The latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eternals, introduces audiences to new characters, ancient beings sent to protect Earth, but not to interfere in human affairs. While the MCU often receives almost universal praise, with both critics and audiences alike enjoying them, this time things are different. On Rotten Tomatoes, Eternals currently has the lowest critic rating of any of the film entries, at 47%. Even Thor: The Dark World, often regarded as the worst, sits at a respectable 66%. However, the audience score sits at 80%. It’s not uncommon for such a big divide between audiences and critics (like with The Last Jedi), but what’s causing it?
The Critics view
Some critics have been against superhero films for a while, after having to review so many of them it’s understandable that “superhero fatigue” would start to set in. Some critics just don’t like the genre. While this likely isn’t the cause of the divide, it is important to acknowledge, as Rotten Tomatoes takes all reviews into account, whether positive or negative.
Another point may be the director, Chloe Zhao. Her previous film Nomadland won Best Picture at the Oscars, and some critics have compared Eternals to it, despite the obvious differences. Critics may have expected more from Zhao, expecting it to be more like her usual films, rather than an MCU project.
Critics also tend to be harsher on things they dislike, and the overreliance on CGI is a complaint that comes up time and again. As most of the film’s fight scenes involve it, as well as most of the villains being entirely CG, it’s hard not to notice. Many of these complaints are not new, or specific to Marvel movies, but it’s easy to understand why critics would become bored over time.
Eternals, like every film, has its own flaws. The 153-minute runtime, as well as its slower, more thoughtful pacing, makes it feel long. The addition of 10 new characters is a lot and some characters get more development than others, and the villans seem like an afterthought
The Audience View
Unlike critics, audiences don’t seem to be tired of superhero films just yet, after all MCU films are doing well at the box office, taking into account the pandemic of course. Marvel has a legion of fans that will see and enjoy all their projects, whether that be because they are a fan of a particular character, or want to see what is next for the universe.
Audiences are usually less critical of films too, with technical aspects like camera work or effects not focused on in favour of the characters or story. Eternals large cast of characters, including some big names like Angelina Jolie, and Robb Stark himself Richard Madden, has something for everyone. Everyone can have a different favourite amongst the cast, as they each have their own distinct personality and powerset. They are also representative of a wide range of people, of different races, sexualities and abilities, as well as Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) being deaf.
Many people also enjoy that the film does play differently than most Marvel films, as it dedicates time to deconstruct its heroes and explore their humanity. The Eternals themselves are less typical Marvel heroes, with less quippy humour and few nods to the Avengers. Audiences likely go with their overall feelings on the film after it has finished, as well the potential teased in the post-credit scenes.
The divide between audiences and critics is interesting but goes to show that they consume media differently. Perhaps most importantly, it shows that while critical reviews can be helpful in deciding what to watch, it is still best to watch it yourself and form your own opinion.