The Eternals, the celestial versions of the Avengers, make their on-screen debut in the MCU with a film that attempts to top the threat and destruction of Thanos during the Infinity Saga. I mean, after his relentless purging of the universe and the power of the Infinity Stones at the click of his fingers, what could be worse for the world? Well, Marvel Studios have managed to come up with something, as they always have. And thanks to 2020, Eternals is the third MCU film released this year after Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
The Eternals are a group of mysterious, super-powered beings sent to Earth thousands of years ago to save its inhabitants from Deviants – alien-like creatures that look unimaginatively like ones we’ve seen in previous MCU films and TV series. In present day, they now live among humans, ordered not to interfere in human affairs such as Thanos’ galaxy-wide attack – a very simple alibi for why they weren’t there to help the Avengers. But when the Deviants return, this time to try and kill the Eternals (who aren’t immortals, as you’d expect), they must regroup after centuries of not seeing each other to fight them once again. However, all is not as it seems and these alleged “saviours” of Earth must battle not just the Deviants, but each other and their internal human emotions they’ve developed over the millennia as they discover more about their true purpose in life.
First of all, it’s great to see an ethnically diverse cast making up the Eternals, with TWO East Asian actors – Gemma Chan and Don Lee (who you can be forgiven for thinking is Benedict Wong from Doctor Strange at first) – portraying Sersi and Gilgamesh, respectively. There’s also veteran Mexican actress Salma Hayek as Prime Eternal Ajak, Kumail Nanjiani of South Asian origin as Kingo who primarily serves as the annoying, self-centred comic relief, and Black actors Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos and Lauren Ridloff as Makkari. The latter two break moulds in the superhero film world as the first openly gay (Phastos) and deaf (Makkari) superheroes, though while Ridloff is deaf in real life, Henry is not gay – could they not have found a Black gay actor worthy of the role? Of course, there is the old age argument of whether you should be gay to portray a gay person, but for such a groundbreaking role in such a large scale film production, the platform should have been given to one. However, because they’re Eternals, their skin colour and ethnicity is more just for show for the film instead of being any part of who they are.
While Gemma Chan’s character takes on the responsibility as not only the new leader of the Eternals from Ajak, as an actress she takes on the weight as essentially the lead role as much of the storyline focuses on or returns back to her. It’s a great step further for the British-born Chinese actress, who despite being around on the scene for about 15 years her breakthrough and biggest role to date before this has been as supporting character Astrid in Crazy Rich Asians. However, this is not her first Disney or Marvel film. She voiced Namaari in Raya and the Last Dragon and appeared in Captain Marvel as one of the titular character’s nemesis Minn-Erva. And although that was a minor role and it was not obvious it was her, I hope her casting in this does not turn her into the one and only East Asian actress everybody in Hollywood wants to have in their films. There’s no doubt she played her part as Sersi – torn between two lovers and torn between her human life and her ties to the Eternals – well but let’s not forget the other many capable East Asian actresses who have yet to be given their deserved big break as her star continues to shoot and shine.
A nod must be given to superstar Angelina Jolie – arguably the biggest name on the cast list – as she for one of the few times in her career is part of an ensemble and not really considered to be the lead. Yet with her iconic, flawless, full-lipped face, perfect blonde locks, dressed in white like a Greek Goddess (her name is Thena after all) and supreme combat skills, she still commands the screen when she’s on it – whether as the tough Eternal warrior or the Mahd Wy’ry-stricken Eternal who needs to be constantly looked after in case she flips and tries to kill her brethren.
Richard Madden (Ikarus) and Kit Harrington (Dane Whitman) as Sersi’s two lovers also get a special mention as the former must decide whether his love for Sersi is stronger than his devotion to Arishem (the film’s all-seeing, all powerful main villain, who lacks any true terror other Marvel villains have shown) and he provides the film’s main plot twist. Kit/Dane on the other hand is later revealed to be more than just Sersi’s feeble human boyfriend who tries to wrap his head around the truths he is exposed to and it’s interesting to his Harrington in an opposing role here compared to Game of Thrones as Jon Snow.
Eternals not only adds another notch onto the MCU’s belt of films in its franchise but continues to expand its universe beyond Phase Three. Mentions are made of Doctor Strange, who plays an integral part in upcoming Marvel films, makes numerous references to Thanos, the Avengers and The Blip, while also hinting at the future of the Eternals and characters related to previous films. There’s also cheeky one liners about Batman and Superman which comic book fans of both Marvel and DC will find random yet funny. And yes, as usual you should definitely stay for both the mid and end credits scenes for a big clue to the next Eternals film (whenever that will be) and a special surprise cameo…
As you can expect from a Marvel Studios film, Eternals has visual effects coming out of its ears and with the number of Eternals practically almost doubling the Avengers with each having their own special power (though many strikingly similar to some of the Avengers’) and the finale literally being an earth shattering climax, it looks to be a hot contender for one of the most visually spectacular and destructive films in their catalogue. Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao – adding to the Asian representation in this film – really captured the essence of what Marvel films are about (predominantly jaw-dropping and action-packed but both relatable and other-worldly at the same time) and was not a bad at all result for the relative newbie. It’s crazy to think her first three film’s budgets probably nowhere near equal half the amount this one cost and are certainly not on the same scale of magnitude. Whether or not her critically-acclaimed, award-winning streak will continue with Eternals is yet to be seen, for as brilliant as it was visually it was quite a middle of the road Marvel film in terms of its plot and the continuity of MCU.
And while the Eternals are of course mighty heroes in their own way, they are definitely not as individually charismatic or strong as the Avengers; multiple failed attempts to kill the Deviants the likes of Wanda Maximoff and Doctor Strange could do for a warm-up was rather puzzling, and it’s hard to imagine these characters being able to carry their own standalone films. They are united and connected with each other in celestial ways the Avengers weren’t but their own personal backstories, while explored to some extent in the film as we are introduced to them, lacked the charm and imagination to pull people in and away from the Eternals as a group.
But with some of the Avengers having now passed away and the rest off battling their own personal demons and unlikely to come together again as a group, the Eternals look to be a staple in Phase Four of the MCU… and maybe even beyond. So whether we eventually warm up to them or not, we can expect them to start doing what they weren’t put on Earth to do – interfere with and save it.