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‘Eternals’ clashes the artsy with the epic

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“Eternals” is a movie at war with itself.

On one hand, it strives to be an arthouse character drama with all the associated visual trappings. On the other hand, it tries to provide the kind of massive action set pieces and quippy humor fans expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The results are fascinating.

This movie focuses on Sersi (Gemma Chan), an immortal superpowered being who has lived on earth for thousands of years. With her family of fellow Eternals, including the powerful Ikaris (Richard Madden) and war goddess Thena (Angelino Jolie), Sersi has helped guide the development of humans and protect mankind from ravaging creatures known as Deviants.

After supposedly vanquishing their enemies thousands of years ago and living in peace for ages, Sersi and her family are drawn back into a new conflict with the Deviants which, it turns out, is just a symptom of something worse coming. As Sersi tried to lead the Eternals, secrets are revealed, lies are uncovered and betrayals are committed.

“Eternals” is Schrodinger’s MCU Flick. It wants very much to be a typical Marvel film, replete with punch-ups, one-liners and likable characters. At the same time, it strives to be something more, something with deeper characters, more profound theme and less of a typical Hollywood blockbuster rollercoaster structure.

Much of the film’s more artsy leanings are due to the proclivities of director/co-writer Chloe Zhao. Best known for the award-winning “Nomadland,” Zhao filmed “Eternals” utilizing real locations and practical, natural light instead of relying too heavily on bluescreens and computer-generated backgrounds.

As a result, the film looks different than any other Marvel film. It doesn’t always work. Scenes set in an Amazonian rain forest look a bit murky. But for the most part, “Eternals” has a beautifully natural, lived-in look.

The same could be said for the performances. It can be a challenge to pull off dialogue talking about planet-destroying giants and the like, but Zhao’s touch with the actors makes such dialogue sound as natural as possible. The leads all deliver solid performances and Chan ably carries the weight of the movie and serves as its emotional focal point.

Special props go to Jolie, who effortlessly combines the grit and determination of a warrior with the vulnerability of a woman with a fractured mind. Jolie owns every scene she’s in and proves that the best way to portray female heroes is to give them flaws they need to overcome.

Unsurprisingly, arthouse drama and epic comic book action movies aren’t two styles that always play well together. This movie’s weakest moments are when it tries to adhere to what MCU fans expect from a Marvel movie. The humor here really doesn’t work, with most of the broad jokes and quippy dialogue falling flat. The action scenes are competent but not very exciting.

But what’s on display in “Eternals” is a movie we’ve not seen before from Marvel. This is the first MCU movie that feels more like it’s the vision of its director and less the vision of Marvel Studios kingpin Kevin Feige. That’s an exciting development for those who long for Marvel movies to be great cinematic art as well as great fun to watch.

3 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Thanks to Fat Cats in Rexburg for providing screenings for movie reviews on EastIdahoNews.com.

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