The Grumpy Old Man and The Eternals (2021)

Since I have been practicing for my late-stage career as a Grumpy Old Man since basically the inception of the Internet, I will start this by going Full Andy Rooney (a dated reference that should cement my Grumpy Old Man status) by bitching about fast food.

I know I should not be eating fast food, but as retirement is a laughable fantasy, I work all freaking hours of the day, as needed, and thus do not have time to source and cook every meal at home. And thus I have run into the scurrilous habit of the industry for Limited Time Offerings, those burgers and burritos that are extremely delicious and probably a little harder to put together so that one day, as you drive up and give your order, wanting nothing more than a Hatch Green Chili Burger to take home and enjoy, you are told that you are shit out of luck, here is the new taste treat we have decided you will enjoy for the next couple of months.

I bring this up mainly because this seems to be what happened with The Eternals.

Now, before we get into the meat (lol) of that statement, I feel I should address the elephant in the room (hi, elephant!) Yes I have noticed that over the time Marvel movies have increasingly become the pariah of social media. I get it, you’re tired of superhero movies. Totally understand. I was tired of slasher movies, zombie movies, and vampire movies, but they still kept making them. Attempting to defend Marvel movies apparently puts me in the ranks of anti-cinema barbarians.

After a quarter of a century on the Internet, I have honed a strategy for dealing with this sort of thing, and here it is, as succinctly as possible: fuck off.

That shouldn’t be necessary, unless this is the very first of my posts you’re reading, in which case welcome, and I was saying fuck off to that other guy. Have you seen the sort of movies I watch? Marvel movies are comfort food, pure and simple, like the Hatch Green Chili Burger and the Grilled Cheese Burrito. They helped me get through the Trump years. In the years to come, they’re likely to be relegated to ranks of movies like the garish musicals of the Depression years, one-dimensional stories with lavish production numbers, quaint and visually exciting.

The reason you’re tired of superhero movies is not their fault; it’s the fault of the suits who would only commit significant money where the numbers said profits would be – and we know where that was. Especially with COVID throwing theatre attendance in the garbage.

Now, as for The Eternals: what we were expecting was the usual Marvel formula of here is an extraordinary person, here is how they got that way, and here is the big rock we are throwing at them, with embellishments as necessary.

The Eternals, however, gives us eight characters, and almost dares us to figure them out and sort them as we go; I’m a big fan of movies that realize the audience doesn’t have to be spoon-fed, but I was adrift for waaaaay too long, figuring out the dynamics of the group and what was actually going on. So much so that when the scene occurred that marked a definite turning point of the Eternals’ mission that I was rather bored and didn’t catch it. That required a YouTube video.

Any undertaking to capture a story that evolved over hundreds of pages and many years, I think we can agree, is a fool’s errand. Two attempts to put Dark Phoenix onscreen testifies to that. I had read Jack Kirby’s original run back in the day, and thought I had a good basis to handle whatever Marvel Studios was going to throw at me – what I was not expecting was some lifting from Neil Gaiman’s version (okay, I was cool with that), and certainly not a whole underpinning from the Earth-X mini-series, which presented a dystopian alternate Earth, and seems like it’s going to upset the cosmology presented in earlier movies.

Not that cosmology-upsetting doesn’t happen in comics all the time.

I also kind of resent that rushing toward the denouement of the movie, everything seems to have returned to normal, prior to the Celestial Arishem’s final appearance. Worldwide earthquakes and a freaking alien giant rising from the Indian Ocean didn’t seem to make much of an impact. Then again, the consequences of the five-year absence of half of mankind was not explored until movies after Endgame and the Marvel TV shows.

This is the sort of thing that happened to me with The Suicide Squad; I didn’t much care for it the first time, but upon re-watching it – and prepared to meet the movie on its own terms – I loved it. The Eternals has earned a re-watch from me, but I really wish that urge had originated within me instead of some YouTube videos pointing out that there may be treasures hidden inside.

Everybody’s Doing Marvel Posts

…just in case you hadn’t noticed. Consider this your permission to click elsewhere. I understand.

