GUEST REVIEW – “THE ETERNALS” by D.G. “Den” VALDRON

This week, Steve takes a back seat to his guest reviewer, a writer named D.G. Valdron, who has a very articulate opinion on whether Marvel’s The Eternals is worth your money and/or attention.

Figure 1 – The Eternals poster

I’ve been waiting a while to see this movie, but… you know, COVID, with all that entails. I heard it wasn’t that great, but that Angelina Jolie was very good, so I was intrigued. (Often, when I read a bad review of a genre movie, I end up disagreeing with the reviewer.) We saw it, neither of us liked it, and I posted that opinion on Facebook. I received over a dozen posts, 90% agreeing with me. The following post was just a comment on my post, but it was perhaps one of the most cogent posts I’ve seen lately. So, with Den Valdron’s permission, I’ll print it here as my first “guest” review. (Note: minor copyediting done here.)

****THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS HERE! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT, MAYBE WAIT TO READ THIS.****

“Like you, I was disappointed by the Eternals. It was such a plodding, dim, aimless mess.

The characters (an immense cast of 10 principals plus endless supporting) were basically one-note cliches, each barely a tonal vibe, with no real development or identity, and all too prone to falling into stereotype and cliche—there’s the pseudo-Native American earth mother, the prissy Black gay man, the comic relief East Indian, the smartass juvenile. It’s really disappointing to see such a diverse cast treated with such pedestrian laziness. This is Hollywood progressiveness—lip service to diversity, expressed in most uninspired, stereotyped way.

The story beats were painfully obvious, the characters’ actions driven not by any internal motivation, but the need of the plot to have them show up at certain places and act in certain ways. This is most obvious in the case of Red Herring Villain Kro, who literally shows up at the final battle, solely to wrap up his plot thread, and then politely takes his plot thread into a cave so that he won’t disturb the main action. Ouch!

Perhaps appropriate for a movie about a band of space demigods who live forever, there’s an incredible lack of urgency to the film. These people are simply not in a hurry. In the earlier, slower first seven-eighths of the film, replete with flashbacks, meandering dialogue, weightless personal scenes and an utter absence of direction, this is almost forgivable… although maybe it might have been fun to have had something interesting or meaningful happen… but even as the plot kicks into gear finally, the climactic 45 minutes manage to show no intensity or interest. Oh dear, the world is about to be destroyed—well, let’s travel around, have dinner, have some personal moments, exchange meaningful looks.

There’s a complete lack of emotional investment in any part of the movie. The monsters—the deviants—look utterly generic, poorly realized, twisty masses of CGI. They show up and snarl, they’re killed off in perfunctory ways by space demigods with all the emotional engagement of cockroach exterminators (which is what they’re apparently going for). The Eternals are pretty much bored with the whole thing, putting in their eight hours, so they can go home and on to more interesting things.

Except they don’t go on to more interesting things. We get emotionally meaningless CGI monster battles, with no real stakes or risk. Yikes.

Speaking of Deviants, there’s a weird [name] choice, but three-quarters of the way through, they decide to humanize one of the monsters, giving it a humanoid appearance, speech and a moral perspective. Well, there’s a development—except they do nothing with it; the character is abandoned, except when he comes back to tie up his plot thread and play generic creepy bad guy. It was like they had an idea there, but lost track of it.

About halfway through the movie, Alien Space God comes along and indulges in a full ten minutes of exposition, explaining the backstory, origins of the Eternals, the Deviants, the Celestials and the actual plot of the movie. Apparently subtly and finesse are not part of the Eternals’ repertoire of cosmic powers.

I’ll say it again—halfway through the movie, the whole thing comes to a dead stop, so that Alien Space God can show up and explain the entire plot to the audience. WTF?

Y’know, where I come from, we have these things called clues, and we parcel them out to the audience bit by bit, slowly revealing the hidden architecture of the story; using them to show the characters’ personalities and develop motivations and emotional investment, which in turn drives actions, leading to escalating tension, revelations, and cathartic epiphanies.

But you know, this movie was only 17 hours long, so there wasn’t actually time to do it that way, and they only spent 200 million on it, so they couldn’t afford it anyway. Let’s just throw some more generic CGI up, no one will care.

But anyway, where was I? Bleeding internally from watching this movie. Anyway, I’ll spoil it. Alien Space God reveals that the Earth is about to hatch a baby Alien Space God. That’s the shtick, the Space Gods plant their eggs inside planets with intelligent life, and the eggs feed off the life force of the inhabitants until its ready to hatch and destroy the planet. By by humanity.

Yeah, I just spoiled it. Boo hoo.

Anyway, it’s about to hatch right now, so the Eternals spring into action! They look each other up, they have dinner, they visit, they take time out for lunch, they chat, they talk about it. Should we save the Earth? Not really our planet, so… maybe? How should we do that? Dunno, let’s sleep on it. Oh and while we’re contemplating the fate of the human race, let’s have some unfunny odious comic relief, and change venue a lot. Wow, things are kind of dragging, let’s fight some monsters.

Of course, once they get going… they meander. They fight amongst themselves, largely because there’s no one else to fight, and they need another generic CGI action scene. But it’s okay, because they feel bad about fighting each other. But not that bad, because they’re not invested. I’ve seen bridge tournaments with higher stakes. There have been more exciting games of Hungry Hungry Hippos.

But hey, at least they save the Earth. Not sure how, or even why, but it apparently involves lots of coloured lights and colour changes, and something something something. It literally reaches the point where one of the characters asks “Is that it?” And another character has to explain it to them.

