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Eternals review: Unique but unwieldy Marvel movie streaming now on Disney Plus

Chloe Zhao's densely-packed MCU film crams in so many characters and subplot that it becomes tough to digest.

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Marvel Studios

Eternals is a rather different entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to a very ambitious goal. The movie aims to reveal new events in the MCU that no one knew took place, spanning almost the entire history of humanity across thousands of years. It's a complicated task, involving multiple zigzags through time, a huge cast and plenty of info-dumps. Unfortunately, the whole package doesn't quite work.

Directed by Oscar winner Chloé Zhao, Eternals starts streaming Wednesday, Jan. 12, on Disney Plus for no extra fee on top of your regular subscription.

The Eternals, we discover, are superheroes who lived on Earth throughout the entire saga of the Marvel films, arriving millennia before Captain America was even born. They include Ajak (Salma Hayek), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Klingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), Druig (Barry Keoghan) and Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok).

These heroes discuss their own backstories early and often, from a failed romantic relationship between two characters that lasted 5,000 years, to a medical condition that might require a memory-wiping procedure. There's a whole lot of talk about these details that surprisingly don't go much deeper, despite a hefty 2.5-hour runtime.

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Angelina Jolie plays Thena.

Marvel Studios

You end up having to wait through the entire first half to actually see what powers these heroes are capable of. Fortunately, it's worth it: The variety of gorgeous action sequences showcase the Eternals at war with the Deviants, which look like CGI wolves made of wires. They are apparently the only creatures the Eternals can engage their time and powers against, providing a fairly weak excuse for why they choose to sit out most human conflicts. Not to mention that one time Thanos snapped away half of the universe. It's an odd restriction when many of the Eternals describe how much they wish to protect human society.

The powers themselves aren't particularly memorable. Thena can make luminous weapons appear out of thin air. Ajak can heal. Sersi can turn stone into other elements. Ikaris can fly and shoot laser beams. The most interesting character to me was Phastos: He can seemingly invent technology whenever he wants. Among the group, no one is a jack-of-all-trades-type like Brie Larson's Captain Marvel, nor particularly specialized at their skill like Scarlett Johannsson's Black Widow. At one point Ikaris is called Superman, only stamping home the feeling Eternals' lacks a clear identity.

Marvel's Eternals group shot

Marvel's Eternals brings a new group of heroes together.

Marvel Studios screenshot by Sean Keane/CNET

The non-linear storytelling can be confusing: We're whisked back and forth in time, across constantly changing international settings. One minute the Eternals are with humans in the Stone age. The next they're back in the present day. Then we flash back to an event 2,000 years in the past, then forward again. It might be a natural journey for the characters, but I felt whiplash. It might have helped if the characters wore outfits that reflected the society they were visiting, instead of sticking to superhero suits in the past and casual jackets and jeans in the present.

Still, the time-hopping is what places Eternals in a different space from the recently wrapped Infinity Saga. While I wouldn't recommend this as a first-time Marvel watch for anyone, the only cursory knowledge it requires is that Eternals' present day storyline takes place in the fallout of Avengers: Endgame. You should also take note that there are two end-credit scenes to wait for.

Eternals was originally supposed to be the first Marvel movie after Spider-Man: Far From Home set to further dive into the ramifications of post-blip life. Instead, that honor went to Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which from introduction to post-credits scene told a story with a new voice in the Marvel universe. While I appreciate that Eternals takes a creative risk with its time-jumping events, its convoluted plot ultimately lets it down.