Coming off the heels of the captivating “Shang-Chi and the Legends of Ten Rings,” Marvel Studios brings a new level of depth with “Eternals” — their third theatrical release amid the pandemic. The ambitious film sees the Marvel Cinematic Universe expanding — in a big way.
By Carly Caramanna
With an all-star cast, including Hollywood A-listers Angelina Jolie and Selma Hayek, 10 new heroes are introduced in the epic adventure that is “Eternals.” These immortal alien creatures have existed for 7,000 years but are now faced with the challenge of saving Earth from destruction by their evil counterparts, the Deviants.
Not all heroes wear capes … and in “Eternals,” not all heroes look as you would expect them to. The film culturally resonates and speaks to the current climate of affairs in the real world as it meets the demand for more representation on-screen. Directed by Chloe Zhao, the film also stars Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Harish Patel, and Kit Harington.
The incredibly well-rounded, diverse cast questions our notions of just what a hero should look like and how they should be portrayed. This is the first time Marvel has introduced an openly gay superhero (Phastos played by Brian Tyree Henry) and a deaf superhero (Makkari played by Lauren Ridloff). Marvel Fans come in all colors and creeds … and we will finally see that depicted in the heroes on screen as well.
With a detailed storyline, many new characters, constant time jumping, and both large-scale and small-scale themes, there’s a lot to unpack in this near three hour film. Because of this, it’s the type of film you would need to digest a few times to fully appreciate. The narrative is at times slightly convoluted, and it only scratches the surface on some of its characters, but amidst some faults, I was pleasantly sucked into this new realm.
So much of what makes this film so great could be attributed to the direction from Chloe Zhao — whose portfolio is largely in the indie film world. Because of the creative freedoms she was given, the film is less focused on action and instead on developing the characters deeply as they navigate their lives and personal relationships. This results in something that is otherworldly, while being utterly relatable — these are superheroes, but they oddly felt humanized. By embracing all that comes with human life, this leads the Eternals to their own struggles as they fight amongst themselves and inside themselves while questioning their greater purpose.
Much of it was filmed on location and because of this, it leans heavily into visually embracing the beautiful scenery, specifically scenes shot in the Canary Islands. There’s less CGI and the result is one of the most stunning visuals we’ve seen from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to date.
While it does feature a strong ensemble cast with chemistry demonstrated throughout, I felt the female characters stole the spotlight. Gemma Chan nailed the character of Sensi — who doesn’t possess the most obvious abilities as a hero. Armed with the power of empathy, she has viewers questioning the notion of what it means to be heroic. She’s incredibly strong emotionally, while having a gentle disposition. Although she is thousands of years old, we see her in a sort of coming-of-age story as she grows into her own powers while learning to trust herself. It’s a fresh and new take on female heroes in this genre.
Self-proclaimed MCU fan, Jolie, impressed with her role of the deeply complicated Thena. Jolie portrayed the elite warrior with fierceness and shined with the performance of her own stunts. Hayek took on the role of Ajak, the spiritually leader of the Eternals. Director Zhao made the choice to gender swap from the original 1970s comic series ‘Eternals’ created by Jack Kirby and because of this, Hayek added femininity to the leader of this motley crew. I just wished we had more of her in the film and hope they expand upon her character in the future.
I enjoyed the moments of comedic relief that provided a much needed breathe of ease throughout the complex, layered storytelling — from a karaoke scene to the group of heroes drinking and eating while joking about the Avengers. Several of these moments were provided by Kingo, played by Kumail Nanjiani. This wisecracking character embraces life on Earth as a wildly successful Bollywood movie star and hilarity ultimately ensues whenever he’s in presence. The dichotomy between his human life and his hero one makes him one of the more interesting characters of the film.
Carried throughout, the core message of the film is family. It’s something we can all relate too and quite simply has the ability to resonate with viewers from all walks of life. No matter how hard times get, or how different each member is, the Eternals come together when duty calls.
We’re seeing an entirely new and welcomed level of maturation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the film seamlessly navigates life’s little struggles with the great cosmic ones. At the centerpiece of this enthralling story is a whole lot of heart.
This film proves to be another bold move from the studio as they call upon fans to embrace lesser-known heroes — but in this case, it works. “Eternals” feels very un-MCU like, but in a good way as these new characters are both lovable and relatable. It drags a bit in the second half, but it’s to be expected with a film that covers 7,000 years. With its broad appeal, new or casual Marvel fans could even use this as a point of entry into the Universe. We look forward to seeing these characters further flushed out and embraced in the years to come.
Marvel Studios’ “Eternals” premieres in U.S. theaters on Nov. 5, 2021. There is one mid-credits scene and one end-credit scene fans will not want to miss.
In The Parks
Besides merchandise, there aren’t any Eternals characters or attractions yet in the theme parks. If any characters show up, they’ll most likely be in Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure.
On the East Coast, you can find lots of Eternals merchandise in the Super Hero Headquarters store at Disney Springs.