Marvel’s Eternals has a Spider-Man problem.
No, the latest MCU entry does not contain direct ties to the next Spidey flick. But, in some ways, the oncoming Spidey-fest No Way Home is a great example of what will make Eternals so divisive. Although the third Home film promises multiple villains, wild crossovers and all the fun that most MCU films have to offer, Eternals offers something entirely different.
While I personally find it refreshing and engaging, Eternals is going to frustrate others.
Sent to our planet over seven thousand years ago, the Eternals are a race of immortal alien beings who have been sent to curate the Earth and protect it from Deviants, violent beasts who prey on humanity. After having defeated what they believed to be the last of their enemies, the Eternals decide to separate and live in secret amongst their human counterparts. Although, after the sudden return of half the population in the battle with Thanos the Deviants are revived with renewed hunger for blood. As a result, the Eternals must reunite once again in order to save humanity from their vicious counterparts.
Directed by Chloe Zhao, Eternals spins an epic story that spans multiple millennia and bears her signature style. Epic in scale and beautiful, it does not put the emphasis on the pop and sizzle that has made Marvel the most successful film franchise in history. Instead, Eternals takes all of the MCU’s tropes and flips them on their ear. Never one for frenetic pacing herself, Zhao allows her love of long takes, reflective speeches and romantic interests to mark the film. Despite the fact that Eternals has the budget of other major Marvel products, it still seems to contain the beating heart of an indie film underneath.
Similar to her work in Nomadland, Zhao wants the viewer to feel muted at the feet of an expansive world in front of you. As a result, she frequently makes her heroes seem small at the hands of an enormous universe and (literally) massive villains. Having worked on multiple MCU films, including Dr. Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel, cinematographer Ben Davis brings something unique and different to this film. Leaning into Zhao’s vision, he creates some of Marvel’s most beautiful and immersive onscreen images here, helping the viewer to experience the awesome scope of the film’s universe.
What’s more, this global emphasis also extends to its use of characters and storytelling as well. While the Avengers have always been globe-trotting, Eternals wants the film to be fully inclusive. Featuring a cast that highlights its multicultural aesthetic, the film has a global feel more than any James Bond film. Eastern weddings, western arguments and Middle Eastern sensibilities all play a part within this sprawling epic. (This will likely be the only Marvel film that contains a Bollywood number, for example.)
Now, having said this, it’s also these details that will cause many to struggle with Eternals. Unapologetic with its intent and style, the film is a drastic departure from the ‘zip and quip’ energy of other entries into the MCU and will challenge its more casual fanbase. This is not a film that goes out of its way to be funny—although Kumail Nanjiani is a national treasure—nor does it care to be. Eternals wants the viewer to sit in the midst of its philosophical conversations and engage them. But that’s not going to sit well for a number of people.
Whereas some will marvel (pun intended) at its scope, others will feel that it is ‘slow’. Although there are those who will celebrate its willingness to delve into its complex history, others will say it’s ‘overstuffed’ with too many plot lines. While credit must absolutely be given to Marvel for backing Zhao and her unique vision, Eternalsmay be one of the first films in a long time that will prove divisive amongst its fanbase for the same reason.
In the most interesting of ways, Eternals seems to be Marvel’s foray into the realm of DC storytelling. Marked in recent years by their propensity to lean into the grandeur of Snyder’s vision, DC has always felt more comfortable treating their heroes as god-like beings than does Marvel. Led by Superman’s divine metaphor, DC views its characters as humanity’s saviours, whereas Marvel’s stories tend to focus on man’s quest to achieve greatness or overcome their brokenness. (In fact, the importance of Disney’s first references to Batman and Superman cannot be understated.) As such, Marvel rarely delves into the realm of supernatural help.
However, Eternals is different. It unravels an epic tale about gods who choose to help as opposed to merely heroes who fall into their responsibility. This is a story about man’s interaction with the divine and beg for answers. While the film shows these god-like beings as benevolent and loving so too, it’s also unafraid to ask complex questions about why these supposed guardians would not intervene amidst the world’s greatest crises. (Where were they when Thanos was attacking, for example?)
What’s more, one of the most fascinating aspects of the film is that the gods themselves disagree on their mission. Without getting into spoilers, some of the Eternals view humanity as worth saving while others are not so sure. The fate of the world hangs in the balance of these beings who, for all intensive purposes, do not have to help those under their care. They have seen humanity’s flaws and must decide whether or not we matter enough to save… and what it means to do so.
Quite simply, these are not questions that Tony Stark ever had to answer.
Even so, while what makes Eternals so special to me, it will undoubtedly drop to the bottom of many’s list of favourite Marvel movies for the same reason. One hopes that Marvel does not get scared off by early response to this film and allows Chloe Zhao to continue the narrative. (And yes, there are two post-credit scenes worth staying for.) This is her story and it would be a shame for someone like James Gunn or the Russos to step in and make it more palatable to a wider audience. Personally, I believe this is a film that deserves to be re-watched, discussed and reframed.
However, admittedly ‘fun’ is not the first word to describe it. And, that could be unfortunate for its box office returns.
Now, when is the next trailer for Spider-Man coming out…
Eternals debuts in theatres on Friday, November 5th, 2021.