Review of “Eternals”

Jobs are hard. Some are physically draining, like digging ditches and building houses. Others are intellectually difficult like high level mathematics and accounting. Still others are emotionally taxing like counseling those going through tragic circumstances such as abuse. Then there are jobs you just hate doing. Back in my grocery store days, I would ask to work Sundays as it was time and a half. However, when you opened the store on Sundays, you cleaned the ashes out of the incinerator we used to dispose of empty stock boxes. It was a dirty, hot, and probably dangerous job as the fine particles of ash filled the air. The still hot ashes were dragged with a long metal tool that looked like an extended garden hoe into a large iron tray. When the tray was full, it was dragged to the loading dock where it would cool and be dumped into the dumpster by someone else. It was an awful job, but it was necessary so the incinerator could be used to dispose of more boxes later. Also, I was being paid time and a half to do it and back in the late 1970’s, that was about $4.00 an hour. I was rolling in the dough…also a great deal of cardboard box ash. I say all that to lead into my review of Marvel’s “Eternals,” a film about a group of super beings that must carry out a job they later find they don’t want to do.

The Celestial Arishem created 10 super beings called Eternals to protect humanity from a race of monsters called Deviants. Each Eternal has specific abilities: Their leader Ajak (Selma Hayek) can heal injuries and is also the conduit between the Eternals and Arishem. Ikaris (Richard Madden) can fly, has super strength, and emits cosmic energy beams from his eyes. Sersi (Gemma Chan) can change inanimate matter from one form to another. Thena (Angelina Jolie) is a mighty warrior, producing cosmic energy weapons and shields. Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) fires cosmic energy blasts from his hands. Sprite (Lia McHugh) can project realistic illusions of anything. Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is the group’s engineer, able to invent and construct whatever is needed, and he maintains their starship Domo. Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) possesses super speed. She is also deaf, but can feel the vibrations in the air, allowing her to understand speech. Druig (Barry Keoghan) can control and manipulate minds. Gilgamesh (Don Lee) possesses immense strength he augments with cosmic energy projections around his hands. The Eternals have been on Earth 7000 years, fighting the Deviants, however, they are not allowed to interfere in the affairs of humanity. Over 500 years ago, the last Deviant was killed and Ajak sent the Eternals into the world to live their own lives as they wait for Arishem to call them back to their home world of Olympia. In current times, the Deviants have returned and gained abilities like the Eternals. It’s time to travel around the world, find all the members and fight the Deviants once again.

Eternals were first introduced in Marvel comics in 1976. Their backstory is deep and complicated with civil wars and factions living on Uranus and Saturn’s moon Titan. It’s a history that would be impossible to translate into a movie that made any sense and wasn’t 12 hours long. Director and writer Chloe Zhao, along with a writing team, tries to condense and simplify the character’s history into something manageable in “Eternals.” She almost succeeds.

This unwieldy group of characters gets parred down by a few as the story goes on, but the history and backstory just keep coming. Sometimes we go all the way back to the first time Eternals come to Earth 7000 years ago. We make visits to 1500 years ago, 500 years ago and six days ago. There is also an exposition dump that clarifies what the movie is about. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a major revelation for our heroes. One would think knowing exactly what the goal is would focus the story, however we get more flashbacks, more exposition, and more character introductions. It’s like Zhao and the writers wanted to tell us more gossip about these people, even things we didn’t need to know. I’m not sure it was necessary to show two characters having sex (I think a first for a MCU movie) for us to understand they were committed to and love each other.

Perhaps Zhao, winner of the Oscar for Best Director for her devastating “Nomadland,” wasn’t the best choice for a comic book movie. Her sensibilities are more to smaller character stories than to spectacle and wonder. “Nomadland” follows one woman’s journey, navigating the wilderness of America living alone in her camper/van and dealing with the loss of her husband. It is a poignant and beautiful movie that shows the inequity of capitalism in an age of business consolidation, leaving loyal and dedicated workers in the dust. It destroyed me in a way that didn’t come out until my wife and I were discussing it on our podcast, Comedy Tragedy Marriage. It could not be more different from a MCU movie.

