Across dozens of blockbuster movies, sequels, and spinoff TV series, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is fundamentally about a team of superheroes who can be relied upon to save the day when humanity needs them.
Eternals, the latest entry in Disney's MCU and the franchise's first unmitigated train wreck, introduces another team of remarkable people—the titular Eternals—and implausibly suggests that they were there all along, serving as Earth's silent protectors for thousands of years.
Frustratingly, the film's ham-fisted attempts to explain why the Eternals—guided by official den mother Ajak (Salma Hayek) and including an all-star roster of underdeveloped leads—interfered in some human events but not others fall flat. Indeed, according to the stated goals of Arishem, the group's alien puppet master, preventing the events of Avengers: Infinity War should have been the Eternals' highest purpose. But no.
The film lacks big ideas, and its smaller ideas are bad. After learning more about their mission, the Eternals come to understand they aren't supposed to prevent wars as part of their effort to protect mankind, because, you see, war spurs technological innovation, and innovation eventually increases the population.
But couldn't Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry, the MCU's first gay superhero) simply have given humanity the steel plow a few centuries earlier than scheduled and sped things up without all the death and destruction? The film is suffused with the patronizing notion that good superheroes are benign despots who know what's best for the rest of us, and the too-predictable revelation that the mission is all a sham only partly undermines it.