While Eternals meets most of the expectations of a Marvel film, Zhao’s massive superhero epic is unlike anything else in the franchise’s history.

Eternals is the 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the third in Phase 4. It introduces an entirely new band of superheroes to the Marvel Studios universe. Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) directs the film, which is based on a narrative by the Firpos and is based on a script she co-wrote with Patrick Burleigh (Ant-Man and the Wasp), Ryan Firpo (Bet Raise Fold), and Kaz Firpo (Refuge). Eternals adapts the same-named Marvel Comics characters introduced by Jack Kirby in 1976, introducing the alien heroes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Eternals meets most of the expectations of a Marvel film, Zhao’s massive superhero epic is unlike anything else in the franchise’s history.

The film’s plot begins in 5000 BC, with the Eternals being dispatched to Earth to protect the planet and its inhabitants from the wicked aliens known as Deviants. The crew fights the Deviants until they’re nearly extinct over time, despite the fact that the Eternals are barred from becoming involved in any human dispute. The film picks up in the present day, after the squad has disbanded. Sersi (Gemma Chan) is dating human Dane Whitman and lives in London with Sprite (Lia McHugh) (Kit Harington). Ikaris (Richard Madden) arrives when Deviant attacks and the Eternals realise they need to rebuild their crew. The three of them fly around the world to see former teammates. Ajak (Salma Hayek), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Gilgamesh (Don Lee), Drug (Barry Keoghan), Phaistos (Brian Tyree Henry), and Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). Together, they must figure out why the Deviants are back and come up with a plan to protect the Earth.

Despite the large number of characters in Eternals, Zhao’s film does a fantastic job of tying their stories together and demonstrating how each hero is influenced by their time on Earth. However, by focussing much of the action around Sersi and Ikaris, a central thematic storyline is achieved. Even though their romantic relationship has ended by the time Eternals picks up in the current day, it serves as an emotional anchor for the film. With a montage — which includes a marriage scene followed by the MCU’s first sex scene — their romance is genuine and charming if rushed. Sersi and Ikaris’ relationship is being established, and Ikaris is doing most of the work. In the present-day storyline, their connection is far more convoluted, and the sorrow of their failed romance lends Eternals much of its heart, adding dimension to the story.

While Sersi and Ikaris are given a lot of screen time, Eternals also pays attention to the other characters. Sprite has her own tragic plot as she tries to fit into a world that perceives her as a kid, and McHugh brilliantly achieves the delicate balance required for such a character growth. In Eternals, Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo frequently serves as humorous relief, something the actor is well-suited for, however the third act seems to be at a loss for what to do with him. Thena and Gilgamesh have a profound bond that isn’t nearly as well-developed as Sersi and Ikaris’, but Jolie and Lee are a joy to watch. Even if their roles are a little more one-note, Keoghan, Henry, Ridloff, and Hayek are all given plenty to work with. Despite this, Druig, Phastos, Makkari, and Ajak have a surprising amount of complexity that is either openly given out for viewers or hinted at by the characters’ actions and interactions with the other Eternals. Overall, the film was tasked with the huge goal of introducing ten brand new characters to the MCU and sufficiently developing them such that moviegoers will root for them all – a feat Zhao masterfully accomplishes.

Despite the fact that Eternals is primarily a character drama, Zhao manages to incorporate most of the primary elements of a Marvel film, namely action and humour – for better or worse. The action in Eternals is mostly grounded in reality, thanks to Zhao’s decision to film the battle scenes in daylight and on location. The grey half-light and CGI backdrops are absent. With the exception of a few images of Ikaris flying and fighting deviants, this makes the film feel more immersive and the action more intense. In terms of comedy, Eternals has enough of it, owing to both Kingo and Sprite.

While much of the comedy, like most Marvel films, is enjoyable and engaging, there are occasions when a joke undercuts an essential emotional moment (though Eternals does this less than Thor: Ragnarok). Despite its best efforts to set itself different from past MCU films — and it mainly succeeds — Eternals is still very much a Marvel film. That may be comforting for fans of the Marvel formula, but it may be discouraging for those expecting for a really unique MCU picture.Finally, Eternals is a must-see for all Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, from casual to diehard. Eternals seems fresh because Zhao is able to deliver enough of a different Marvel movie experience (at least compared to past phases). With Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, and now Eternals, Phase 4 is proving to be one of Marvel’s most adventurous, delivering something fresh and never-before-seen to the MCU.

Finally, Eternals is a must-see for all Marvel Cinematic Universe fans, from casual to diehard. Eternals seems fresh because Zhao is able to deliver enough of a different Marvel movie experience (at least compared to past phases). With Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, and now Eternals, Phase 4 is proving to be one of Marvel’s most adventurous, delivering something fresh and never-before-seen to the MCU.This is thrilling in terms of individual watching experiences as well as the franchise as a whole. The 26th instalment of the franchise may pave the way for an exciting future for the MCU (though the post-credits scenes were not shown during this reviewer’s press screening), but Eternals is a thrilling, epic superhero adventure in and of itself, with a captivating emotional heart brought to life beautifully by Zhao’s direction. It’s a Marvel film unlike any other in the franchise’s history.

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