Review: Eternals (2021)

Eternals (2021) Eternals (2021)

Beautiful people, photographed beautifully, with zero chemistry between them (romantic, comedic, or dramatic). How does this happen? The answer may be found in the editing.

#ReleaseTheZhaoCut

An editing job so shoddy that it: reduces a Salma Hayek performance to a rushed screen test, and Kumail Nanjiani‘s charisma to a bombing standup set; which jumps all over the 180 line in basic dialogue scenes; and is patched together with clunky exposition ADR (of both off-camera and mouthless-space-giants varieties) to reams of text before the movie has even begun, leads one to suspect that director Chloé Zhao was told, “You can shoot it your way, but we’ll edit it ours” by some butchers (or cowards?) at Marvel. (And, if true, this wouldn’t be the first time.) Perhaps the most compelling evidence that the Eternals‘ true villain is its editing: that the only thing keeping Lauren Ridloff‘s wild charisma and crazy chemistry with everyone and everything, including the books she’s reading, from electrifying the entire film is that her screen time is cut to ribbons.

There seems to be an entirely erased storyline – one far more compelling than anything in the final film

At one end, the humour doesn’t work; at the other, the pathos is non-existent; between them, there’s no sense of scale or stakes in a story about, of all things, immortals who inspired human history and their impending fight to save the modern world. These are top-tier performers, in the hands of a remarkable director, with all the resources of the biggest studio in the world – so if it doesn’t work, it’s most likely poor editing, and there are plenty of obvious examples throughout the film.

Most tellingly, there seems to be an entirely erased storyline – one far more compelling and thematically richer than anything in the final film, and which also hews closer to ideas explored in co-writer Zhao’s other work. The Deviants are beginning to gain sentience, are able to articulate that they are the oppressed underclass in this cosmic order. “They are like us,” points out Druig (Barry Keoghan), the seemingly-most-jaded-but-ultimately-not-really of the Eternals. Yet this idea is abandoned – and, most bafflingly, cut down (literally) in order to “resolve” Thena’s (Angelina Jolie) PTSD arc. So: violence wins, the oppressed are exterminated, and the “heroes” live on because… more (voiceover) exposition?

It doesn’t help that, in the Marvel movies timeline, Eternals is technically a prequel, and hence inevitably suffers from the most basic Prequel Problem: it raises questions it can’t satisfyingly answer, and half-answers questions nobody asked. Ironically, this story doesn’t even need to be part of the MCU – there’s nothing in it that connects to anything else, aside from its trope of an ultimate battle for the fate of planet Earth – which, within the context of the MCU is, at this stage, just another Tuesday, so why should we care? It’s certainly not what this movie could, and shows traces that it would, have been about.

Someone here did not have confidence in the film that was made – and that’s a film i’d much prefer to see.

Further Viewing

Eternals dialogue scenes suffered from the type of restless and baffling editing examined in Thomas Flight‘s breakdown of the Oscar-winning editing in Bohemian Rhapsody: