Eternals is a grand swing in the right direction for the future of Marvel’s cinematic universe. The moment Avengers Endgame ended, it felt like Marvel was at an apparent crossroads. Bidding farewell to much of its main cast opened the door to the future faces of the franchise. Since then, we’ve been introduced to new heroes like Shang Chi and Yelena Belova, who will no doubt lead the next phases of this ongoing story. Nevertheless, Marvel is taking risks by continuing its ambitious gambit and by taking a chance on property like Eternals and the movie director Chloe Zhao has made out of it.

Eternals is an epic that spans the arc of human history, a comedy about an impromptu family reunion of immortal cosmic beings. This superhero extravaganza makes a character uppercutting a huge alien into the walls of an ancient civilization just as electrifying to watch as the questions asked by its titular team about what the human race has done to the planet with the gifts and wonders they’ve given them.

Eternals begins thousands of years ago and follows a team of guardians (Not the other heroic galactic guardians though) dispatched to Earth by some of the grandest powers in the entire universe to protect the planet from the deviants, beasts who they’ve clashed with for millennia. The Eternals go their separate ways after the deviants are beaten back into hiding and they live their own lives for centuries, away from one another. Some vie for Bollywood stardom or a teaching position at a museum while others go into hiding. Either way, they are drawn back together after the events of Avengers: Endgame by a disturbance in the universe generated by the energy of the snap that brought half of the universe back.

The Eternal that stands out the most is Kingo, played by Kumail Nanjiani. When Eternals starts to get too drab, it’s Nanjiani’s charisma and on-point comedic timing that pulls the movie back from the black hole of self-seriousness. And yet, his performance doesn’t feel out of step with a movie that isn’t as high-spirited as his character. Marvel movies can have a tendency to hit a slump in their 3rd acts; the themes they were playing with are thrown to the wind in favor of a massive action sequence that brings all the heroes together and puts the work of the special effects team on full display, but for Eternals, the final act is where it peaks. The climax hinges on the conflict between these characters and if they can put differences aside to rally together to save the planet, rather than their teamwork just being by design. And Zhao takes something like the destruction of the entire planet, the transformation of the earth to ash, to make way for a greater cosmic object and finds beauty in it. After movie after movie of antagonists promising they’ll destroy the earth, it’s kind of cool to see it at least sort of come to fruition, especially in such a literal way.

It’s remarkable that a filmmaker like Zhao, whose work up to now has consisted of soulful indie dramas, finds the rhythm of these ensemble-based fight scenes, as she singles out heroes to get their moment in the spotlight. It brings to mind the thrill of watching the original Avengers and seeing just how well they played with the dynamic of these heroes in motion, taking on these extraordinary threats. But she doesn’t lose the soul of this whole enterprise either. These are gods who’ve been worn down by the charms of humanity to be their most loyal, powerful protectors. The gods to humans arc has always been one Marvel has excelled at. Characters who are inherently heroic because they use their unbelievable abilities to help others, especially their Eternals who use theirs to help

It’s Zhao’s eye for scale and composition, but also a heart that distinguishes Eternals from the rest of its Marvel movie contemporaries for the right reasons rather than the wrong ones. It’s big, but not loud, remarkably pensive, but not lacking in momentum. I wholeheartedly say see it. It’s bummed out Power Rangers and I enjoyed every minute of its morose if hopeful spectacle. Eternals is on Disney Plus now.

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