I’m still dealing with writer’s block… well, perhaps not block, but writer’s naaaaaaah I don’t wanna! with a soupçon of agonizing over whether that’s because I’m better medicated these days and not thinking about death every 30 seconds instead of sex. I had a very unique – at least for me – moment a few weeks back when I paused and thought, “Hey. I feel absolutely normal.” It was uncanny in a very calm way.

Yikes!

I have a Crapfest to write up, but even the pressure of that is not enough to pry me from my hour or so of playing an RPG featuring cute anime girls every night. And realistically, after nine years of piecemeal part-time labor, the last 8 months of suddenly working 8 hours a day, if not more, takes a toll.

So with that as a backstory, let’s launch into the preamble major: As most of you know, I perform in a murder mystery show on the weekends, along with one of my oldest theater friends who lives nearby. We carpool to the show every week, and last Saturday we fell to talking about the Marvel movies. This was triggered by one of the actresses (who insists on telling us each week how much her life sucks, including the insane traffic between Houston and her beach house, gaaaaawwww!!) saying how much she hated Endgame, sight unseen, because it was all her students would talk about all week.

My friend, however, had already found out about Fat Thor and was intrigued. He had tried to watch Infinity War on Netflix and wasn’t impressed, because he hadn’t seen any of the former movies (yes, such people still exist), and I replied of course, he had no emotional stakes in it. He mentioned he had read an article that said you only needed to watch four movies to be up to speed for Endgame. Not being a complete geek like myself, he couldn’t remember any of the movies they chose, and I started mulling over what four movies that could possibly fit the bill. Googling when I got home I found lists of eight and eleven, so that four thing I chalk up to rank optimism.

In case you forgot.

Speaking of rank optimism: he thought he’d be able to find them all on Netflix. I laughed so hard I nearly drove us off the road.

This week the weather in Texas has been giving us lots of ammo to unload on climate change deniers, which meant just about every shoot I had scheduled for work got cancelled, so I sat in my dry office while biblical rains raged outside and did what nerds do: I got evangelical, and wrote up my list with annotations.

And now I’ve probably scared my friend off entirely.

But let’s start. I tried to do this in chronological order of the Infinity Saga arc. I’ve also added more notes, because that is what I do. On the list I sent him, there were no notes for movies essential to the storyline, because that’s how I roll. He didn’t find out about Fat Thor from me.

Gonna try to be as spoiler-free as possible.

* = “Contains Infinity Stone”

Skippable movies say so in the closest to Thanos purple WordPress could give me.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER – I saw a graphic on Reddit where votes were taken and this movie wound up on the absolute bottom of the list, causing me to utter what the absolute fuck in my workplace. Fortunately, they are used to such outbursts from me and likely thought I just needed more coffee. This was one of the most solid Marvel flicks in Phase One, and it kickstarts the whole Infinity Stones thing. And I hate people.

CAPTAIN MARVEL * – comes out on home video in June, which is fortunate for my friend, as he doesn’t intend to start this binge until the Summer. Takes place in the 90s, and the post-credits scene won’t make much sense, seen in this order. As a period piece, you could probably slot it in anywhere in the viewing order. Marvel sure seemed to think so.

IRON MAN – This is where you have to start making tough decisions. It can be considered skippable, unless you’re a Robert Downey Jr. fan. BUT. It has enormous historical significance. It introduces the supporting cast from the comic book, complete with early 60s comic book names: Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts. Jim Rhodes (Rhodey), was introduced later in the series, so he’s spared that cuteness. First of the now-mandatory post-credits scenes, introducing Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and the Avengers Initiative.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK – ultra-skippable. Even the other movies ignore this one. (I don’t mind it, but it’s obvious they hadn’t quite figured out their formula yet)

IRON MAN 2 – My least favorite MCU movie, and therefore skippable. It’s a mess, story-wise; this baby was rushed to the screen, and it shows. Absent a time-proven template, panicky studio interference really cripples it as it jams lead-up materials to The Avengers in any available orifice, and makes them when it can find none. Does introduce the Black Widow and Agent Coulson, though. And Rhodey confiscates an Iron Man suit to become, briefly, the Iron Patriot, and eventually War Machine. Pretty good finish, but often a slog to get there. I’m also assured it’s better than I remember.

THOR – Can be reluctantly skipped, if necessary (I’m always amazed that a movie that takes place on three different worlds still feels so small). Introduces his supporting characters, though, who will get a workout in the next Thor flick.

