Tag Archives: marvel studios

Review: ‘Eternals’

Directed by Chloe Zhao, the epic adventure stars Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani and Angelina Jolie.  

What price immortal life? 


The film opens on Friday, November 5 in area theaters via Disney. Visit the official site for more information. 

Serving up a bounteous feast for the eyes and ears, Eternals offers an outline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that is markedly different from the films that have preceded it into theaters worldwide. 

The third entry in the so-called ‘Phase Four’ begins on a bold note of revision, grandly announcing its own spiritual order to creation and Earth’s place in it, declaring that creatures known as ‘Eternals’ were sent to Earth as its protectors from evil creatures known as ‘Deviants.’ Beyond their sole mission to battle Deviants, the Eternals were granted immortal life and told to stand by for further orders, as communicated to them through their leader, Ajak (Salma Hayek). 

Over the thousands of years that follow, two Eternals, all-powerful Ikaris (Richard Madden) and all-empathetic Sersi (Gemma Chan), fall in love, while the other Eternals, including child-like Sprite (Lia McHugh), inventor Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), fireball flinger Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), speedy deaf mute Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), muscle man Gilgamesh (Don Lee), stand-offish hypnotizer Druig (Barry Keoghan), and war-loving warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie), stay together to observe and protect humans. After a decisive event a few hundred years into their mission, they are (mostly) separated as well, per Ajak’s command, and disperse to the four corners of the world. 

Long thought extinct, the Deviants begin to rise in the modern day, first making themselves known in London, where Sersi, her new human beau Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington) and Sprite narrowly survive a close encounter with the legendary creatures. The rise of the Deviants presages the Apocalypse, or an Apocalypse, apparently, and so the Eternals are compelled to reform, which takes some time, as they must be gathered together from the separate lives they have made for themselves. 

Whew! That’s a lot of backstory for any film to carry. This marks the third team of heroes that has been introduced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it’s perhaps helpful to remember that the individual superheroes were introduced in their own separate films before coming together in Avengers (2012) to form the first team. 

Composed of lesser-known characters, the second team, as depicted in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), was introduced to a moviegoing world that had become accustomed to the idea of superheroes. Introducing a new team, especially from the comic outer space perspective proffered by writer/director James Gunn, felt refreshing and invigorating. 

Black Widow, the first entry in the so-called ‘Phase Four,’ was set before the events in the Avengers: Endgame films, while Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings begins in the months after those era-defining event films, calling back to familiar ideas and characters. 

In contrast, Eternals is something altogether new as far as its characters are concerned, a previously-unknown group of people who are now trying to save the world, absent any involvement of any of the superheroes who have been established over the past 12 or 13 years as the protectors of mankind. Where are the superheroes? 

We don’t know. They are never discussed, though a couple of DC comic book characters are, strangely, namechecked. Thus, Eternals must work hard to create its own mythology and spin up a story that will appeal to fans of past entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — including, now, television shows — while also reaching for something new and different in its storytelling. 

Director Chloe Zhao (after The Rider, but before Nomadland) tries mighty hard to bring all these disparate elements together and whip up something fresh. The broadly diverse and inclusive cast is a great starting point for any modern tale of superheroes, and the actors certainly do their best to bring life and vitality to characters who are, by definition, impervious to pain, suffering, or death. 

They roll their eyes at mankind, a lot, but have generally decided to be tolerant, even as they themselves do not take advantage of their superior attributes. As a group, they are reminiscent of angelic creatures, waiting upon the Divine One for their orders. 

Designed for the big screen, director Chloe Zhao and her thousands of artists and craftspeople behind the scenes have assembled an impressive picture that looks very good on a big, big screen. (I saw it at an IMAX multiplex theater at the AMC Northpark 15 complex, and it was suitably impressive visually and sounded good aurally, though not as thunderous as the recent Dune.) Beyond that, however, the material asks for admiration rather than engagement. 

Of course, the Eternals are not human — again, by definition — so it’s challenging to empathize with their fate, since they’ve lived for thousands of years without many cares. Even for fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eternals may test their faithfulness and loyalty to the franchise. 

But what’s a little faith without a lot of testing? 

Review: ‘What If…?”‘ Strongly Suggests ‘Why Not?’

The animated Marvel series debuts on the Disney Plus streaming service. 

