Warning: Minor Spoilers
The proliferation of comic book movies and television series seems to have polarized audiences into two camps: the I'm-f****ing-tired-of-comic-book-movies camp and the fanboy camp, where, Marvel especially, can do no wrong.
I fall squarely in the middle of these two extremes. As a collector of comics growing up (and as someone who recently took the hobby back up), I admit that I find it cool to see the stories of my childhood come to life with big budget movies. On the other hand, as a writer and someone who tries to think critically about story and storytelling, I have to admit that most comic book movies are, at best, entertaining popcorn fare, and more often, overly formulaic, cookie-cutter CGI fests. For the most part, Marvel has been successful, not by making an occasionally very good movie, but by avoiding making anything truly awful. Still, in my opinion at least, their average release falls squarely in the range of "okay."
All that is to say, when I'd heard that Eternals was one of the less well reviewed, more disappointing MCU movies to be released, my expectations for the film became particularly low – and I definitely wasn't going to risk breathing in COVID-filled air for the better part of 2.5 hours in a crowded theater in order to see it.
My expectations remained low as I finally got to see the movie now that it's streaming on Disney+, and for the first third of the movie my low expectations were proving to be correct. In line with the reviews I'd read, it did feel like there were way to many characters (there are ten Eternals in all). Further the fight scenes vs. the all-CGI monsters called Deviants felt more than a little cheesy. But as the movie progressed my feelings started to change...
First off, the structure of two narratives (the present day and flash backs to various points during the Eternals 7,000 year history on earth), which was a little jarring and annoying at first, began to pay off as the two narratives started informing one another in interesting ways. The many characters began to develop and most had interesting arcs of their own within the wider arc of the movie.
Probably most interesting though was how seemingly key characters would die off in surprising fashion, giving the movie real stakes. This was only possible because the Eternals have historically been such fringe characters. If you watch a Spider-Man movie, you know Spider-Man isn't going to die or lose or do anything surprising. There is just too much money wrapped up in his IP. Further, his character and motivations are so widely known by fans that any deviation would cause fans to riot. The Eternals on the other hand are, at best, tier-3 comic book characters. Even as a longtime comic book reader, I was only tangentially aware of them and couldn't name a single one prior to this movie. This is both a strength and a weakness of the film. On one hand, there's a lot more work that has to be done to tell the backstory of the characters. On the other hand, it also allows for a lot more creative freedom with the direction of the film. You can't disappoint fans expectations of a character if there are no fans and there are no expectations to begin with. This creative freedom then allowed for some truly surprising turns in the second and third acts of the movie – turns that make Eternals worthwhile viewing and a breath of fresh air compared to the usual MCU formula.
Don't get me wrong, Eternals is by no means a perfect or transcendent movie, but when compared to the average output of the MCU, it is at least interesting. And for me, interesting is good enough.