MERZLAK: Movie Reviews
Editor’s Note: Film reviews by Thomas Merzlak and Ayan Guha will appear alternatively each month in The News journal.
One of the most common criticisms of the Marvel superhero films is that, by virtue of their interconnectedness, they feel less like movies and more like episodes of a TV show.
It’s certainly a valid point. Avengers: Endgame is less a film telling a contained story than it is an extended season finale. Not until the recently released Eternals, however, has one of these films felt so much like it should have been a television series.
Directed by Chloé Zhao, who won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Director last year with Nomadland, Eternals is simply too much for one movie. Too many characters, too much plot, and too many new concepts. Yes, there’s a certain thrill that results from this, at least at first, as the moviegoer is constantly presented with new settings, characters, plot developments, and locations, but after a while it becomes truly exhausting.
So much of Eternals exists only to set up new storylines and characters for future movies. Kit Harington, who played Jon Snow on Game of Thrones, appears for a total of 10 minutes, exclusively to establish the possibility of a Black Knight movie. It feels like a particularly expository season of television condensed into two hours and 40 minutes. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if the story, the characters, or the set pieces were interesting, but they’re mostly quite dull.
Richard Madden, another Game of Thrones alum, is completely wooden, which is not a characteristic you want. Madden has absolutely zero chemistry with Gemma Chan’s Sersi, the film’s main character and Ikaris’ romantic interest. Chan is more charismatic than Madden, but still nowhere near capable of supporting an epic film by herself.
Lia McHugh rounds out the lead cast, turning in an insufferable performance as Sprite.
Thankfully, the pain of Madden and McHugh’s lack of screen presence is alleviated somewhat by a collection of supporting performances that range from capable, as in the case of Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, and Brian Tyree Henry, to genuinely excellent. Lauren Ridloff (The Walking Dead) is effectively charming as Makkari, the first deaf Marvel hero on screen, and Barry Keoghan (American Animals, Dunkirk) cements his place as one of the best character actors of his generation with his understated performance as Druig. It’s a shame, then, that those two are relegated to the backseat for the majority of the film, leaving Chan and Madden to stumble their way through the elaborate machinations of the plot.
The plot itself is engaging, at least, and the first half is full of interesting set-up. The back half of the film never quite sticks the landing, instead opting for convoluted and sometimes bizarre resolutions to underdeveloped conflicts.
Eternals, rated PG-13, is a technically competent film, and one that raises several interesting ideas, but it fails to follow through on them. It’s a deeply frustrating experience, even if its ambition is commendable.
Thomas’ Rating: 7 out of 10.
Eternals is presently showing at the Regal Swamp Fox Cinemas.
Thomas Merzlak is a junior at Wilson High School. An International Baccalaureate student, his work has appeared in the Shared Worlds creative writing anthology. Opinions expressed in this review are those of the columnist and not of The News Journal or its staff.