The critics must be crazy. Somehow, Marvel’s latest film, Eternals, directed by Chloe Zhao, has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of any Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, including some famously bad ones like Thor: The Dark Worlda.
Audiences liked both films more, but the gap is much wider over Eternals. Thor: The Dark World has a 75% audience score while Eternals currently has an 81% score.
I really do believe that critics have a valuable and important role—I’m a critic, of course, so I’m biased—but it’s always interesting to me when critics hate something and audiences love it (or at least like it a lot more—Eternals has a “B” Cinema Score which is fine but nothing spectacular).
Usually this is political these days. Critics love the new Star Wars movies but audiences are upset and a whole culture war of sorts breaks out around the films. Or take Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special. In today’s media culture, a critic risks being “cancelled” if they give The Closer a good review, so you get a disparity like this:
44% of critics gave Chappelle’s special a passing grade. 95% of viewers liked it. That’s a huge gap and almost entirely based on politics—the acceptable political views in media currently are wildly detached from the political views of most normal people. That makes it a little harder to rely on critics when it comes to anything political. (I once read a review of Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper from a critic who had only seen the trailer!)
But Eternals is apolitical just like most MCU stuff, so I’m not really sure what’s driving this divide. And in many ways it’s what a lot of critics and activists have been asking for: It’s incredibly diverse. The two central female protagonists are Asian and Latina. There’s a gay romance between a black man and an Arabic man. The director is an Asian woman. Oddly enough, despite constantly being told that we live in a horribly racist country, most moviegoers had no problems with any of these things.
I thought it was an enjoyable film that introduces us to the Celestials and widens Marvel’s universe a bit. I liked the character dynamics, the murderous twist and the action. And despite being somewhat dark and brooding at times, there was plenty of humor and lighter moments. It was different than a lot of Marvel stuff, but ultimately was still just a big, action-packed superhero movie.
This Marvel Movie Is Too Much Of A Marvel Movie
Many critics seem to think that’s a problem. They wanted Zhao’s superhero movie to be more like her previous film, Nomadland, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Frankly, I thought that was a pretty good movie but not really Best Picture material. But it’s certainly not the kind of movie you’d want in the MCU.
CBS’s Eli Glasner complains that “like Galactus gobbling a planet, Zhao’s unique filmmaking style has been subsumed by the mighty Marvel maw” as though her unique filmmaking style should have been used to make a Marvel movie that’s . . . not a Marvel movie?
This exact sentiment is echoed over and over again. Candice McMillan of Seattle Refined, writes that Zhao “is in the mouth of the Marvel beast with this one. It can devour even the most able-eyed filmmaker, which is exactly what Eternals does.” Heaven forbid Zhao make an MCU movie that’s an MCU movie!
The A.V. Club’s review is titled: “Eternals turns the adventures of ageless space gods into just another Marvel movie” which, um, yes it is just another Marvel movie! What did you honestly expect?
This is like ordering a cheeseburger and complaining that it’s not a steak. You have to judge things based on what they are, not what you want them to be. Don’t tell me this is too much of a Marvel movie when that’s exactly what it’s supposed to be. Tell me how it works or doesn’t work as a part of the MCU.
Maybe it really is just an expectations thing. There’s simply now possible way that this is the worst Marvel movie ever made. Maybe critics were just kinder to these films when those early Thor movies came out because the MCU was still in its infancy and we didn’t all suffer from superhero fatigue.
Maybe critics went to Eternals thinking to themselves, “This is a Chloe Zhao movie so it’s going to be brilliant and deep just like Nomadland” instead of thinking “we’re about to watch another MCU movie.”
Don’t get me wrong, there were some things that I disliked about the film also. For one thing, the premise has a huge plot hole. At one point one of the Eternals is asked why they didn’t help fight Thanos. She replies that they were told by their Celestial boss Arishem not to intervene in human conflicts.
But this makes no sense given that he needed the human population to increase drastically in order for his true plan to come to fruition and Thanos’s goal was to wipe out half of all sentient life forms.
It was also too long. I hate to beat a dead horse, but my Rule of 20 applies here, though I think a solid half hour could be cut and the movie would lose nothing. (The Rule of 20 is that most modern movies could shave off 20 minutes and would be better for it).
Why movie studios think audiences want to watch all these two-and-a-half hour long films is beyond me. They’re almost always padded out with filler. Shorter, more economical films make more sense when it comes to action/superhero stuff.
Some films need that extra time in order to tell the whole story, especially big historical epics, but Eternals could have been cut down to two hours easily. A shorter, better-paced film would have been less of a slog.
But even though it was too long, I liked it for the most part, especially the more humorous moments. Yes, Marvel humor is predictable and silly but I’m okay with that. These are comic book movies, after all.
Whatever the case, audiences seemed to enjoy this a lot more than critics and I agree. It’s a solid “B” in my book. Nothing special, nothing terrible, just fine.
Here’s my video review: