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There’s No Way Eternals Is Worse Than Thor: The Dark World

Movie posters for Marvel Studios' Eternals and Thor the Dark World

The Chloé Zhao-directed Eternals now has the lowest critics’ ranking for any Marvel Studios movie on the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes. With an average of 47%, Eternals is “rotten,” critically speaking—the first MCU film branded with that tomato splotch. Meanwhile, the long-lambasted Thor: The Dark World rates a 66%, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, which I have bleached from my brain, has a 76%. Even The Incredible Hulk, starring Edward Norton and forgotten by most viewing audiences, pulled in a 67% critical score.

The lashing Eternals has received in reviews makes zero sense to me. While the movie is long and stuffed to the brim with characters and storylines, I was never bored, and I emerged feeling reinvigorated and excited for Marvel’s future. It is, in fact, the first Marvel movie in recent memory I’d be glad to watch again in theaters. Black Widow was a paint-by-the-numbers retread of everything we’ve seen in the MCU so many times before, and Shang-Chi, while enjoyable and entertaining, told a pretty standard origin story.

Eternals offers something different from the basic cookie-cutter narratives we’ve gotten time and time again in MCU movies. The film boldly trots around the globe and through the centuries. It presents a plethora of intriguing characters who ask interesting questions about human nature. The cast is gorgeously diverse, and the movie features Marvel Studios’ first big-screen queer superhero and same-sex kiss, representation that it handles with nuance and sensitivity.

And while it may have added new perspectives and a massive cosmic scope to the MCU, Eternals isn’t that far from your typical Marvel superhero film, either. There are quips, lengthy and constant CGI battles, betrayals, close-fitting super-suits, and displays of awesome power. So the reviews complaining that Eternals doesn’t feel like Marvel baffle me as well.

Now, as a devoted Thor fan, I’m not saying that The Dark World is necessarily the worst Marvel movie ever made. There are some well-done and memorable aspects of it, like Thor’s overall aesthetic, Loki’s grief in his prison cell over the loss of his mother Frigga, Loki turning into Captain America, and Loki’s dramatic “death” scene.

But the movie on the whole has long been regarded as one of Marvel’s weakest links, with a plodding mess of a plot and a villain called Malekith the Dark Elf, a role that underused the great Christopher Eccleston to an extent that should be illegal. Even star Chris Hemsworth publically called The Dark World “Meh,” while Eccleston took that a step further and said of the film, “Just a gun in your mouth.” Hemsworth grew so tired of the constraints of the character that he was unenthusiastic about playing Thor again until Taika Waititi reinvigorated the franchise with his witty, wacky, tongue-in-cheek Ragnarok.

What I’m saying here is that there is no way on Earth or Asgard that Eternals is a worse MCU movie than Thor: The Dark World. In fact, this is one of the times where I believe the Rotten Tomatoes’ “audience score” has done far better justice than the critics. Audiences rate Eternals at 80%, and The Dark World at 75%. This seems fair to me; I don’t always agree with other critics, but no results have made me scratch my head more than the seeming widespread disdain for Eternals from people who make a living thinking about movies.

So what’s going on here? Our Princess Weekes previously discussed some of the possible reasons for the blowback, writing, “Are there going to be people who dislike this film because of it being BIPOC-led and directed, with gay representation? Sure. But that should not mean that we can’t have critical discourse about the film.” Princess rightfully points out that Eternals helps set the stage for an MCU Stage Four that is “going to be a lot weirder and less mainstream.” Some audiences and critics were no doubt put off by a movie packed full of out-there mythology and a pantheon of godlike characters after the likes of “normal” superheroes like down-home billionaire Tony Stark and everything we had known about how the Marvel cinematic world worked before.

Guardians could exist without messing with what had been created thus far,” Princess writes. “Eternals doesn’t have that same privilege.”

This is, I think, a very fair assessment, and we should absolutely also be critical and able to discuss Eternals’ weak spots. Personally, I wish they’d kept the Deviants as intelligent, worthy enemies to counter; the whole Deviants side of the film is more than a bit of a let-down and rather confusing. Like most big movies that emerge these days, Eternals could likely have benefited from a slimmed-down runtime and a less bombastic conclusion.

But in terms of Eternals being just too odd or out there, the Thor movies also introduced a lot of weird and godlike characters and strange mythology. So nothing satisfactorily explains how Malekith, the Aether, the Convergence, and Malekith’s “What?” master plan to revert the universe to its primordial darkness somehow ranks higher than Eternals’ charged family drama.

I also think that Zhao’s efforts, arriving after she won a Best Director Oscar, were always going to be looked at more snootily by so-called film aficionados eager to pick apart the season’s most acclaimed director for her lighting choices. Add to that unorthodox (until now) elements in a Marvel movie like its first sex scene and LGBTQIA+ representation, and you set up a certain chorus primed to cry foul. And of course, there are more people reviewing Eternals and more people paying attention to the MCU’s every breath and twitch than there were in 2013 when The Dark World bowed.

Ultimately, the way we feel about movies is subjective, and you’re more than allowed to dislike Eternals if it wasn’t your cup of tea. But the pile-on that Eternals received from professional critics began to seem like a game of one-upmanship as to who could most witheringly declare the movie to be the death knell for the MCU as we knew it. There was a sense that some were all too happy and ready to tear it apart with a claws-out viciousness we do not usually direct at superhero fare.

I do know some things for certain. Eternals is not the worst Marvel movie ever made; I’d put it in my top ten favorites. And it is not, in any universe, a worse movie than Thor: The Dark World.

A gif of Tom Hiddleston as Loki screaming in his cell in 'Thor: The Dark World'

(images: Marvel Studios)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.