More about the Eternals and why they’re boring (spoilers)

No, I haven’t finished it, but something struck me when I was considering the excessive largeness of the cast and how it probably could have been pared down to at least half without losing anything.

In addition to the fact that none of the characters are developed very well, and there are way too many of them, they aren’t interesting to me because… they all have the same backstory. They all come from the same place, with the same mission and goals, and for about six-and-a-half thousand years they pretty much do the same things over and over with each other around. That gives their characters a sameness that just isn’t appealing in an ensemble cast.

Let’s compare them to the Guardians of the Galaxy, a similarly obscure team who was a rousing success and instantly beloved instead of… whatever the Eternals are. Each of the Guardians comes with a different backstory – they each have experiences, tragedies and struggles that are unique and distinct, but which bind them together when they do finally find friends. Rocket’s backstory is wildly different from Drax’s, and his experiences logically affect the way he sees the world and interacts with other people.

That’s why the Guardians feel like such well-rounded characters by comparison – each one is different. With the Eternals, all the differences feel very shallow and surface-level, because there’s not really anything in their histories to make them stand apart from each other.

I mean, imagine if every single character in the MCU was some variation of a rich, talented, arrogant man who is badly injured and humbled, and ends up becoming a nobler version of himself who uses his power and influence for good. That’s fine for Tony Stark. Some people complained that Dr. Strange was too similar, but their wheelhouses are far enough apart that it’s tolerable. But if every character came from the same background and experiences as Strange or Stark, it would be dull and none of them would stand out.

That’s why Ikaris and Sersi’s relationship feels so boring, dull and flat. What do these characters see in each other beyond “I’m hot, you’re hot, let’s do it”? It’s one of the worst romantic relationships I’ve ever seen, because neither one has any actual characteristics that could lead someone to find them attractive beyond the purely physical. Yet we’re supposed to believe they were so in love that they got married and spent over six MILLENNIA together.

And that’s not including the fact that many things about the Eternals that don’t make sense if you think about them for half a second. If they’re basically fleshy androids designed for their mission, why do they feel attraction? Why are they given the capacity to disobey and think for themselves, rather than being designed and programmed to simply do what they were designed to do? Why not just design them so they value the Celestials above all other life, and humans simply won’t matter to them outside of their function for the Celestials? That seems a lot more efficient than constantly tricking them and mind-wiping them so they’ll never find out the truth.

And if you could design a perfect artificial life-form, one indistinguishable from an organic being and possessing immense superpowers… why would you DELIBERATELY give them a handicap like deafness?

This movie is just very poorly-made, poorly-conceived, and very dull. Marvel has a reputation for putting out shiny, competent blockbusters, but they’ve been very shaky lately – Shang-Chi was just okay from what I heard, and Black Widow was a trainwreck. The Eternals just has so many elementary things that should have been fixed in the early stages of screenwriting, long before it went into production.

I mean, this is a movie where Kit Harington is one of the most dynamic and engaging characters. Kit Harington. A man who made a career out of making puppy eyes and sad mouths, and nothing else.

And yes, I’m going to finish it. I promise.

But I probably won’t enjoy it.

“The Eternals” should have been a TV show (not much in the way of spoilers)

I kind of went off the Marvel Cinematic Universe after Avengers: Endgame, primarily because it bid farewell to most of the original Avengers who made the brand what it was, while ushering in an era of much, much lesser superheroes. It also was when Marvel started spewing out Disney+ TV shows like a geyser, and so far all of them have had serious issues of varying degrees.

But there is one Marvel show that should have been a TV show, and that’s The Eternals.

I admit that I am only about halfway through this Chloe Zhao superhero movie, but I sincerely doubt that it’s going to turn around and suddenly blow me away in the second half. It is, to put it simply, plodding. It just trudges along rather than sweeping the audience in its wake, never making you excited about anything that happens. Even when something shocking or cataclysmic occurs… you don’t feel it.

