Marvel‘s most recent releases have been moving in bold, new directions (WandaVision, Loki, Shang-Chi). Knowing that Eternals would be part of Marvel’s next phase, it’s been that much easier to separate the MCU into the then and the now. And if there has ever been a sign that Marvel seeks to expand the variety of its content, then it’s perhaps the early reception to their latest franchise starter, which just might paint the future of the MCU.
There are valid critiques of this film, thus far—Eternals admittedly isn’t for everyone. As someone who’s waited for this film since San Diego Comic-Con 2019, I’ve certainly felt a waning connection to these new characters, like Sersi (Gemma Chan), since seeing the film over a week ago. There’s been a lot to process. A whopping 156 minutes doesn’t even give each Eternal the backstory or moment they deserve, and that’s considering two were already cut from the film.
Eternals tries to do a lot, and some characters and stories draw the short straw in this first installment. It’s not easy to tell multiple stories concurrently. The good thing is that the film succeeds more than it doesn’t. It’s just so different from what Marvel has done before. It is a shock. You could almost call Eternals an experiment, but if that were true, then would it have a team that nails what they do so well?
We’ve seen Marvel on a cosmic scale before, but director Chloé Zhao knows how to truly approach this world on an epic scale, scanning thousands of years instead of thousands of light-years. Ben Davis’ cinematography helps complete her vision by showing the audience vast civilizations and the enormous might of the Celestials. A scale unfathomable when compared to the size of Thanos.
Another design highlight is the score of the film, composed by Ramin Djawadi. The Eternals theme is highly memorable, balancing triumphant yet angelic tones. The soundtrack helps convey the way humans view the beings who would inspire stories of Gods, who by the end of the movie, have a reverence for humanity in the same vein.
But what ultimately makes Eternals so powerful for some audiences is the way this family is portrayed, and the different love stories told via each Eternal archetype.
Warning: ‘Eternals’ Spoilers Follow
It’s not that love stories are new to the MCU, but they generally aren’t the focus in the way they are in Eternals. Sure, you can argue that Tony Stark sacrifices himself out of love for his daughter, surrogate son, wife, and the rest of humanity, but Eternals is a little bit more two-sided than the typical white-marvel-male-protagonist model.
When the film ends, the Eternals win the day by coming together and creating the unimind. Sersi couldn’t use her powers alone. These relationships give and take more than most do in the MCU. And while not an Eternal, the mild-mannered Karun (Harish Patel)—brought along as a friend and assistant to Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani)—also brings his own sense of warmth and humanity to fill up any room he’s in.
The main storyline revolves around Sersi and Ikaris (Richard Madden), whose centuries-spanning love story lands in the backstory arc of the movie and is kind of lost in the plot of the modern-day arc. Sersi feels passive in the end, but that doesn’t negate the chemistry Chan and Madden share. It is their dramatic tension that anchors the plot, as the story even ends with Ikaris flying into the sun. Very on the nose.
And while their story is romantic and will probably give you butterflies, at least in Marvel’s first sex scene that you definitely didn’t know about, there are several characters that are more compelling that take the spotlight in this movie.
Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) is the team’s deaf speedster (The MCU’s first disabled superhero) and Ridloff is incredible in the role. She got shafted a bit on screentime, but on the bright side, she’s set up for a bigger role in the Eternals sequel announced at the end of the film. She also has intense chemistry with Barry Keoughan’s Druig, who was portrayed as a possible antagonist in promotional material but really was the first one to say no to slavery. Their chemistry lit up the screen whenever they were on it, and some of the best emotional moments, particularly in the final battle, came from their love for each other. I can’t wait for the GIFs.
But seeing a deaf actress on the big screen, and even more, seeing her character happy and supported by her family, is something very special. Makkari doesn’t face ableism in Eternals, either, which is an issue when characters from certain groups are featured in films and television series. They tend to only exist to teach about the way they are disadvantaged and the plights they face.
Eternals also features the first gay superhero in the MCU, Phastos (the first canon gay character is actually played by Joe Russo in Endgame). His story is actually very representative of humanity as a whole as he grows cynical after helping humanity progress technologically. He goes through cyclical periods of openness and resclusiveness that are aided by the expansive timeline of the movie.
Thena (Angelina Jolie) feels like a character that is supposed to die, but instead, she ends up surviving and getting featured in the first post-credits scene (with yes, Harry Styles). Her relationship with Gilgamesh (Don Lee) is apparently platonic but is at least tied with Sersi and Ikaris’s relationships for what counts as the deepest love. Thena is also an interesting as a fighter type of character who becomes somewhat helpless. This juxtaposition makes her complexity gripping, and if there were anything that should have been delayed to a subsequent film, it’s perhaps taking Gilgamesh away so soon.
Eternals has a lot of heart and beauty that drips off the screen when you watch it. An intermission would be nice, but the characters and their love for each other, and love for us as a whole, kept me doe-eyed enough to not really care about the finicky criticisms that passed my mind on the way back to the car from the theater (and boy, did I miss that feeling). If this movie is any indication, the MCU is only growing in scale, and whether you’re a fan of Zhao’s vision or not, these characters and concepts are probably going to stick around for at least a little while.
That being said, Eternals is probably a movie you should just try for yourself. At least there’s Harry Styles?
Eternals is now in theaters and will stream on Disney+ 45 days after its theatrical release. Watch the trailer here.