Over the course of 25 films, Marvel Studios has built a sprawling, interconnected cinematic universe that swings characters from movie to movie with such ease that it almost feels like an art form at this point. But, it also has the weird side effect of rewiring the way we watch movies in the first place.
It’s not just about the movie you’re watching right now – it’s about all the future movies it sets up, characters that will transform (whether in other movies or Disney series + standalone across the board), and the world it plays only a small role in spanning the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
The last brick in this wall is Eternals. Chloe Zhao’s fantasy epic isn’t just one of the biggest and most fantastic swings for the MCU to date – it also locked in the dubious distinction of being the lowest-rated Marvel movie on Rotten Tomatoes. , with a very average of 57% on the revision index. For those who score, it puts Eternals below Thor: The Dark World (66%), The Incredible Hulk (67%), and Iron man 2 (72%) – three of the least liked movies in MCU canon.
The interesting thing about that aforementioned “lower level” of the MCU? Like a good overpowering wine cellared for a few years, they descend a little more slowly with the advantage of a little time and hindsight. Call it a case of extra context, or hindsight perspective, because the Marvel movies are so interconnected that they’re arguably even nicer a few more movies down the line.
When a Marvel movie first opens, we can only guess what dialogue and seemingly random Easter Eggs might be in place for the future. But after the movie has been out for a few years and the sequel it was planning has played out, all those little nods we missed the first time around seem like brilliant foreshadows. What, is – it just didn’t foreshadow something in the movie that we were actually watching at the time. Simply put: we’re just playing checkers with our movie viewing, while Marvel is playing 4D chess with all of these connections and setups with two sequels in mind to come.
In the case of films like Thor: The Dark World and Iron man 2 – movies that have made a lot of money and are still hits, even if they aren’t as revered as other MCU entries – they’re much more fun to watch with the benefit of the next dozen or so movies. Like revisiting Thor: The Dark World, you start to see a bit of humor in Chris Hemsworth’s performance that will really shine in Thor: Ragnarok.
One of the biggest complaints about Iron man 2 was he bloated and trying to build the world too quickly, but now that we know all of these characters and storylines from the next movies? It’s a comfortable nostalgic trip to date Black Widow and Nick Fury again, knowing full well how all of those introductions and crews fit together in the first Avengers movie.
Coming back to Eternals, Marvel’s latest film suffers from some of the same criticisms that have been leveled at Iron man 2 at the exit of this suite. Eternals sets in too too quickly; It’s a carrier column for this next phase of the MCU that’s overloaded with characters and plot points that don’t seem so important at the moment. And while the movie features a full roster of new heroes and mythical world-building, most fans in general aren’t very familiar with them. guardians of the galaxy had a similar challenge, and no one expected Rocket Raccoon, Gamora, and Groot to be household names and basic Halloween costumes.
That’s not to say that this Marvel effect excuses bloated scripts and average movies, because it doesn’t.
There is a reason Iron Man 2, Thor: The Dark World and The Incredible Hulk are generally the least revered movies in the MCU – they’re just not as good as the best of the best (or even the “just good” entries). They wobble when standing next to movies like Black Panther Where Avengers: Endgame. A bad movie is always a bad movie, but there’s something about it having a place in this bigger world – a world that also includes the characters and movies fans love – that makes it a little more fluid.
Sure, The dark world is a dud, but fans love Thor now more than ever in the post-Ragnarok and post-End of Game world. And watching Thor’s first sequel now, with that newfound love of that character and knowing where he goes next, has the effect of helping smooth the edges. Iron man 2 is bloated, but we all miss Tony Stark these days, so any old adventure has the benefit of nostalgia for the rose-tinged Mark II. And The Incredible Hulk, uh … yeah … that one is just bad. Sorry.
Coming back to Eternals, this movie had even more narrative work to do than something like guardians of the galaxy before him, introducing a new group of heroes and a whole mythology around them that spans millennia. It’s a lot to digest, especially when viewers haven’t had the time and investment to buy into these characters and their stories. Who knows? Maybe when a few Eternals team up with the Avengers a few years later, and we’re nearing the release of Eternals 3: Celestial Boogaloo, can we look back with a fresh look at how it all started?
Regardless, critics here and now remain very divided, with many praising Zhao’s hand in creating a tale that stays true to his own vision and style; others say it’s a tedious and predictable task in a world fans don’t know at all.
Which plug is the right one? Only time will tell – and this being a Marvel movie – it could take a while.