Eternals is an absolutely gorgeous and technically masterful film, which makes that fact that I found it completely vapid, clumsy, and lifeless all the more heartbreaking.
Warning: this film did not land for me at all guys. I think it’s always good form to start with the pros, and this movie has hundreds. Of course by “pros”, I’m referring to nearly every technical department professional that worked on this film. The hundreds of artists whose names are glossed over in the end credits, in retrospect, deserve top billing. Eternals is a technical marvel filled with artists behind the camera operating at the tops of their craft. The art direction, lighting, cinematography, sound, VFX, and stunt work are some of the best we’ve seen this year. You could randomly pause this film and more often than not see a picture worthy of hanging above your mantle. Unfortunately these pictures move.
“Contrast” is the best word that describes my experience here, and it is woefully stark. I can’t remember ever seeing a film with a wider gulf between the quality of the image we see, and the quality of the story it is portraying. This mammoth two and a half hour runtime is stuffed with constant heavy-handed exposition sequences that are entirely convoluted and unrelatable. What’s more frustrating, given the hefty runtime, is the lack of any depth to our heroes. We are told that characters love each other without any indication as to why. How do these two characters emotionally connect? What do they love about each other? Instead of using that runtime to answer these questions, the film has them make shallow critiques of human history and recite the absolute emptiest of platitudes. 50% of this script can be found hanging on any Karen’s bathroom wall.
Continuing with the theme of contrast, I also can’t remember seeing a film with so many individually talented people, have so little chemistry with one another. I thought at the very least, one of the merits of this film would be the incredible and diverse cast that they assembled. I really liked the inclusion of sign language in the film and I liked how they didn’t shy away from using native languages and talent throughout. Unfortunately the direction and performances were so tonally inconsistent that attempts at comedy largely fell flat, and attempts at emotional moments felt melodramatic and unearned. This is mirrored in the filmmaking as well, where you have jokes about IKEA and quirky ringtones, sandwiched between visual allusions to 2001: A Space Odyssey and lofty commentary on the human condition that can be found in most daily astrology readings.
Make no mistake, its one of the most beautiful looking films you will see. The conceptual design and execution behind the camera is breathtaking, but it has no narrative foundation. They’ve built the Taj Mahal upon quicksand. As someone who really resonated with Chloe Zhao’s previous work and thinks she rightfully deserved her Oscar, I was stunned at how beautifully empty Eternals felt to me. It was one of my most anticipated films of the year and is unfortunately my biggest disappointment.