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Eternals feels eternally long and mostly unnecessary 

Co-writer/director Chloé Zhao (The Rider, Nomadland) helms this fantasy adventure about a group of immortal beings sent to Earth 7,000 years ago to quietly oversee humanity. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019), the Eternals emerge from the shadows to unite against humanity's most ancient enemy, The Deviants. (157 min.)

click to enlarge SUPER? In Eternals, screening at most local theaters, 10 immortal beings—including (left to right) Sprite (Lia McHugh), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), and Thena (Angelina Jolie)—protect Earthlings from horrible monsters, unaware they're all part of a bigger plan that may mean the end of the planet. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MARVEL STUDIOS AND TSG ENTERTAINMENT
  • Photo Courtesy Of Marvel Studios And Tsg Entertainment
  • SUPER? In Eternals, screening at most local theaters, 10 immortal beings—including (left to right) Sprite (Lia McHugh), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), and Thena (Angelina Jolie)—protect Earthlings from horrible monsters, unaware they're all part of a bigger plan that may mean the end of the planet.
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Glen I think some days I'm more open to suspending my disbelief than others, so maybe when we saw Eternals I simply wasn't in the mood for the level of utter nonsense and hooey served up by this new installation if the Marvel Universe. The backstory, which comes at us Star Wars style in the beginning ("A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ... ") is about some robot-looking god called Arishem who sends 10 "eternals" to Earth to protect humanity against Deviants—trippy-looking monsters that eat humans whole. In a flashback, we see the Eternals saving humans in various time periods dating from 5000 B.C. until the Deviants are finally wiped out and the Eternals sort of just hang out on Earth trying to blend in. Then in the present, Deviants suddenly return (Spoiler! Global warming has freed them from the polar ice caps!), and now the Eternals "have to get the band back together," so to speak, except there's some rancor among their ranks, but nothing some more flashbacks can't explain over the course of this overly long, bloated film. Look, I didn't hate it. There were some great moments, even some emotionally effective ones, but honestly, I thought I was going to get something different. After all, Zhao is a masterful director who's great at using real communities of non-actors to tell deeply moving stories. Apparently, with real actors and a big budget and (no doubt) producers and studios micromanaging the outcome, Zhao's gifts have been rendered moot. Eternals is a middling Marvel film.

Anna Eternals was definitely an ambitious undertaking, but I'd much rather watch Zhao's other films. This is long and complicated, and while I was able to follow the twisting story, I didn't have a whole lot of desire to do so. Granted, I'm not usually super excited about these mega superhero Marvel movies that choose big names and special effects over storyline 95 percent of the time. Luckily, with Eternals there are some funny bits, and the cast has some standouts, so it isn't a total lost cause. Gemma Chan as Sersi is an emotionally poignant touchstone; her past relationship with Ikaris (Richard Madden) plays a big part in the storyline. Sprite (Lia McHugh) is an eternal child, a fact that tortures her as she can never grow up, fall in love, or have a family. Her devotion to Ikaris gives her a huge blind spot to any failings the flying hero may have. Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok) is devoted wholly to Thena (Angelina Jolie), who's suffering from eternal madness and must be kept away from the world. There are interesting characters with interesting problems here, but it's just so big and complicated that all nuance gets lost. It's working to be an epic follow-up to Avengers: Endgame, but it just didn't do it for me.

Glen I did enjoy Kumail Nanjiana as Kingo, who decides to spend his Earth time as a Bollywood star and director until he's called back into action. He's definitely the most fun Eternal. I normally enjoy Barry Keoghan, who stars as Druig, but his characterization is so uneven here. Druig's super power is mind control, and he essentially creates his own cult. Some of these superheroes are downright unlikable. And "immortals?" Not really! Turns out the Eternals are all too killable. The film's certainly trying to be "woke." In addition to acknowledging global climate change, Eternals presents an offhand gay relationship—two fathers raising a young boy—that laudably normalizes same-sex parenthood. And how about that united colors of Benetton cast? All that's stuff's great, but it doesn't save the film for me. Regardless of what I think, it's been well attended with high audience scores (81 percent on rottentomatoes.com). Maybe I have superhero fatigue. I'm ready for some grown-up stories that actually make sense and explore real emotions, not this synthetic paint-by-numbers pabulum.

Anna Oh yes, Kumail is a very funny dude and was a great addition, probably my favorite part of the movie overall. He brings along his assistant Karun (Harish Patel) to film documentary-style the team's adventures. It's a pretty funny bit, and those occasional flashes of fun and humor offer a little redemption for the overblown, big-budget nonsense going on otherwise. We went to the theater for a Friday matinee and the place was busy, so if that's any indication, this film is doing well with or without our yes vote. This is definitely the time of year we start seeing these big Hollywood hits come out and gear up for the holidays. I guess I can consider this film a warm-up. Not surprisingly, where this film lacks support from critics, audiences are mostly into it. That probably means people are generally having a lot more fun watching it than I did, and hey, that's great! Lucky for me there was enough there in the way of humor and character connection that I didn't walk out hating it; I just didn't love it either. Δ

Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Split Screen. Glen compiles streaming listings. Comment at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

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