Eternals First Reviews: Marvel's Most Unconventional Film Yet

Critics say director Chloé Zhao applies her unique sensibilities to the Marvel formula to deliver an epic story with big implications for the MCU going forward, even if it doesn't reach the top tier of the franchise.

by | October 25, 2021 | Comments

Could Eternals actually be one of the lesser installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? It’s surely one of the most unique and ambitious of the franchise, helmed by recent Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), and it features as diverse a cast of characters as can be, as well as arguably a more epic scope than even the last two Avengers movies.

Yet the first reviews for Eternals put its Tomatometer score in the bottom four of the 26 MCU features, alongside Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World, and The Incredible Hulk. That’s still on the fresh side, but the takes are generally more mixed than usual. Perhaps this will change later as more reviews come through, but it’s indeed a surprising twist for now.

Here’s what critics are saying about Eternals:

How does it compare to other MCU movies?

“Ranks among the better entries of the MCU… In terms of raw ambition and scope, Eternals belongs in the same camp as Black Panther.” – Brandon Zachary, CBR

“This critic finds it easily landing in her top 10 MCU films, and perhaps even in the top 5.” – Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

“Among the more interesting and original entries in the ever-expanding canon.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“More conceptually interesting than most MCU entries.” – Aaron Neuwirth, We Live Entertainment

“It refreshingly bucks convention by not following the studio’s typical story and aesthetic formulas.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

Eternals is by far Marvel’s bleakest film.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

“As much as it pains me to say it, Zhao presents one of the weakest MCU offerings yet.” – Linda Marric, The Jewish Chronicle


(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

Will Marvel fans still love it?

“There’s no doubt that Marvel devotees will once again lap it up and might even forgive the rather shambolic nature of this offering.” – Linda Marric, The Jewish Chronicle

“It’s still very much a Marvel movie.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be good, and it doesn’t necessarily need to shy away from the stuff people like about the MCU to be unique.” – Aaron Neuwirth, We Live Entertainment

“This is still business as usual for Marvel — a continuation, rather than a great leap.” – John Nugent, Empire Magazine

“That Eternals feigns at such freedom only makes it harder to stomach when it falls back on the same old song.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

What about fans of Zhao’s films?

“It’s the work of a singular director… the likes of which has never been seen in Marvel before.” – Hoai-Tran Bui, Slashfilm

Eternals does bend the ubiquitous fantasy genre to some degree to fit the director’s customary vein of humanistic intimacy measured against an expansive natural-world canvas.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“In many ways, this looks and feels nothing like any Chloé Zhao film we’ve seen before… Anyone anticipating the first ‘arthouse Marvel’ should temper their expectations.’” – John Nugent, Empire Magazine

“This truly isn’t the film any of us were expecting from this hugely accomplished filmmaker.’” – Linda Marric, The Jewish Chronicle

“It’s clear that Zhao, in signing up for this project, made a decision to put her highly expressive and idiosyncratic style on the shelf, and to embrace the straight-up expository conventionality of Marvel filmmaking. That’s something of a disappointment.’” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“Effectively illustrates why even the most independent-minded of filmmakers are powerless to evolve an apex predator franchise that doesn’t have any Darwinian impetus to adapt.’” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

Richard Madden and Chloe Zhao on the set of Eternals

(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

Is it actually the best of both worlds?

Eternals is not exactly the arthouse fare we’ve seen before from Zhao but it isn’t a typical superhero tentpole either. When it finds the sweet spot between both is when it works the best.” – Don Kaye, Den of Geek

“Both a Marvel superhero epic, as massively conceived as they come, and unquestionably Zhao’s version of one, as attentive to beauty and intimacy as it is to the expected fate-of-all-life concerns.” – Robert Abele, The Wrap

“Her fingerprints are all over every frame and yet her distinct, grounded, character-driven style doesn’t clash with what’s expected from the genre, only magnifies the greatness lying in its underpinnings.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

“At times, it does find issues with knowing how to balance the aspects an audience has come to expect with an MCU film and Zhao’s instincts.” – Aaron Neuwirth, We Live Entertainment

“What makes Eternals feel special is that, for once, the director genuinely cares as much about the character within that spectacle, as the spectacle itself.” – Robert Abele, The Wrap

Will it remind us of any other movies?

“Marvel has made a Dune-sized, Dune-length, and almost Dune-portentous superhero movie.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“[It] has a purposefulness and gravitas that feels strikingly akin in places to Denis Villeneuve’s recent Dune.” – Neil Smith, Total Film

Eternals plays like an extravagant blockbuster riff on The Tree of Life.” – Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times


(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

How is the script?

“The writing team of Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo weave these stories together through masterful uses of vignettes that tie together the past and the present.” – Josephine L., Geeks of Color

“Seven thousand years is a lot to cover in just over two and a half hours, but Eternals pulls it off perfectly.” – Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

“What keeps Eternals from elevating to the top tier of the franchise is that its massive scope can sometimes play against the story.” – Brandon Zachary, CBR

Eternals tried to do too much… Sadly, there were too many cooks in the kitchen.” – Kirsten Acuna, Insider

Is there any levity?

