The Monitor is a weekly column that covers everything in the WIRED culture world, including memes, movies, TV, and Twitter.
Chlo Zhaos Eternals has been a breakthrough in every way. It's the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie that features a deaf hero (Lauren Ridloffs Mikkari). It is also the first movie to feature a gay hero (Brian Tyree Henrys Phastos). It is bathed with natural light (Zhaos signature), and it is filled with heroesand villains previously unknown in the MCU. It is also the first Marvel film to have been certified rotten by Rotten Tomatoes.
Rotten Tomatoes scores don't necessarily reflect the film's full impact on the public. It is a movie that was designed to appeal to a large audience, and its current score of 53 percent is quite low. It is also an indicator of what happens when movies, or any movie, try to be everything for everyone. Eternals, in turn, is a sign of the growing pains involved in moving the MCU forward.
People associate conversations with pushing forward with diversity and shifting canon. The film Eternals accomplishes that, but its hiccups don't have to do with its cast or crew. Its style isn't as vibrant and colorful as its predecessors. It's really about the story it tells and how many it can fit into its 2 hour-37 minute runtime.
Eternals doesn't have a runway. The MCU's fourth phase is now less dependent on big, team-up movies that build upon every story that has come before it. Tony Stark isn't content to just waltz into Spider-Man Homecoming and let everyone know who he really is. There are not a lot of origin stories that lead up to super hero slugfests such as The Avengers. This works in Zhao's favor in many ways. She was able to create her film and not be tied to any other movies in the MCU. Eternals has no major cameos and Thanos and the Avengers are only mentioned in passing. It also meant she had to make the narrative equivalent of 10 separate movies and Avengers: Endgameall featuring heroes that are far less well-known than Spidey. The movie needed to have some drama in the group, so it spends much of its time in the middle reciting what is basically the entire story of Captain America: Civil War. It's just too much.
It is in these Earthbound narrative beats that the movie excels, oddly. Zhao enjoys creating interpersonal moments. Sometimes, those moments can feel disconnected from the many action scenes in Eternals. This also means that her film must do a lot more emotional work in a short time span. It may have led to scenes like Phastos crying over his historical involvement in Hiroshima's bombing. A scene that has been criticized. It would be easy to see Zhaos Eternals as the thoughtful, moving journey it almost is if at least two of the film's heroes had been given separate films. It is a heavy story that no one can carry.