In the first half of the movie, there is a horrifying revelation about the protagonists, their natures, their mission, their very existence and everything they believed about themselves… and their general attitude towards this is, “Aww, that sucks a little.” It is so anticlimactic, and it just made me even more indifferent to most of these characters, most of whom are generic (Thena, Sersi), bland (Ikaris) or annoying (Sprite, Druig).

Remember when Captain America discovered that HYDRA had been infesting SHIELD for the past seventy years, and had corrupted it completely from within? That was a shocking moment, and it held the weight of its import. But I don’t feel that with The Eternals.

I should care. It doesn’t make me care.

Part of the problem is just that Chloe Zhao’s direction is very uninspired, and the script is extremely meh. It’s just boring. But even if there was some pep and zing in this movie, it would still have some serious issues that need to be addressed… and most of those could have been handled by making it a TV series rather than a movie. Ten, maybe twelve episodes could have told the same story, but with more meat on its bones.

Part of the problem is that the main cast is too large. Look at the Guardians of the Galaxy – they have five members of their main cast, and a small number of supporting characters bouncing off them. Each of the Guardians has a distinct personality that complements or conflicts with every other member, and the cast is small enough that nobody gets lost in the shuffle. This is not the case with The Eternals – there are too many Eternals in the main cast, and thus there isn’t time enough to explore any of them except maybe Sersi. Most of them are extremely underdeveloped, and I just ended up thinking of them as “the Superman clone” or “the guy who looks like Credence Barebone” or “the little annoying one.” The only character traits that really set them apart were that some of them were very bitter and pissy.

This problem would probably be lessened in a TV format, where we could have episodes focusing more on the many different characters and what sets them apart from each other, as well as their feelings about their mission, their history, and the events of the story unfolding in the present. Maybe they could give Ikaris a personality.

The other problem is simple: the scope of the story is too big for a movie with this many characters. The Eternals have been on earth for seven thousand years, and supposedly have been defending and assisting humanity for most of that time. We get some flashbacks to their time in the past every now and then, but again, it feels pretty underdeveloped, and it doesn’t really give the feeling of those seven thousand years. We need more to really grasp it.

A TV show? You could introduce multiple glimpses of the past, all across the world, and you could work your way through those seven thousand years incrementally, all the way to the present, rather than hopping straight from 5,000 BC to the 1600s, with a ten-second wedding detour.

I admit I have not finished the movie yet, but the handling of it so far has not given me confidence that Chloe Zhao is suddenly going to give me a wild, exciting experience. It’s been dull and plodding, and all signs point to it continuing to be dull and plodding.

Youtube’s Comic Tropes

On Youtube, I’m subscribed to a few comic-book related channels (Linkara, obviously), and I recently stumbled across a guy called Comic Tropes, who does retrospectives, reviews, histories and trope analyses of various comic books. Not just DC and Marvel, although obviously he focuses mostly on those.

He’s got a lot of energy, and he does some fun little self-competitions like when he counts the tropes in a given creator’s comic book, and he drinks something weird whenever an individual trope comes up. In one video, for instance, he drinks different flavors of moonshine. And he’s very fair-minded, such as when he examined whether Rob Liefeld had improved over the years.

If you enjoy Linkara or ComicsDrake or other such reviewers, then please check out this guy, and preferably subscribe.

Tony Stark and Asshole Heroes

I was watching a review of Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, and it really reminded me of what a contemptible piece of crap Cade Yeager was. Sam Witwicky was arrogant and annoying, but Cade is both those things, plus… just horrible and selfish to everyone he comes across, especially the employee he leeches money from and the neighbors he steals from. Plus, he violently attacks some innocent people with a baseball bat, just because he’s failed to pay his mortgage because he’s a terrible inventor who refuses to get a real job. And somehow, we are supposed to be rooting for this selfish maniac.

And I kind of wonder… if that is because of Tony Stark.

