SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains details about Eternals. Read at your own risk.
In Eternals, Gemma Chan plays Sersi of the titular cosmic group of God-like superheroes that have been on Earth for thousands of years, protecting the planet since the dawn of man. She connects with humankind with love and empathy. Richard Madden is also an Eternal by the name of Ikaris. He’s one of the most — if not THE most powerful — Eternal. They are both super fine (actually, all Eternals are super fine) so they obviously fall for each other and have a love that spans centuries. That said, at one point they get married (or have some sort of commitment ceremony) and they smash and while they were doing so, I audibly said “That’s hot.” This was at the premiere. I tend to unknowingly say inappropriate things out loud when I think I just say them in my head… but that’s besides the point.
As soon as Sersi and Ikaris hit the skins I told myself, “Oh, the MCU is growing up!” That said, some people ain’t gonna like that.
With WandaVision, it was clear that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going a different direction that we’re not used to from a storytelling perspective as well as its ambition. If WandaVision swung for the fences, Eternals is swinging for the cosmos — literally and figuratively.
From the beginning opening crawl, I knew Eternals wasn’t gonna be your typical Marvel movie. I am familiar with the Avengers, Fantastic Four as well as X-Men and all teams under the X-umbrella. My MCU journey started to slow down when reached the spaced-out world of Guardians of the Galaxy. I am not too familiar with the Guardians, but I know they exist. This, along with Ant-Man and Doctor Strange was definitely an indication that things were about to get cosmic, metaphysical, and quantum. Enter Eternals.
This spaced-out ragtag group of Gods were strangers to me so when Marvel Studios announced this was going to be a movie I was like, “Sure I’m on board.” At this point, if you have been following the MCU since 2008’s Iron Man you are invested. There is no point of return. You are in it for the long haul. That said, whether or not Eternals will be good, followers of the MCU cult will remain loyal and watch every single movie in the franchise until the end of time.
In the days and COVID delays leading up to the release of Eternals, Marvel and Disney, as always, held their cards close to their chest. I had no earthly idea what this movie was about. All I knew that it would be directed by the visionary Oscar-winning filmmaker Chloe Zhao and had a super hot and diverse cast that would make a small Texas town nervous. In addition to Chan and Madden, Kumail Nanjiani as cosmic-powered Kingo, Lia McHugh as the eternally young, old-soul Sprite, Brian Tyree Henry as the intelligent inventor Phastos, Lauren Ridloff as the super-fast Makkari, Barry Keoghan as aloof loner Druig, Don Lee as the powerful Gilgamesh with Salma Hayek as the wise and spiritual leader Ajak, and Angelina Jolie as the fierce warrior Thena. Then there is Kit Harington as Dane Whitman… and yes, that is the Black Knight. No, not the 2001 Martin Lawrence comedy. I’m talking about yet another magically spacey character named “Black Knight”. We learn more about that in one of the two post-credit scenes.
The logline that was floating around read:
Marvel Studios’ “Eternals” follows a group of heroes from beyond the stars who had protected the Earth since the dawn of man. When monstrous creatures called the Deviants, long thought lost to history, mysteriously return, the Eternals are forced to reunite in order to defend humanity once again.
That tells me absolutely nothing… but that didn’t matter. The super-inclusive cast was enough for me. Not only were there different colors other than white, some of the characters like Ajak, Makkari, and Sprite were gender-flipped with Makkari breaking ground as the first deaf superhero. The movie also featured Phastos, the first on-screen openly gay superhero who also has a family. With this and the first Marvel on-screen sex scene, Eternals is really showing that the MCU is maturing. It’s also showing that Disney is really trying to show us that they are trying when it comes to inclusivity because damn — this whole cast is reminiscent of a diversity brochure at a major university.
The diversity is certainly a draw and it arguably makes the movie better than it really is. I mean, I liked Eternals. Was it the best MCU movie? No. Was it the worst? Not really. What mattered to me is that it took so many risks — including the casting. For a movie that is supposed to hit all points of the globe, the casting is specific as it is broad. It reaches everyone from Atlanta fans to Silicon Valley fans to Game of Thrones fans to Angelina Jolie stans. The casting is brilliant…so much that I won’t complain about the death of Ajak and Gilgamesh, two Eternals of color (see my take on representation of POCs in genre films).
Eternals has been seen as “divisive” because it’s nothing like any other Marvel film you’ve seen before in both good and bad ways. For one, there is no Marvel-branded third act war that many have deemed predictable, lacking nuance and thrown together with overworked CGI action for fan service. On the other hand, Eternals is a slow burn and it feels like slow burn. Then you have Zhao’s “golden hour” sensibilities. The practical shots are gorgeous and Zhao makes such an epic tale feel so intimate. In fact, this may be the most intimate Marvel movies ever (I mean, there’s sex!). Zhao takes her time with the characters to help them bloom…and with that comes a movie that feels, at times, like it’s moving at a glacial pace.
Eternals isn’t a bad. It isn’t great either. Even though it’s middle-of-the-road Marvel, there is something to say about Zhao’s storytelling talents. In two and a half hours (yes, it’s that long), Zhao manages to flesh out each Eternal and give them enough dimension for us to care about them. Hell, we even get treated to Kingo’s right hand man and Eternal-by-association Karun, played with wide-eyed charm and love by Harish Patel.
Zhao brought something new and fresh to the table that took MCU storytelling to a new level that opens the door to a bonkers space world of the MCU. She built a new foundation and now all other MCU films have to build on top of that.
The latest installment of the MCU may have been a tad bit clunky and too vast for its own good, but it kept the MCU fresh. It took it in a new and more mature direction that will hopefully be more interesting.
Zhao’s gorgeous entry into the MCU was a booster shot that prevented it from growing stale. Eternals is like that cool, racially ambiguous kid from Europe that joins your high school class midsemester. He brings a fresh style to break the monotony in your predictable world. You don’t really understand him, you sometimes get bored with his stories, and you question his choices but you know it’s gonna elevate the image of your class and make you learn a new thing or two.