“Eternals” is the worst representation of Indian Culture since 1984

Ok so I am a little bit obsessed with this movie, and it’s entirely because it is the first time I have ever had a crush on Angelina Jolie, which is ridiculous because I grew up during her prime years in the spotlight. I know that Marvel’s Eternals has gotten fairly polarized opinions, and I kind of get both viewpoints.

The Least ‘Marvel’ Marvel Movie

Eternals is not a Marvel movie. It is not the usual slapstick hero flick that Disney attaches to its brand, designed to be marketed towards kids, teens and young adults. There may have been some amount of miscommunication in what the movie is and who it should have been made for. This led to a cognitive dissonance from an audience that’s sandwiched between Shang-Chi rolling around SF in his J’s and Tobey flirting with an angry Filipino grandma. 

Additionally, the film itself has a very obvious push and pull between director Chloé Zhao’s efforts at unique filmmaking, and the usual Marvel CGI punchfest, which led to issues in the tone of the film. Eternals is told partially through underutilized flashbacks, really interesting character relationships, and a massive computer generated space god delivering exposition. Kinda hard to figure out exactly how much we have to suspend our disbelief, yknow?

Ensembles, un-simple

An overlooked strength of this film is just how difficult it is to pull off ten main characters in a film as convoluted as this one, but Zhao has done it. Each of the ten Eternals has a nuanced motivation, belief or defining trait- except for the main character, she was pretty blah. I have a low tolerance for protagonists who stand around looking pretty, then sad, then concerned, only to put on a lightshow at the end of the day and save the world using the power of lOvE. 

Also, Salma Hayek’s character was very poor and bland. She didn’t do much except stand around regally and change her mind a bunch. But then people like Gilgamesh are burly, soft and loving. Kingo is goofy but stout in his beliefs. Sprite has her frustrations and desires. Hell, even the old Indian sidekick gets to decide he wants to risk his life to spend potentially his last few days with the Eternals instead of with his family (only to disappear at the end of the movie because what the fuck is he going to do in a fight?)

Sci-Fi Superheros, not Superhero Sci-Fi

As a fan of sci-fi, this film also delivered a set of unique, stunning sets, locations and visuals. It reminded me of the scale and a truly otherworldly experience that Villenueve delivered in Dune. To support the aesthetically pleasing film, composer Ramin Djawadi delivers his usual score full of memorable motifs, something sorely missing in other Marvel films. He mixes a standard orchestral sound with a bit of synth, building towards the sci-fi grandeur of the Eternals. That being said, I do feel the Djawadi sort of phoned this one in.

While I appreciated Zhao’s vision, I suspect they ran into budget issues or maybe even time constraints while filming the CGI, as you can literally watch the CGI budget dry up as the movie goes on. By the end, Marvel uncharacteristically drops the ball entirely with 2008-level cartoon characters (though I have no idea why we needed a drunk leprechaun and Harry Styles in the first place).

Poor filmmaking, interesting storytelling

This leads me into discussing its other issues, like its pacing and abysmal editing. There were numerous times where the editing was so poor that it was jarring. The most obvious instance of this is when they presumably cut out a sequence between Thina and Gilgamesh during a forest fight. We see Thina performing some sort of magic to keep her mind issues at bay, while Gilgamesh is coaching her through it. I know that if this scene remained where it was in the sequence, it would have disrupted the pacing and tension of the ongoing battle. It would also have rehashed their relationship, so I get why the redundancy was cut. Nonetheless, this cut was awkward and symptomatic of larger story cuts. 

By cutting parts of these developments, we also get completely disregarded and abandoned plotlines that ultimately end up just being faceless CGI baddies to incite battle sequences since the ultimate bad guy is a massive god that only shows up at the end. The sentient Deviant character played by Bill Skarsgård would have and should have been a really important, complex anti-hero type of character. He’s literally just a victim, trying to protect the last of his species while getting his revenge on superpowered beings who literally committed genocide against his species- all the while they complained about humans committing genocide on themselves. It’s irritating and idiotic and another example of Marvel abandoning intelligent, nuanced villains because they didn’t want to worry about confusing their audience. Which is weird, considering they also put literal murder and a fucking sex scene in this Marvel movie. 

Marvel is Racist to Indians

My greatest issue with the film, however, is their whitewashing of Indian culture. There are two Indian characters in the movie: Kingo the Eternal who shoots fireballs out of his fingers, and Karun, an old man who runs around recording Kingo’s vanity and heroics. The film also chooses to spend an amount of time with Indian culture, presumably to get the Indian populace excited about the film, in the same way they tried engaging the Asian American demographic with Shang-Chi.

Kingo is a really cool, heroic badass in his own right. He’s charismatic enough to be a bollywood star for multiple generations, which, knowing Bollywood and Indian media, is a massive accomplishment (also a massive plot hole). They also turn him into a complete cuckold by having him suck up to Ikaris, the strong, white, flying hero. No one else engages in such a vulgar display of suck-upery and it hurts that even when Indians are given a hero to look up to, he’s still second fiddle to the macho white hero. Then they go and slap an Indian aesthetic on a Christian marriage. Like, literally they have a priest telling the bride and groom that they can kiss, but throw it in an Indian setting. That’s not how Indian weddings happen at all. At all.

I have not seen a worse representation of Indian people and Indian culture in Hollywood since Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which was released literally thirty seven years ago. Fuck you MCU, do better.

This is probably my longest review in a while, so I am definitely a little biased towards liking Eternals, but I also don’t think that it’s as good as I want it to be. It also should not have been a Marvel movie, this thing is so convoluted and makes the MCU so idiotically complex and I hate it.

5/10.

Again, I am now an Angelina Jolie fanboy and I’d like to see her as Thina a lot more. 

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