Eternals Is Marvel's First Movie To Get A 'Rotten' Score On Rotten Tomatoes – Here's What That Actually Means

It feels weird to be doing a post-mortem on a movie that has yet to be released, let alone a Marvel Studios blockbuster. But after 25 "Fresh" movies, the MCU has reached a new milestone: "Eternals" is their first film to land a Rotten rating on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. Right now, a day before its wide rollout in theaters, the movie stands at 54%, far lower than the previous "champion," 2013's widely reviled "Thor: The Dark World." Here is the film's current Critical Consensus: 

"An ambitious superhero epic that soars as often as it strains, Eternals takes the MCU in intriguing — and occasionally confounding — new directions."

Having seen the movie, I can honestly say that's a fair assessment (read the site's own mixed review here), and a key as to why it might be engendering far more bile from the critical community than we are used to from Kevin Feige's well-oiled entertainment machine. Just as the once-flawless Pixar empire took its first big critical — and eventually box office — stumble with their inexplicable "Cars" trilogy, "Eternals" may be the inevitable knick in the armor the Marvel series was destined for. But unlike the "Cars" movies, which were put down for being blatantly merchandise-driven and generic, "Eternals" might be getting dogpiled for the opposite reason: it's possibly the most creatively risky venture the studio has ever put out.

A Challenging Blockbuster

This is the first year to fulfill Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige's goal of eventually releasing four MCU movies per year after "Black Widow," "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," "Eternals" and the forthcoming "Spider-Man: No Way Home." Coming out with titles at that volume — on top of quarterly Disney+ TV series content — almost requires a powerhouse like Marvel to take some bigger swings just for the sake of variety. While the studio has released their fair share of formulaic filler installments over the years (we're looking at you, "Ant-Man and The Wasp"), "Eternals" is the antithesis of that. It's a 2-hour and 37-minute ensemble epic (two minutes longer than "Dune"!) with 10 primary heroes that spans thousands of years relating to some of the most obscure facets of the Marvel universe. 

On top of the length and breadth of character, director Chloé Zhao's movie is tonally all over the map. Where "Shang-Chi" seemed daring when it become a different movie every act (action comedy/martial arts family drama/fantasy spectacle), "Eternals" seems to become a different movie every five minutes. It can go from a lyrical historical tone poem straight out of the Terrence Malick playbook to a kooky sitcom with Bollywood stars and snarky kids to insane sci-fi set pieces involving Celestials the size of mountain ranges. Making jarring left turns like that with such frequency is a tough needle to thread, and it's in the eye of the beholder if Oscar-winner Zhao pulled it off or not. But you can't knock the studio for trying something new beyond their usual "quip-punch-quip-punch-redemption" recipe. 

While the strange tone and pacing of "Eternals" makes it a prime candidate for mixed reviews, there are surely a small faction of critics who put a target on the film's back simply for its pronounced level of diversity. The cast of characters covers a wide spectrum of ethnicities and sexual orientations in a bid to represent the very same humanity the Eternals are trying so hard to protect. It is not merely diversity for the sake of optics or "wokeness," but there are definitely some more ignorant factions of the (let's be real, barely-vetted) Rotten Tomatoes establishment who might think so. 

Whether "Eternals" gets raked over the coals for being too diverse or just too different is immaterial. I personally enjoyed the ambition at play but thought it could have gotten into even weirder Jack Kirby territory. Ultimately Marvel fans should go into the movie this weekend with an open mind that just might get blown away by what transpires onscreen.