Marvel’s Phase Four has introduced countless new elements to its Cinematic Universe. What was once simply a world of superheroes, now includes a multitude of creatures, planets and timelines. We received a new Captain America, met the Time Variance Authority and the Multiverse and now the Eternals.
“Eternals" (2021) gave the Marvel Cinematic Universe its first in depth look at the Celestials, beings who have existed since the beginning of time and bring about new planets and forms of life into existence. Though this is the first Marvel film to be centered around the Celestials, they have been previously mentioned in other Marvel movies, including “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017), in which Peter Quill’s father Ego classifies himself as one,, so Marvel has been leading up to this film for years.
The Eternals are sent to Earth by the Celestial Arishem in the year 5000 B.C. to protect humankind from monster-like creatures, the Deviants. Each Eternal has a different power, including everything from healing to mind control, from superspeed to finger guns. After the Eternals exterminate the final Deviants in 1521, they go their separate ways and live individual lives on Earth until the Deviants return in the present day. The Eternals team up once again to protect humans from the Deviants, but along the way, discover a new, unexpected enemy. Once they learn that the seed of a Celestial planted in the Earth’s core threatens the lives of all of humankind, the Eternals must decide whether to protect the lives of humans or allow this Celestial to grow as Arishem ordered.
“Eternals” both fits perfectly into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, at the same time, has an abundance of differences from a traditional Marvel film. It is the first individual Marvel film to have 10 main characters. Traditionally, the films are based around one character and follow their path as they grow into a superhero.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021), another addition to Marvel’s Phase Four, is an example of a film that is simply the origin story of one character. While some may find following the growth, nuances and storyline of 10 different characters confusing, others may see this as a more compelling portrayal of one Eternal family. Reviews were overall mixed. While some claimed it was “overly ambitious” and “boring,” others loved seeing 10 different characters grow on the screen and appreciated the film’s subtle nods to Greek mythology.
Having 10 main characters also brings much needed diversity into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as most of the main characters over the past 13 years have been white, straight, cisgender men. Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) is the first deaf character in the MCU, and “Eternals” is also the first Marvel film to feature an LGBTQ relationship. When the rest of the Eternals team seeks out Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) in the present day, they find him living a blissful life with his husband and son. As this is the only true feature of a human family in the film, it is an enormous leap in the right direction that this is not another straight couple.This LGBTQ representation sadly garnered some negative reviews from small-minded, hateful people and faced censorship in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. Despite this struggle, it grossed $161.7 million globally during its opening weekend and has also received widespread praise for its LGBTQ representation.
Another aspect of this film that differs from many of its Marvel counterparts is that it features the directing of Academy Award-winning Chloé Zhao. Marvel films are constantly lucrative (“Avengers: Endgame” (2019) is the second-highest grossing movie behind “Avatar” (2009)); however, apart from “Black Panther” (2018), Marvel has not attracted nominations in the Academy Awards Best Picture category. There was speculation that Chloé Zhao’s masterful directing may bridge this gap.
At its core, the Eternals' journey with Celestials on Earth begs the question, is it worth sacrificing a smaller number of lives (those currently on Earth) to give rise to a larger number of them (those that would be created by a new Celestial)? Or is it most important to save the lives that already exist? The film squeezes a lot of material and plot into its two hour and 37 minute runtime; however, for those who are deeply invested in the progression of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and enjoy an action film with comedic relief and stellar cinematography, watching “Eternals” is an overall enjoyable experience. Who knows… in the end it may surprise you.