Let's get this out of the way, quickly. I liked The Eternals. I was surprised by the movie, and even more surprised by my response.
Liking The Eternals makes me feel like I'm living in an upside-down world. Inexplicably, The Eternals has become the underdog despite being part of a multimillion-dollar franchise, owned by the biggest entertainment corporation in the world. I'm defending it against its detractors like it's my special puppy that needs me to keep it safe. It doesn't.
Yes, it's the first Marvel movie to get a Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes (a metric whose inefficacy I've written about before) but everyone walking away from the creative team of The Eternals will be fine. So why defend it?
I think it's got to do with how Eternals feels like it's the first to do a great deal of things. Karun, the human character, is the first sidekick in Marvel movies who contains genuine emotion. Karun has more sincerity than the entirety of Marvel Phase 2, packed into a character that would have been just quips in any other blockbuster. It's also the first to treat a gay character in a Disney movie with respect. Phastos is gay, but that's not all of him. He has a happy family, he's a dad, and a husband. He's a genius inventor, he's a cynic. He's more than just a prop on Disney's long list of "first-ever" gay characters, each of whom can be cut from the movie with little to no effect. Diversity doesn't instantly make a movie good, but it certainly does no harm when treated with sensitivity. It's also the first Marvel movie in a while to not have a big CGI blowout of a third act, where nothing is decipherable. It's the first Marvel movie to have a villain that successfully embodies a twisted reflection of its heroes without just making them evil and yellow. It's also the first movie ever to make Barry Keoghan incredibly hot.
Not all of The Eternals firsts are splendid. There's the first sex scene which is almost comical in its suddenness. There's also the MCU's first mention of Hiroshima. Which, if you bend backwards enough, which I've done, you can take as the first criticism of American militarism in a Marvel movie. It's also the first to feature an opening text crawl, which had me extremely worried the movie was going to rely a lot on heavy exposition (which it did). And that's going to rub certain people the wrong way, who don't want cosmic sagas relayed through narration. For this reason, and many others, I can understand why some people don't like The Eternals for its firsts.
But the one I don't understand?
It's the first Disney movie in Singapore to be rated M18. Why?
Because God forbid the children or the seventeen-year-olds see a happy gay man.
Singapore in all its backwards cloddishness has made me go to bat for Disney. And I'll never forgive the IMDA for that.
The Eternals is daring in a time where most blockbusters have settled for casting Ryan Reynolds and calling it a day. It's not a game-changer, it's not revolutionary, but it's a breath of fresh air in the dull, quip-infested murk of Hollywood blockbusters. I can't say I like The Eternals fully for what it is. I can say for sure, I like it for what it's not. It feels like Chloe Zhao deliberately veered away from the usual choices other Marvel movies make. And because of that, at the very least, The Eternals is not forgettable. And that's saying a lot in 2021.