“Yes, there is fun; plenty of stunts, jokes, combat, visuals, twists and, for the romantics, more than one love story, and not all of them straight, thank god.” – Robert Abele, The Wrap

Eternals has humor in spades thanks to both Kingo and Sprite. While much of the comedy is fun and entertaining like most Marvel movies, there are other times when a joke undercuts an important emotional moment.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

“When the screenplay — by Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo — does try to wink at the rest of the MCU with jokey asides, the dialogue is jarringly out of place.” – Esther Zuckerman, Thrillist


(Photo by Sophie Mutevelian/©Marvel Studios)

How does the movie look?

“Zhao’s work with cinematographer Ben Davis makes it a sight to behold.” – Brandon Zachary, CBR

“Ben Davis’ cinematography earns top marks. His eye for naturalism shines a spotlight on the characters’ humanity, providing an interesting, beguiling sense of wonder and joy witnessing extraordinary beings and creatures placed in ordinary locations.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

“The cinematography here is a amazing…It is absolutely gorgeous to watch. Nearly every scene is breathtaking — and when the action is brought into it — WOW!” – Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

“Ben Davis’ sweeping naturalistic cinematography… gives a less synthetic look than the average MCU joint.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“Compared to the diarrheal computer goop of the Endgame finale, this might as well be Dogme 95.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“Breathtaking but otherwise time-consuming nature shots can start to feel like a bit of a chore.” – Amelia Emberwing, IGN Movies

What about the visual effects?

“Some of the bigger special effects are so monumental they circle past realism and all the way back around until they achieve a sense of awe that’s been sorely absent from the MCU.” – David Ehrlich, IndieWire

“The special effects team killed it… The style and aesthetic are so ethereal, futuristic, and cosmic all at the same time that I was in awe every time I saw it on screen.” – Josephine L., Geeks of Color

“The Eternals’ ability to generate gold geometrical force fields and weaponry delivers some cool effects work, at times suggesting the intricate beauty of art nouveau draftsmanship with hints of M.C. Escher.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter


(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

And the action?

“The clashes are efficiently choreographed but somewhat rote, even if it’s a thrill to see relative elders like Jolie and Lee busting serious moves.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“The action of Eternals is, for the most part, grounded in reality largely because Zhao films the fight scenes in daylight and on location… This makes the movie feel more immersive and the action more thrilling as a result.” – Molly Freeman, Screen Rant

“Arguably the least adrenaline-pumping Marvel escapade to date.” – Damon Smith, PA Media

“What action we get is mostly the same ‘superpowered heroes shoot effects out of their hands or throw punches to defeat CGI-created monsters.’” – Scott Mendelson, Forbes

Is the diversity of the ensemble appreciated?

“It’s to the credit of Zhao and her appealing ensemble that this mix actually feels organic to the story and not merely like woke pandering.” – David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter

“The movie presents [it] with a no-big-deal effrontery that makes them a winning prototype of a more dynamically inclusive superhero world.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety

“I truly believe everyone will find someone that they resonate with on screen.” – Josephine L., Geeks of Color

“Touted as Marvel’s first deaf superhero, Lauren Ridloff is underutilized and feels like a mere check of the diversity box.” – Kirsten Acuna, Insider

Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, and Lia McHugh in Eternals

(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

Who stands out?

“It’s [Don] Lee’s grasp of nuanced facets that genuinely wows, combining humor, heart and physical acumen, making him the picture’s MVP.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction

“Best is Nanjiani, who takes his usual comic persona in a dramatic direction as he wrestles with a painful existential conflict and blasts energy bolts from his hands.” – Don Kaye, Den of Geek

“The definite standouts are Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo… his ‘valet’ Karun, played by Harish Patel… and Angelina Jolie’s Thena, effortlessly regal and classically aloof.” – John Nugent, Empire Magazine

Does it have a villain problem?

“Watching super-powered immortals go at it with powerful monsters or even each other only provides so much in terms of stakes.” – Aaron Neuwirth, We Live Entertainment

“The Big Bad being battled isn’t a traditional villain… [This] blunts the audience’s collective cathartic release, as they may yearn to see invincible heroes overcoming an uncontrollable evil mastermind.” – Courtney Howard, Fresh Fiction


(Photo by ©Marvel Studios)

Will we want to watch it multiple times?

“There is a lot going on here, so seeing this movie more than once is something that is highly recommended.” – Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

“On the whole there isn’t much here in a way of plot to make anyone want to sit through this more than once.” – Linda Marric, The Jewish Chronicle

Will it make us hopeful for the future of the MCU?

“I can only hope we see more MCU entries daring to ask existential questions about existence that don’t have easy answers.” – Aaron Neuwirth, We Live Entertainment

“Bodes well for a franchise that looks eminently capable of developing in more than one direction.” – Neil Smith, Total Film

“If this is what the future of Marvel looks like, sign me up!” – Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

Eternals is in theaters on November 5, 2021.

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