The Nomadland director manages to get some nice-looking shots and personal drama in her superhero debut, but there’s just too much mythology to explain

The Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it is but a provincial backwater compared to the colossal scope of this latest addition, which covers such vast expanses of space and time that squeezing it all into one movie is almost a scientific breakthrough in itself. Everything about Eternals is huge, which is both its strength and its weakness. In terms of visual spectacle, it gives us cosmic vistas that would not look out of place on a prog-rock album cover or a documentary about the Big Bang. The story spans the entire globe and the entirety of human civilisation, from Mesopotamia to modern-day London, from the Australian outback to ancient Babylon, with innumerable CGI-heavy set pieces along the way. Sitting through the endless credits (which many will do to catch the very last bonus scene) you get the impression every VFX artist in the world was employed in making this. Some of their work is agreeably bizarre; some, it must be said, is downright terrible.

Along with the epic scope comes an equally huge, and refreshingly diverse, cast of characters; these include Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek and Kumail Nanjiani. There is also an epic mythology to get our heads around: even before a line of dialogue is spoken, three dense paragraphs of text explain how our 10 Eternals came to earth to protect it from the predatory Deviants (sort of skinless, sinewy beasts with prehensile tentacles) at the behest of Arishem, “the Prime Celestial”. If you’re lost already, bad luck: there’s plenty more to come, which demands some planet-sized chunks of exposition. At times if feels like you are watching a very sophisticated PowerPoint presentation.

The Eternals have superpowers: Madden’s alpha-Eternal Ikaris can fly and shoots beams from his eyes, Jolie’s Thena fights with magic weapons, Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari is super-fast, and so on. But they are less your standard-issue Marvel superheroes than immortal, indestructible gods, who have been living among us incognito for the past 7,000 years. “Why didn’t you help fight Thanos?” one ordinary human reasonably asks. Eternals can only intervene when Deviants are involved, they say. Like the Wakandans in Black Panther, the Eternals are divided over how to apply their superiority. Power, responsibility, loyalty and unity are overriding themes. But there are very few moments when these immortals actually come into contact with humans, which makes their plight feel somewhat abstract. It’s only when the Eternals’ own fates are jeopardised that they really take an interest in saving us little people. To reveal more would be spoiling the plot’s surprises, and would require explaining terms such as “the Emergence”, “the Mahd Wy’ry” and “the Uni-Mind”.