswoman Thena, Kumail Nanjiani's Kingo, who has reinvented himself as a Bollywood star, and Brian Tyree Henry's innovator Phastos, amongst others.

It's one hell of a challenge introducing a whole superhero team and the associated mythology in a single film, even one that lasts over two-and-a-half-hours, but Zhao and her co-screenwriters (Patrick Burleigh, Ryan and Kaz Firpo) have an admirable crack at keeping the explanations coherent while ensuring things remain enjoyable. Despite Zhao shooting more on location than is the Marvel norm, CGI does sometimes overwhelm her latest and the Deviants aren't exactly unforgettably designed adversaries. However, there are twists and turns and the film pulls off the dysfunctional family feel in its likeable bickering and inevitable betrayals, and the diversity of the ensemble is appealing, with one character revealed to be a gay and deaf superhero (Lauren Ridloff's Makkari) part of the throng.

There's plenty to connect Eternals to the MCU's overarching narrative, both what we've seen already and going forward, while the cast do what they can with necessarily limited screentime, and exploring their range of superpowers has its moments. It's great seeing Jolie back in full-on fighting mode, Chan brings poise and sensitivity to her leading role and her gentleness makes a welcome contrast to the bombast elsewhere, Madden reminds us of his chops as an action man (and is increasingly looking a likely bet for the next Bond), the often-excellent Barry Keoghan gives us a touch of darkness as mind-controller Druig, and Nanjiani's Kingo and his right-hand human Karun (the hilarious Harish Patel, perhaps best known from Corrie) bring the fun as the pair attempt to capture the Eternals' heroics on film. More flesh is needed on all of the characters' bones, but this is just the beginning. We hope.

Available to watch in cinemas from Friday 5 November.

Eternals

  • 3 stars
  • 2021
  • US
  • 2h 37min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Chloé Zhao
  • Cast: Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Dong-seok Ma, Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff
  • UK release: 5 November 2021

Another team of superhumans from the pages of Marvel comic books.