Am I arguing that indie and smaller movie directors shouldn’t be given a chance to helm superhero flicks? Of course not. I am saying that Zhao might not have been the right choice for this one. While “Eternals” is competently made, looks amazing and delivers what we expect from a MCU film, it also bogs down at times in ways we don’t expect from MCU films. It sometimes feels like the film (and the audience) is swimming in molasses. There are bits of excitement scattered about, but we must first slog through the muck.

The actors do the best they can with what they’re given. Selma Hayek and Angelina Jolie are woefully underused. Gemma Chan and Richard Madden make an attractive, believable, but dull romantic pair. Kit Harrington plays a human suitor of Chan’s Sersi, but he’s only in the film’s early and late scenes. I enjoyed Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Don Lee, Barry Keoghan, Lauren Ridloff and Brian Tyree Henry in their roles. Each character is given something resembling a personality but not enough time for it to be fully on display. Ridloff plays the first hearing impaired hero and Henry is the first openly gay hero in the MCU. Each deserved more time in a film that wastes a decent amount of it on attempts at grandeur that come up short.

“Eternals” is rated PG-13 for fantasy violence and action, some language and brief sexuality. There’s the usual superhero on villain violence as every other MCU movie. The villains in this case are mostly creatures that look like dinosaurs or mutated lions. We see Sersi and Ikaris having sex. It is from the waist up and there are no naughty bits on display. Language is mild and scattered along with a middle finger.

I don’t hate “Eternals.” It might sound like it, but I don’t. With a cast this big and story this sprawling, I wish a more seasoned superhero director had been given the reigns. Zhao is a fantastic director and might have been a better fit for a solo hero introduction movie with a more manageable story. As it is, “Eternals” is too much of just about everything.

“Eternals” gets three stars out of five.

Note: There is a mid- and post-credits scene that hints at what might be next for “Eternals” and a new character. Stick around to the very end to see both.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”

Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) is having nightmares about hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) following their adventures a few years earlier. Micheal has had his AAA bodyguard license suspended until it’s reviewed by the governing board. His therapist suggests he leave his future self messages on his phone and take a much-needed vacation. Michael’s relaxing trip to the Italian coast is violently interrupted by Darius’ wife Sonia (Salma Hayek). She’s involved in a shootout with henchmen of the mafioso that kidnapped Darius and needs Michael to help her save him. Michael complains that he’s taking a sabbatical from guns and being a bodyguard, but Sonia won’t take no for an answer. They find the warehouse where Darius is being held and free him, killing every thug there. That complicates the case of Interpol agent Bobby O’Neill (Frank Grillo) as the mafioso was a confidential informant about a potential threat to Europe’s digital infrastructure from Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Papadopoulos (Antonio Banderas). Papadopoulos is angry over European Union sanctions against Greece, and he plans on taking his revenge by planting a computer virus in Europe’s biggest internet junction and destroying anything connected to the web, including banking, power generation and distribution and more. Bryce and the Kincaids can avoid long prison terms if they work with Agent O’Neill and stop Papadopoulos from enacting his plan. It would help if they could not kill each other in the process.

If you’re looking for a deep, complex examination of life and existence in the modern world, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” ain’t it. This is mindless summer movie entertainment. It’s the junk food of cinema. It makes a billboard for a personal injury lawyer look like high art. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is empty calories for your brain…and that’s just fine by me.

While it’s as equally predictable as “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” the story is not really why we’re sitting in a dark theater watching Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Selma Hayek screaming at each other and trotting around Europe. The purpose of this kind of goofy film is to allow the audience to escape the outside world and go to a place that’s uncomplicated and requires nothing from us. We want to take a brief mental vacation from work issues, family problems, political strife and coronavirus fears.

