I missed out on Eternals when it was first released in the theaters. The film opened with mixed to negative reviews, got panned by a number of critics, and was even looked down upon by Marvel fans. And after it became the first MCU movie rated ‘Rotten’ at Rotten Tomatoes, I knew this movie was worth a shot. MCU has followed the formulaic ‘hero’s journey’ in its films, especially the superhero origin stories, which has worked perfectly well with the audience and has been viable for the franchise’s ever-growing success. Until the end of MCU’s Phase 3, there was a well-maintained and well-structured chronology in both Marvel’s films. Though it released two prequels, Captain America: The First Avenger and Captain Marvel in that course, the post-credits and mid-credits sequences of these films balanced that continuation.
But with Eternals, Marvel Studios, along with Academy-Award winning director, Chloé Zhao, tried something different, both in terms of the unfolding of events and their presentation. The film stepped took on the responsibility of changing MCU’s origins once again by introducing a diverse and astonishing cast. Eternals is Marvel’s redefining of the beginning of MCU as we have known it, and, to add to it, it primarily takes place in the present post-Endgame era. Hence, it has to juggle between eras in the MCU timeline to justify the presence of Eternals throughout these bygone centuries. The limitations of telling an origin story in a vastly expanded cinematic universe, along with the added pressure to create and develop it in a manner that sets things up for the future of the characters already puts Eternals in a tough spot. Chloé Zhao and Kevin Feige have nailed it given those conditions.
Firstly, Zhao, being the craftswoman she is, has done a terrific job with the casting and representation of these Marvel comic characters. There’s a clear presence of diversity in the cast, which Zhao incorporated by making several changes to the comic book backgrounds of these characters. Gemma Chan and Salma Hayek, who play Sersi and Ajak, the two protagonists, are both actors of colour . Kumail Nanjiani brings a breath of fresh air to Kingo, and Brian Tyree Henry plays MCU’s first openly gay superhero, Phastos. Then there’s Makkari, played by deaf actress Lauren Ridloff with the kind of utmost perseverance that makes a lasting impact on the film. Despite there being ten characters in the titular group of superheroes, Zhao has managed to give them all ample screen time.
Eternals also does a great job in introducing us to the Celestials, who have been teased since the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, officially widening the MCU and giving the franchise a denser and more fervent foundation. The most powerful ancient beings are introduced with a dark twist to their significance which has the potential to change MCU which already is hinting at multiversal and time-manipulating adversaries. Moreover, each Eternal received a human aspect to their individual story. There was this ageless development in each character arc, supported by the flashbacks and in the limited screen time, each character showed their own depth. Whether it’s Sprite’s profound love for Ikaris, Kingo’s conscientious battle with his newfound truth, or Phastos’ immense protective instinct for his family, each one of them had a unique dynamic.
It’s probably these different dynamics that led to the mixed reception that the film received. It was most definitely compared to the previous MCU movies, and Eternals deviates from that path. It’s not like Marvel has always given the best films, case in point: Thor: The Dark World. But Eternals was released at a point where Marvel and its entire lore had surpassed infancy. A number of characters have been killed off or retired, and new faces are taking on the responsibility to take this franchise ahead. Eternals not only establishes such capable characters, but also takes the story forward in a mature direction. Maybe, Eternals not being an exclusive coming-of-age origin story film didn’t really fit well with the now-outdated expectations of the superhero genre.
Besides the story and the characters, Zhao remarkably uses Marvel’s talented team of visual effects artists and supervisors, creating a magnificent marvel for MCU in terms of visuals, further empowered by Ben Davis’ cinematography. Plus, Kit Harrington and Harry Styles give hints to some massive stories that shall follow Eternals, along with minutely introducing Mahershala Ali’s Blade in a voice cameo.
The film does fail at its most noticeable plot hole – which is Arishem not letting the Eternals interfere with the conflict with Thanos, despite the fact that Thanos was a clear barrier to Arishem’s ultimate plan and Tiamut’s birth. But then Marvel has at many times managed to resolve such loopholes in future instalments. Plus, maybe, the film could have been done without Kumail’s forced dance number.
Eternals unfortunately never made it big amidst critics and the audience but despite its flaws, the film is an impressive entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is entering a mature, well-developed, and emotionally driven era.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.