Where does the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe lie as it enters its fourth phase? The answer may be found in the Marvel Streaming Universe. 

The first three series, available on the Disney Plus streaming service, have served as the kick-off to Phase Four — since the backward-glancing Phase Four feature film Black Widow was delayed more than once — beginning with the excellent WandaVision, followed by the more routine The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and then the hit-and-miss Loki, which served as an introduction to the Marvel Multiverse. 

What If…?, billed as the first animated series from Marvel Studios — Marvel’s M.O.D.O.K., which debuted earlier this year on the Hulu streaming service, originated with Marvel Television — is an anthology series, inspired by the Marvel Comics series, first published in 1977. It’s a great, self-explanatory  title, since you can easily guess that the series will feature key events from the Marvel films, only twisted to explore what might have happened if things ended differently. 

In speculative fiction, this sort of time-twisting story is often billed as an ‘alternate history,’ and can sometimes lead to richly rewarding works. More often, however, scant attention is paid to the far-reaching implications of an alternate history, and the deeper effects of such a momentous change, beyond ‘what if Marty McFly’s parents never got together’? 

The new Marvel series, directed by Bryan Andrews, with AC Bradley serving as head writer, benefits from its animated format. The first three episodes that were made available to critics in advance all acknowledge the biggest heroes of the past and wonder about possible, rapidly changing futures. 

It’s brain candy, of a sort, probably best appreciated by devoted Marvel fans, rather than those of us who struggle to remember what happened to whom in the movies over the past decade plus, much less spend any time speculating about the respective destinies of fictional superheroes. 

The anthony format, however, may be the most appealing aspect of this new offering, since it offers an easier jumping-on point. You don’t have to necessarily know who is who and what is what, since older narratives are quickly discarded, and most time in each episode is passed with a previously-unseen timeline and a fresh new set of characters. The animation is quite lovely as well, allowing each episode to be absolutely filled to overflowing with action, yet not feeling overloaded somehow. 

And each episode is 30 minutes or less! That’s a bonus as well, allowing the more time-stressed among us to more easily enjoy a taste of Marvel during a break. It’s very tempting to think of What If…? as Why Not? 

The series debuts on the Disney Plus streaming service on Wednesday, August 11. For more information, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

dfn-avengers_infinity_war-300Rather than a cohesive narrative, Avengers: Infinity War resembles the penultimate sequence of every Marvel Studios production that has come before, an exhausting series of ultimately futile action scenes that endlessly proclaim the goodness and importance of the supposedly heroic characters as they engage in battle against an all-powerful foe.

The visuals are sure pretty, though!

The film picks up where Captain America: Civil War leaves off. It also takes place after events in Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, which leaves many threads to be picked up and resolved, since Avengers: Infinity War is the concluding installment of Marvel’s so-called “Phase Three” of film productions based on their comic book characters.

Closing, resolving, or at least acknowledging all those plot and character threads would appear to be an overwhelming task for anyone in any medium, and it’s more than any one film can handle. Thus, Avengers: Infinity War, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, relies heavily upon one common, supreme enemy that everyone can unite against.

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is giant-sized, far larger than any of the superheroes massed against him, and far more powerful. We’ve been told before that the Avengers are “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” but they pale before Thanos and cannot even slow him down in his quest to possess all six “Infinity Stones,” which will grant him (evidently) unlimited power. But they try! Oh, my, they certainly try, and their efforts are documented exhaustively in the action sequences.

As directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the action scenes are often incomprehensible, which means that far too much of the film is spent waiting for the action to die down so we can see who is left standing. Comic relief is supplied at timely intervals throughout, yet the overall spirit of the film remains dark, dank and disagreeable.

Largely, that’s because the story resolves around the villain. Josh Brolin supplies a calm, yet fierce voice as Thanos. He has concluded that the universe is overpopulated and the only path to survival is to wipe out half the population of all civilizations. He believes he is doing what is necessary, which no one else is willing to do.

So, in effect, imagine Hitler as an anti-hero, surrounded by ineffectual soldiers in costume who grimace and groan but can’t get anything done except occasionally crack wise. Now imagine that stretching out over 149 minutes.

Help yourselves.

Avengers: Infinity War opens in theaters throughout Dallas and Fort Worth on Friday, April 27.