Just ahead of its premiere, the cast and crew of “Eternals,”the newest world in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, hosted a press conference where they touched upon the film’s main themes. Director Chloé Zhao was joined by producer and Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, moderator Jacqueline Coley of Rotten Tomatoes, and the star-studded cast — including Kumail Nanjiani, Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Lia McHugh, and Don Lee.
By Carly Caramanna
Having premiered on Nov. 5, the ambitious film is an epic adventure where “Eternals,” immortal alien creatures that have existed for 7,000 years, are now faced with the challenge of saving Earth from destruction by their evil counterparts, the Deviants.
Not only does Marvel’s “Eternals” introduce an entirely new world with 10 new characters, but it pushes traditional boundaries of the genre by shattering gender norms. We also see the unprecedented addition of an openly gay superhero and deaf superhero. For Marvel Studios, after 25 films, this is the first time that many people are given the opportunity to see themselves depicted as superheroes.
Marvel president and producer Feige described “Eternals” as a “very new special step for us […] We wanted to make a bold new step and say you don’t know everything about the universe yet and that there are these 10 spectacular heroes who you haven’t met who’ve been here the whole time.”
The incredibly well-rounded and diverse cast is partly thanks to the vision of the film’s director. For Zhao, it was important to understand that you can’t cover the history of humanity without having characters actually representative of all humans. The gender swaps in the film were both chosen and intentional. She spoke to the evolution and ultimately the maturation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe while tackling bother large and small issues.
“So, we were really, you know, the vision of the film was to set up, to capture that scale. Something as large as the creation of the sun and as intimate as whispers of lovers.”
Jolie took on the role of Thena, a deeply complicated superhero dealing with inner struggle. She spoke to her fandom of both Marvel Studios and Zhao: “I was attracted to this project for many reasons. I am a fan of MCU. I was a big fan of Chloe’s, and then when they first talked to me about the story, really, it was the cast. It was the idea of what this family would be. And I just wanted to be a part of this family before I even knew very much about who I was gonna play. But as I learned about Thena, and that’s one of the special things that Chloe brings to this, is she’s known for, bringing reality to a film. To somebody’s true self.”
Perhaps the most captivating of characters is Sersi, played by Chan, who is on a sort of coming-of-age journey in the film. Chan shares: “Sersi is a superhero, but her powers are not kind of the most obvious or the-the flashiest. She’s not, you know, the best fighter. But what she does have is empathy, and a real affinity for humankind and the earth. And she’s a free spirit. I loved that.”
The character of Ikaris, played by Madden, is also on his own journey of sorts as he navigates love, life, and what it means to be loyal.
“I’m kind of used to playing lovers often. And to play someone who’s such a soldier, but is completely driven by love, all his decisions are driven by love, and it’s actually him that’s wrestling with that, I’m used to characters who are very focused on their love, and that comes out. And with Ikaris, it’s the opposite of that. He’s kind of trying to bury that love because it gets in the way of his duty and is constantly wrestling the two. And that’s kinda what made it really interesting for me to pull out that relationship with all the characters from Sprite to Sersi, and kind of work out what this relationship is when you’re trying to stick to duty, but your feelings get in the way. It’s this kind of eternal soldier wrestling, that.”
For Hayek, taking on the role of Ajak was a dream come true and a chance to represent Latinos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe while challenging gender norms. In the original Jack Kirby comic, Ajak was portrayed as a male.
“I dream big. And if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten here at all. But in my big dreams, I wanted to be a superhero. And I wanted to work with the best directors in the world, and have big blockbuster movies, and also movies that are art, that are made from a very deep place with great directors. You cannot ask for more.”
Some welcome comic relief is sprinkled throughout the film’s often heavy scenes, particularly the Bollywood scenes from Nanjiani’s Kingo. He discussed his hesitancy at first to the dance sequences, but would eventually go on to work with an instructor for months to nail the choreography. He explained, “Ultimately, for me, all that came down to trust. It really did. You know, on the macro level, trusting Kevin because he’s made so many MCU movies, and they’re all great.”
Henry, portraying the first openly gay superhero, Phastos, piggybacked on Kumail’s unwavering trust in their producers. “I truly, wholeheartedly trusted Chloe […] The thing that really attracted me to this part was that I just think about all the images of black men out there and how we are portrayed. And what I love the most about Phastos is that, one, he’s an ancestor. All of us are ancestors, technically. So, Phastos predates everything and had to do probably go through all these things, which could actually make someone lose faith in humanity very quickly. He still tried to find a way to bring heart and love to everything he did, even though, you know, his genius was used against him. And it just really resonated with me.”
Mankind and our basic desires are at the core of “Eternals.” Henry eloquently sums up the biggest takeaway of all that resonates in our current state of affairs.
“I think that that is the one thing that I hope everyone takes away from this movie, is that the heart of humanity is still worth saving, and we can still bind and mend and do everything we need to through love.”
Marvel Studios’ “Eternals” is in theaters now. Check out the final trailer for the film below: