Editorial: Fixing ‘Eternals’ and Its Massive Ambitions
While Eternals had a good showing at the box office, it didn’t exactly release to critical acclaim, and even its staunchest supporters would agree that the film has some problems. The script has a few issues, mainly that it is overstuffed with different plot threads and too many characters to flesh out appropriately.
Those who have seen the film have been quick to point out its flaws, but how would you go about fixing them? There is a good film at the core of Eternals, but it just needs trimming down to make that diamond in the rough shine a bit brighter. Needless to say, spoilers abound here.
Of course, one way to do it is not making a film at all, but instead turning the project into a Disney+ series. Our own review of Eternals pushed this sentiment, while the screenwriters Ryan and Kaz Firpo have also spoken about their desire to create an Eternals prequel series on Disney+. Furthermore, Kaz Firpo shared his own ideas about how to make the most of that episodic format:
Go back and do a Kingo episode in 1890s Mumbai where he is juggling his life as a movie star, dealing with Gandhi’s peaceful dissolution of the British empire in India. There’s an episode with Thena where she’s in Greece. I would love to make that show.
Certainly, there’s plenty of past material that’s hinted at in the film that can be explored, as well as plenty of interesting concepts that could really get fleshed out. Kingo’s life as a Bollywood movie star would be a great premise for an episode, while the film also mentions that Thena became known as Athena during her time defending Athens from an unnamed threat. That would be great to see as well.
There could be an entire episode around Thena’s past life that also delved into her Mahd W’yry illness. The idea that a god could succumb to a mental illness is fascinating, but there simply isn’t enough time to spend with Thena during the film to build any significant emotional sympathy for her. That could change if Angelina Jolie was given an entire 50-minute episode to explore this. It would also be nice to see more of Thena’s actual personality before she became afflicted by the illness, of which we saw very little in the film.
Such episodes could also be a nice way to spend more time with Gilgamesh, who came off well during the film’s dinner scene, but we only really spent a limited amount of time with him while he was Thena’s guardian. It would be nice to see him doing his own thing in some period of human history, before he was rooted to one place for thousands of years as her carer.
A series could also build on the flashbacks we already got in the film, spending entire episodes in Babylon or with the Aztecs. We could even get a better look at what Phastos was doing in the 20th century, to provide added context to his anguish around Hiroshima and the decision to give up on humanity, and make that plot point feel far less random than it was in the film. Rather than time-hopping through different points in history, these scenes could be expanded upon and fleshed out, presented in chronological order throughout the season before reaching the present day storyline at the end.
Presumably, adding an extra four to six hours of runtime to Eternals would give us more time to spend with characters like Makkari, Phastos, and Druig, all of which were fairly underused in the film (particularly Makkari). We could even have an episode showing Ikaris doing something interesting in the 5,000 years he spent apart from Sersi. Eternals‘ biggest issue is that there’s too much to do in too little time, but turning the core idea into a Disney+ series would give the creators oceans of time to sink their teeth into these characters.
But of course, turning it into a series would deprive Marvel Studios of the opportunity to launch a new tentpole film franchise, and they probably wouldn’t have been able to attract Chloé Zhao if they had gone down that path from the beginning. So if we wanted to keep Eternals as just a film and not a series, then what would need to change?
The solution here is the opposite to that of a series. Rather than add content, we need to cut… a lot of it. Eternals mainly suffers from having too many things going on in the final act. While the Eternals are busy fighting Ikaris and trying to stop The Emergence, Kro the super-deviant emerges to fight them while Thena’s Mahd W’yry sub-plot still needs to be resolved. When the final act started, I found myself wondering how Kro would figure into the rest of the film, but when he reappeared, I immediately wished he hadn’t. It was a distraction that the film didn’t need, even if they paired him off with Thena to resolve their two plotlines together.
A more elegant solution would have been to remove the deviants from the present day storyline entirely. Kick it off with them killing the last of the deviants, before they discover The Emergence and pivot to saving the world from that instead. We could still get flashbacks of them killing deviants, which would streamline the present day narration considerably. Moreover, Kro is perhaps the least interesting MCU villain since Malekith in Thor: The Dark World, and cutting him out would benefit the film significantly. It would also provide more time to focus on Thena’s illness as the film’s other sub-plot, allowing us to better connect with her and find a more logical cure for her affliction, rather than miraculously fixing it during a fight.
I think a few of the Eternals would need to get cut as well to streamline the cast a bit, so the audiences have fewer members to keep track of. While Sprite is an important part of the flashbacks as she tells stories to the humans, she could be cut from the present day entirely. There’s no use for her there apart from an underdeveloped love triangle between her, Sersi, and Ikaris. Better to just kill her off in the flashbacks, or even give her role as storyteller to Sersi and cut her out of the film entirely.
I loved Makkari in the film’s final act – her scenes reminded me how much the MCU could use a speedster, and I enjoyed her flirtation with Druig – but ultimately her role isn’t big enough to justify her inclusion. She is the one who finds the location of The Emergence, but that could have easily been rewritten so that the Eternals’ starship discovered it instead. And Kingo’s absence from the final act makes me think he could have been cut too, but his humor provides some much-needed levity throughout a very sombre film, so he needs to stay. If anything, Kingo should be added into the final battle.
So the film could have been made better by vastly reducing the role of the deviants and cutting a couple of heroes from the roster. But I have to agree that this film would be better served by giving it more time in a prequel series. Eternals asks a number of interesting questions, presents the viewers with some fascinating scenarios, and gives us some cool characters. It would be much better to explore those things in greater detail than cut them out entirely.