The main issue I had with the latest Marvel film Eternals was not the fact that the cast was so diverse, or the fact that the director was Asian and female. Anyone who tries to make those arguments are morons. To me, what hindered the film the most was the amount of characters in the film. This has been a problem comic book movies have been dealing with since way back in 1997 with a film like Batman& Robin. Terrible script aside, that film had roughly eight main characters, and only three had been introduced in a previous film, which left five characters that had to be introduced and developed, four of which were villains.
But if you like we can get closer to home with 2012’s The Avengers which had close to twelve characters to keep track of. Six of which had their own film to themselves, five more were introduced in previous films, which left only one truly new character to develop while telling a “getting the team together” combined with “saving the world” storyline.
And if you don’t think any of those examples are fair, we can even try even closer still to 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy a film that had all new characters, much like Eternals. But in Guardians case there were about eight characters that needed introductions and development before the big action scene in the third act. What helped there was that one was a stereotypical villain, one was a second boss, and lastly a side villain/ally. That leaves just the five Guardians to follow through most of the film.
Eternals has ten main heroes. TEN! Along with a one-note villain, a couple of side characters and one Celestial. So we are talking about over a dozen brand new characters that we have never seen before in the MCU, all needing to be introduced, given a backstory, motivation, and completed arcs. All in the middle of the familiar and afore mentioned “saving the world” storyline. Director Chloé Zhao had 157 minutes to attempt this feat. Let me tell you, she could have had 180 minutes, and it still would not have been enough time to make this work in a satisfying way. It seems like they place four characters at the forefront of the story, that being Sersi, Ikaris, Ajak and Sprite. The other six fill in some story gaps, and have mini arcs. But so little is given to all of them, one can never really connect emotionally with any of them. They instead use “superhero short-hand”. Like unrequited love, doing something wrong for the greater good, betrayal, finding ones purpose. It worked for understanding motivation, but there was no room left for the emotional weight they we going for.
I was so interested in seeing how a deaf superhero navigates the world in the MCU, but how are you going to introduce Makkari, then (**minor Spoiler**) lock her up in a ship for hundreds of years, and only bring her out for the final battle? I do give the filmmakers credit for taking such a big swing in both the number of characters they had and taking on such an epic story. But there in lies the other glaring issue. This story was much too big to fit into one film. Try imaging The Lord of the Rings as two films, or the absurdly suggested one film. It just never would have worked. You need that time, to develop and to get us to care.
What could have helped if this is the version of the film they wanted to tell, is if it would have been a Disney+ show first. Setting up these heroes and their original mission to keep humanity safe from the Deviants. The filming and the launch of Disney+ occurred at roughly the same time. So imagine it: 9-10 episodes setting up the ten Eternals and their past and present lives among the humans? Now imagine the big revelations throughout the film. They really would have landed like a ton of vibranium bricks. Instead we get this rushed version in an overstuffed film. Which is truly unfortunate, seeing as how I honestly loved some of these characters and their relationships with each other. It just felt like we were given such a short shrift that by the end, even though these are the oldest heroes in the MCU, we didn’t get enough time to really know them at all.