No, the conflict in “Thor: Ragnarok” wasn’t ignited by a thousand-year old war against giant, half-human elves. The bigger war in “Eternals” brings the entire Marvel universe back together again.
Marvel’s prior film adaptations of its comic book universes have portrayed that history with great care and great anxiety, but “Eternals” zooms out to take a sunnier look at not just one but several millennia-long struggles. The movie is an origin story that shifts from Marvel’s comics universe to the cosmic one, with this group of megaton gods in their prime going up against robots and shapeshifting aliens, and the world as it exists, in both the real and cosmic worlds. We also get a peek at what appears to be a relic from the origin story of Thor, one of the film’s stars.
David Goyer, who wrote the “Dark Knight” trilogy and countless TV shows, and Dan Harris, writer of “Blade” and several episodes of the “Firefly” television series, reunite to bring writer-director Garson Foos (“The Exorcist”) along for the ride. “Eternals” is still as carefree and subversive as ever. Thor’s best friend Sif is sleeping with a robot, and his bodyguard Fandral is incapable of speaking, because he’s been exposed to mystical beings. But it’s not all a gloomy catalog of people made human by supernatural forces. We get to see the monstrous Kurse at work, learning under a master. We even get to see a slice of the story that gave rise to the Avenger Wonder Man, who gets a nod but is not mentioned by name.
Goyer teases “Thor” comparisons, and promises that they’re intended as a “strong compliment.” Some will be; some won’t. That’s OK. “Eternals” feels like a film in the right time zone for Marvel fans. It’s broad and fun and optimistic, with audiences old and new keeping their fingers crossed that it won’t devolve into bland, two-hour-long Spider-Man fan service. I also enjoyed hearing Namor again — this Hiccup that Esad Ristic plays is more colorful and young and fun, and particularly good-looking, than the real Aquaman.
The film feels like a combination of Marvel and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but that’s a good thing. Marvel relies so heavily on its comic book roots to create its new characters and characters to carry old ones, that it’s refreshing to see the company explore the cosmic, cosmic side of things with “Eternals.”
The movie co-stars Jeff Goldblum as the villain Kang the Conqueror, the “Eternals” universe’s prime villain, and Tessa Thompson (a better actor than I’ve given her credit for) as Nomad, one of the characters. Thompson’s very good. The people for whom she would have to do her big scenes, Susan Sarandon and Demian Bichir, are less interesting, and pale in comparison.
Sometimes the film’s tone shifts into silly, especially when Ororo Munroe, the All-Mother of the All-Bloods, decides to battle the Nazis with the Avengers. It’s best for this kind of oddball thinking when she’s giving herself a costume/quilt monologue and an old woman screams “Pow!” Some of the action is action-heavy, which is a relatively good thing. There are also moments of surprise that keep from being too predictable. “Eternals” feels like a lot of fun, and like a step up in storytelling for Marvel, where anything goes. No hope, and lots of fun.