Nothing in this movie makes sense. None of it feels emotionally true. Nothing is compelling, or exciting, or interesting.

I really want to find something to like or enjoy about it, you know, just to say that the twenty-three hour running time spent watching this wasn’t wasted.

I suppose the kindest thing I can say is that it’s a movie which is generous with your attention. You can go to the bathroom, make a snack, call up a friend and have a quick chat on the phone, shovel snow out of your driveway and, each time, when you finish and get back, the Eternals will be waiting for you, and you won’t feel like you’ve missed anything.”— D.G. Valdron*

Okay, that was great. But others had a chance to weigh in: three of my friends actually liked it; one is a published writer and another is a reader who was brought up by a friend of mine. I assume this other person inherited my friend’s perspicatiousness by osmosis. Possibly it was that this person didn’t expect a lot. Another friend, a terrific artist (including comics) and a writer and poet, said “I enjoyed it!” or words to that effect. Hmm. All three are Canadian. Is there a common thread there? Others were not so kind.

A Seattle-area (Everett, WA) friend, fan and writer, Michael Dezotell, said “I didn’t like the movie either, but for reasons nobody else seems to care about.

“Mesopotamia — 5000 BC”
Very first scene. Oh. My. Gods. Where do I start?
First, no rivers in sight. They are on a rocky coast. These are primitive Stone Age folks wearing animal skins.
These folks (the Ubaid culture) had agriculture since 10,000 BCE. The cities of Nineveh and Eridu had already been founded. They had pottery and clothing and baked goods. They were, by any standard one cares to cite, civilized.
These facts are available with a Google search of less than 5 minutes.”

Yeah, me too. Mesopotamia means, basically, between the rivers. You know, “Fertile Crescent” and all that? My World History teacher in high school would slap me upside the head if I forgot that.

Another friend (Canadian) said, in response to Michael’s comment: “Hollywood, like Las Vegas, was founded by uneducated gangsters to launder their criminal profits. To this day the studios, like the casinos, behave as if they’re still run by uneducated gangsters. Prove me wrong.” It may be right or wrong, but it’s a funny comment, so I had to include it.

Then Den Valdron replied to Michael like this: “Nope! You’re absolutely right! That got to me too. We get a desert, barely denisovan humanoids, eating their own lice, and yet simultaneously, these are the people who have built a great colourful city… which is shown as being smack dab in the middle of the desert. I’m sitting there wondering how this population is being fed. Where’s the Fertile Crescent? Where’s the Mesopotamian Garden of Eden.

Then the Eternals show up, kill the monsters, and teach the stupid humans agriculture, plows and baking? Wow. Just in time, because otherwise, that whole city was about to starve to death.”

Yes, Den, I agree… according to this movie, humans are too stupid to even invent the plow, probably using a pointed stick only to stick each other with it. Thank goodness for wossname (whose name, “Fastos,” sounds vaguely like Hephaestus—or maybe Festus from Gunsmoke), who invented everything else. And the filmmakers heard “Mesopotamia” and thought hmmaround Egypt, therefore desert.

Yet another friend, an artist (including comics) and writer from Eastern Canada, wondered why they’d make a movie based on something an artist had written (meaning Jack Kirby, who created The Eternals, of course). Another friend, a best-selling writer from Oregon—who’s written tie-in novels and understands the difference in media, said, “Kirby wasn’t much of a writer, but his series dished out brilliant visuals and big concepts by the truckload, and I loved it in my early college days. This is also inspired by a Neil Gaiman reboot series. Just read it, and while it’s far from peak Gaiman, it’s a good read and a clever and reverential update of the original. This movie somehow manages to skip all the best parts of both versions, and mostly wastes a very good cast and seems both bloated and too short at the same. Would have been better done as a series with time to really develop all the characters and build the high concept. Also, to have had someone, anyone, who understood the power of Kirby’s art and designs. The thirty second clip of a Celestial in Guardians of the Galaxy (I think that’s where it was) had more power than this whole movie.”

My friend Dean Wesley Smith, best-selling author—again, who’s written many tie-in novels and (for all I know, comics) and who’s been a giant comic fan for years, said: “I’ll give you another opinion. Walked out of the theater halfway through and I am a comic fan and read the original comics and all. This was just awful. Period.”

The reason I’m quoting a bunch of writers and artists on this thread is that these are all intelligent and articulate people. As if you had to be told, right? I just wanted you to know that they’re not just some Facebook idiots—on either side of the like/dislike spectrum—chiming in. So now you know that there are many opinions, but most of them agree with me. By the way, I don’t think La Jolie was anything special; she was just sort of “there.” Perfunctory acting and wire work (if it was she doing the wire work; could’ve been a stunt person).

I’ll let Den Valdron have the last word: “I can’t say I hated it, or loved it. I think the closest description I’d have to my reaction to it would be to call it a pool of lukewarm water spread out across a corner of a linoleum floor that isn’t actually part of my living space and which I have no reason to go to. I mean”… there it is, okay.”

*D.G. Valdron is a Canadian speculative fiction writer living out on the Canadian prairie. In addition to writing fantasy, science fiction, horror and alternate history, he’s also a world authority on the Canadian space opera, LEXX, and a master of esoteric and obscure topics. His latest book is Axis of Andes, an alternate history of WWII in South America. https://www.amazon.com/Axis-Andes-World-South-America-ebook/dp/B0968T8V7L

Comments? Anyone? Bueller? You can comment here or on Facebook, or even by email (stevefah at hotmail dot com). All comments are welcome! (Just be polite, please.) My opinion is, as always, my own, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Amazing Stories or its owner, editor, publisher or other columnists. See you next time!

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