Eternals ★★

I loved Chloe Zhao's Nomadland, and while I wasn't as enthralled by her earlier efforts (Songs my Brothers Taught Me and The Rider), I felt they showed considerable promise. As a result, I was really excited to see what she brought to what's becoming an increasingly tired and formulaic genre - the superhero film. Unfortunately, Zhao seems to have met the same fate as so many other promising young filmmakers who've been sucked up by the Marvel machine - the film absorbs her visual stylings, but practically almost nothing else of merit.

As the poster promises, the film has a large cast - there are ten of the titular Eternals, which inevitably means their screentime is spread thin. If the film does have a lead, I'd have to assume it's Gemma Chan's Sersi - a kind, empathetic Eternal who loves and appreciates humanity. I like Chan as an actress and have seen her do good work in other projects (particularly the TV show Humans, which deals with some similar questions to this), but she seems hopelessly lost here - her performance is flat and often expressionless, and her line readings lack any conviction.

Poor Gemma Chan isn't alone in this, however - most of her fellow actors, playing the other Eternals, seem equally stranded by a script that's 70% exposition and 30% action. The only actors who come off well are Barry Keough, as the brooding Druig, and Lauren Ridoff, who's tragically under-used as a speedster with a good heart but no personality beyond that which Ridloff brings to the part through her expressive performance. These two have a nice spark that's been much discussed by the Twitter shipping crowd (of which I am undeniably a member) despite having only fleeting moments of screentime to support it.

Really, this project feels misguided on a fundamental level. Much is made in the script of the value of humanity, and what the titular Eternals are willing to sacrifice and put on the line for the sake of the human race. Why, then, are human characters basically non-existent? The most significant human character is Kit Harington's Dane Whitman, Sersi's boyfriend who appears in the film's bookends but is totally tangential to the main story. With no tangible human connections for the audience to grasp onto, the stakes here feel entirely arbitrary - as a viewer, I felt as detached and disinterested as the actors' line readings. Stakes are stated in the dialogue, but never really felt.

There are myriad logic holes and nitpicks I could go into (like Kingo vanishing from the final act for reasons that barely register), but to dissect them would feel like adding insult to injury. Suffice to say that while the superhero genre desperately needs to diversify and find new means of expression, this only brought out its worst qualities - it's turgid, dull and entirely without substance.