Because I can think of another movie with a similar protagonist from a few years later, in 2017: Tom Cruise’s Nick Morton from The Mummy. This guy is also a character with zero redeeming characteristics; by the end of the movie, he has done ONE good thing, grand total. The rest of the time, he’s a selfish ass who hits-and-quits women he’s stealing stuff from, sells artifacts on the black market, and… really doesn’t do anything to make us like him. Like, at all. The movie acts as though we care whether he lives or dies, but I for one couldn’t have cared less, because he never said or did anything to make me care.

Back to Cade Yeager for a second, the way he’s shot and his “inventor” persona makes it pretty clear that they wanted us to get a Tony Stark vibe from the movie. As for Nick Morton, the entire Mummy movie was a blatant attempt to copy the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s formula…

So, were these characters DELIBERATELY made into assholes because Tony Stark is an asshole? And Hollywood, being Hollywood, missed the point and thought that the public was just dying to see more assholes?

Because yes, Tony Stark is kind of an asshole. He is arrogant, and a pretty awful person at the beginning of the MCU. Just remember that: at the beginning. Now, Tony is a good asshole protagonist for four reasons:

  1. He changes. His character evolves even over the course of the first movie…
  2. … but even then, he was never an asshole as much as these guys were. Tony has good qualities and a good heart underneath it all, so he’s not just an asshole.
  3. He’s an entertaining asshole. He’s witty and clever and wildly intelligent, and this causes us to like him despite his bad behavior.
  4. Robert Downey Jr. A lot of the character’s charm is due to Downey, and it can’t just be copy-pasted with any actor.

So let’s examine these other two protagonist assholes.

First, neither of these characters change. The closest we have is that Nick does a sorta-unselfish thing at the movie’s end, but it’s for a woman he wants to bang, so it isn’t very impressive. Oh, and Cade decides it’s okay for a creepy guy to bang his underage daughter. That was apparently his arc. Very impressive.

Do either of them grow and develop from their hardships? Do we see them becoming less selfish, more caring, moving away from the bad behavior we saw at the movies’ beginnings, recognizing that they were assholes? Nope. Never.

Second, Tony is depicted as a selfish womanizer who sells weapons at the movie’s beginning. But he’s not shown being actively cruel to anyone, violent towards the innocent, and he sells weapons to the US military because he incorrectly believes that they’re the only recipients, and that he’s doing a good thing by selling those weapons. When he discovers otherwise, he immediately shuts down the weapon development, and works to help others.

Despite his external assholery, Tony Stark is shown from the very beginning to be someone who does want to help others and do the right thing. He doesn’t always succeed in knowing what that is, but a consistent behavior through all his MCU movies is that he wants to help and protect others.

Cade Yeager… doesn’t show any signs of that; he’s a violent thug who leeches off everyone around him. Nick Morton is just a literal soldier of fortune who wants to steal stuff for purely selfish reasons.

Third, neither of these characters are as impressively witty as Tony Stark. Not witty at all, really. Therefore, they do not entertain us.

Neither one is very smart, either — we’re told constantly that Cade Yeager is an inventor, but he’s not a very good one. He just makes wobbly robots that don’t do anything very well, as evidenced by the hilariously bad “painting” robot. There’s nothing to dazzle us and make us go “wow, he’s so smart.”

Nick Morton? Not smart at all, really.

Finally, Robert Downey Jr. Downey is a genuinely great actor with immense charisma and personal charm, and the Tony Stark character — as a lovable asshole — really only works because he is so charming.

Mark Wahlberg? Not a great actor, not charming. Tom Cruise? Well, people tell me he has charisma, but his giant toothy grin and staring eyes creep me out. And he certainly doesn’t have the talent or charisma to make anybody like Nick, since absolutely nobody was impressed by his performance.

So, just my rambly thoughts about how these asshole protagonists absolutely failed at trying desperately to be Tony Stark. All I can assume is that some Hollywood nitwit saw Iron Man and concluded, “Audiences love Tony Stark! He’s an asshole! That means people love assholes! And the bigger an asshole a hero is, the more people love him!”

Thanks, Hollywood. How about you un-learn that little lesson?