AVENGERS – Let’s get this damn ball rollin’. This movie and Iron Man made my wife into an MCU geek. Team comics are my favorite comics, so you can bet I love this one. 

IRON MAN 3 – Could be skipped, but if you skip all the Iron Man movies simply because they don’t advance the Infinity Saga, you are hobbling a major part of that saga, which is the Steve Rogers/Tony Stark dichotomy. And this is such a good movie. PTSD is a running thread through the saga, and Tony Stark is definitely suffering it after the events of AVENGERS.

THOR: THE DARK WORLD * – everybody seems to hate this one, but I like it, and I totally loved Endgame calling back on it hard. Far as I’m concerned, Jane Foster took up with Richard after Thor split again after Ultron. Richard seems like a very nice guy.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER – on the other hand, everyone loves this one while I’m kind of meh on it. Superb action film – the Marvel formula completely gels here. No Infinity Stones, but major changes that will affect the following movies.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – You know, when I left the theater after seeing this, I felt the same lightness as when I left my first viewing of Star Wars back in ’77. That is no small thing. We start seriously leaning into the Infinity Stones. I think Ronan the Accuser would gain a fair amount of resonance and menace by being able to watch Captain Marvel earlier in the order.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON – Another ragged-on movie. Bah and phooey on the haters. I admit it has much the same problem of Iron Man 2, in shoe-horning in seeds for future movies, then cutting those segments back for time (three hour Marvel movies were not yet a thing). 

ANT-MAN – Sorry Paul Rudd, but skippable if you’re pressed for viewing time. The Ant-Man movies have the lightest tone of all the Marvel movies, so if you’re tired of HUGE EXPLOSIONS and COSMIC CALAMITIES and PEOPLE DYING BY THE HUNDREDS they’re actually quite refreshing.

DOCTOR STRANGE * – Trippy as hell. This is Marvel’s kung fu movie, and I absolutely love the fact that the final battle is fought with wits and determination, not seeing who can punch the hardest.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – again, no Infinity Stones, but besides having the best fight scene in the series up to that point, sets up so much forthcoming stuff. Also, The Black Panther! And the most adorable Spider-Man ever! (some will argue that Doctor Strange should come after this, but I just can’t make that chronology work)

FUTURE FREEX WEIGHS IN: That last comment was due to one of the cases offered to Strange over the phone that leads to his fateful crash, which seems to be a very direct reference to an injury suffered during Civil War. However, I was reminded by one of a number of YouTube blatherings that one of the threats detailed in Winter Soldier is “Stephen Strange”, which is causing me to consider slotting it before Winter Soldier. I think that actually works.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 – Skippable if need be (both the online lists I mentioned earlier did so), no Infinity Stones, but c’mon! KURT RUSSELL. Oh, and some guy named Sylvester Stallone. Character development! Mantis! I love Mantis!

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – Skippable. Not much impact on the Infinity saga; mainly notable for the deepening father/son relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker, which a lot of people HATE. Nice villain work by Michael Keaton.

BLACK PANTHER – No infinity stones, but essential setup (and really, really good) (this, I believe, is where Netflix’s current offerings begin)

THOR: RAGNAROK – God bless Taika Waititi for making a movie as fully weird as the comics and honoring Jack Kirby. The post-credits scene leads directly into Infinity War, which means it happens at approximately the same time as:

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP – contains what will be important plot points, and is happening at approximately the same time as:

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR* – Man, the switch from the end of Ragnarok to the opening of Infinity War is the starkest example of “new artist this issue!” ever translated to the screen. Also best cinematic equivalent of a 12-issue maxi-series crossover event evar (also likely the only-est).

AVENGERS: ENDGAME – Ecstasy. I see people bitching about “fan service” on the interwebs and you know what? I was the fan being serviced. And I liked being serviced. *phbbbbbbt* (I mean, if you’re looking for fan disservice, you can go watch Batman v Superman again, you nattering nabobs of negativity)

By my count that’s 15 out of 22 that are essential viewing – only one more than the professionals. That’s not much of a time savings – what? maybe 12 hours? – and they really should all be watched, sez the nerd who’s already seen them multiple times.

Gosh. Maybe I don’t have writer’s block after all?