Ryan Reynolds is his usual charming self. He plays a more broken version of Michael than before. Without his AAA bodyguard license suspended, he doesn’t know who he is or what he should do with the rest of his life. This is played for laughs as he annoys everyone around him (including his therapist) and tries a non-violent form of personal protection, arming himself with pepper spray and unloading all the guns he gets his hands on. Reynolds plays roughly the same character in most of his films: Sweet but edgy, kind but selfish, easily tricked into whatever scheme Sonia and Darius have cooked up but always one step ahead. It’s Reynolds’ gift to be able to perform the same character so effortlessly and still be entertaining.

The same can be said for Samuel L. Jackson. Darius is very similar to his brief role in “Sprial: From the Book of Saw” as former Police Chief Marcus Banks. It’s also a great deal like most of his film roles from the last 30 years, from Jules in “Pulp Fiction” to the “Shaft” reboots to “XXX” to “Snakes on a Plane” to “Django Unchained” to pretty much every other film, with the exception of the “Star Wars” prequels where he is much more toned down. Finding your groove and getting people to pay for you to play the same person repeatedly, isn’t a criticism. Jackson is 72 years old and one of the most bankable actors working in films today. According to his Wikipedia page, a tallying of the total grosses of his film appearance that aren’t cameos, Jackson’s movies have made $27 billion at the worldwide box office. As the saying goes” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And Jackson ain’t broke in any sense of the word. It may not set the world on fire, but Jackson’s performance in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is the kind his fans have come to expect and love. In that regard, he doesn’t disappoint.

What can you say about Selma Hayek’s performance that doesn’t involve her beauty? She is a constant source of energy in the film. You can feel the heat radiating from her as she either rails at Darius and Michael for not getting along or smolders when she expresses her passion for her husband and her desire to have his baby (a running joke and minor subplot in the film). The several times she strings together a mixture of English and Spanish curses at whomever throughout the movie is a hoot, and her motherly feelings for Michael pay off in a joke at the end of the film. Hayek is part of why this film is worth seeing.

Poor Antonio Banderas. He’s rarely given anything interesting to do in these popcorn movies when he’s the villain. Papadopoulos is a very generic bad guy. He’s angry at the world and has the money and power to exact his revenge. His target is the leaders of the EU, but his real victims will be the small businesses and workers that will lose their jobs, their savings and their homes if he succeeds. It’s a bad part written with little consideration for the talented actor playing him. He gets to wear a lovely grey wig and some gaudy costumes, but that’s small consolation considering the how underutilized he is. Someone please, write a good part for Banderas in an action comedy! I’m begging you!

The humor and action in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is also more of the same from the first film, but I enjoyed it all again. The fights, the chases, the wanton destruction of property and infrastructure is a bit more messy in this go round. Splitting up the final confrontations into three didn’t work for me as I’d rather watch the trio fight together to defeat numerous foes than have them scattered and their heroics cut up into multiple scenes. Michaels’ final showdown with his ultimate enemy was a bit of a stretch to believe as he’s fighting someone who, in real life, is 40 years older. Still, the way that struggle is set up made its conclusion a bit more satisfying. The humor is of the juvenile level we got in the first film. I’m a teenager in an old man’s body, so I found the film funny, if slightly less funny than last time.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, pervasive language, and some sexual content. There are numerous shootings with lots of blood spatter, a few corpses are shown with their eyes stabbed out, there are lots of fights, stabbings, car crashes and people hit by cars. The sexual content is more on the humorous side as Hayek and Jackson are shown and heard having sex a few times while Reynolds responds with disgust. Foul language is common with Samuel L. Jackson delivering his trademark MF’s and the rest of the cast joins in.

I really enjoyed “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” from 2017. I loved the humor and action. While the story was predictable, the rest of it worked for me in a big way. It would have been easy to just repeat the formula from the first film in “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” and the filmmakers mostly do. There’s a tiny bit of stunt casting that was a huge surprise that also leads to a double cross late in the story. There are more scenic locations to look at during shootouts and car chases, and the massively complicated and unlikely scheme of the bad guy is pretty standard. All in all, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is more of the same and for me, that works.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” gets four stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.