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Marvel Knights: Eternals
When the Marvel Knights banner for animation was first launched quite a few years back with an adaptation of Joss Whedon's "Astonishing X-Men," I had high hopes for Marvel's take on the motion comic format. Although by no means a perfect product, it was light years beyond more publicized efforts, such as "Watchmen." Since that original release, with the notable exception of the other Whedon titles adapted, the Marvel Knights line has been stuck in a rut of either generally forgettable titles being chosen for adaptation, or merely so-so production value. A glutton for punishment or the eternal optimist, I've found myself checking out nearly every release since. Enter "Eternals," an adaptation of Neil Gaiman's re-launch of the old Jack Kirby creation. On paper, Marvel Knights has unequivocally struck gold and shot for the fences adapting the work of one of the best modern writers, not to mention source material that was quite entertaining on the printed page.
Unlike many prior Marvel Knights adaptations, "Eternals" is a very cerebral offering; for the large portion of its 88-minute runtime (a huge positive move forward in allowing source material room to breath), it's a mysterious tale of hidden identities and past lives. Focusing on the seemingly mundane life of hospital worker Mark Curry, Gaiman's take on Eternals runs the gamut from pure superhero yarn (including a semi-supporting role by Tony Stark/Iron Man), to philosophical meditation on the origin of life on earth, specifically that created by intelligent design. Curry is pulled into this mystery Ike Harris, a stocky man who has come to bring Curry back into the fold of his own destiny, claiming that both he and Curry are Eternals, counterbalances to the Deviants, all of whom are the design of monolithic robots known as the Celestials.
The tale has many of the hallmarks of a Gaiman offering; the pacing is never overtly rushed and the author isn't afraid to stray into some truly fantastic if not controversial territory. The saga of the Celestials arrival on Earth and their lasting effect on humanity often comes off as a wholly allegorical take on God creating angels (the Eternals) and the Deviants taking the place in the saga as the role of fallen angels or demons. Gaiman does take his time to serve up some more lighthearted moments, in particular the introduction of the Eternal known as Sprite, an ancient being of great power trapped in the guise of an 11-year old boy. Sprite like many of the characters in "Eternals" is a fully realized character, often mischievous, but with his own tragic back-story leading him to his place in the menagerie of good, evil and indifferent.
John Romita Jr's artwork pops off the screen and his stylized takes on the anatomy lends itself well to the Marvel Knights animation process; it's still no substitute for even the most bargain basement original animation, but coupled with Gaiman's sharp dialogue and stellar vocal performances, "Eternals" proves to be the first story since the Whedon X-Men saga to justify the continued existence of the line; I'd go further to say it's the finest offering in the Marvel Knights line to date, which is critical given the often dark nature of the program's second and third acts. The bottom line is "Eternals" is a smartly crafted tale for older teens, if not adults exclusively.
Epic and engrossing; sophisticated yet brutal at times, "Eternals" is a high-water mark in the motion comic format and in all reality, a great intro point for anyone still unfamiliar with the work of Neil Gaiman. Marvel Knights is firing on all cylinders, wisely picking the source material of a master wordsmith and brought to life by an industry staple. "Eternals" third act, in particular its final moments do leave a lot of unanswered questions, mostly setting itself up for a follow-up that has never materialized, but the nearly hour and a half that slowly lays the foundation, is top notch entertainment. With one Gaiman story in the can, and the Marvel Knights line having a bit of shine back, lets cross our fingers "Marvel 1602" is next.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer captures the animation reasonably enough and accurately compared to the source material, capturing the essence of the original title quite well. Likely a result of the motion comic process, there aren't a lot of smooth lines to be found, although as in previous titles, compression artifacts weren't as noticeable here..
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio track is generally well balanced for a Marvel Knights release. Dialogue is rich and full, while effects and score are perfectly underplayed. Despite some big action heavy sequences, "Eternals" is a generally cerebral offering and the perfectly mixed dialogue carries the weight of the story well.
The lone extra is "A Look Back at Eternals" with John Romita Jr.
With only the expected merely "ok" technical presentation and the staple "11-minute" episodic breaks of any Marvel Knights feature rearing their head, "Eternals" is a truly must-watch program. Far removed from your average superhero tale, namely anything else to fall under the Marvel Knights banner, Neil Gaiman and John Romita Jr's loving revitalization of Jack Kirby's cerebral celestial saga is pure class. Highly Recommended.