Director: Chloé Zhao
Writers: Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo
Cast: Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Ma Dong-seok, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Kit Harrington
After the recent release of Black Widow, Shang-Chi, multiple shows on Disney+ and the general world events of the past two tumultuous years (the “c” word hereby redacted), it’s safe to say that the MCU’s fourth phase is well under way. Eternals is but the next step in said phase, introducing a myriad of new characters to the cinematic universe, a universe that, just when you thought it couldn’t expand any further, it bloody well does, and right across space and time at that. Helmed by the Academy’s latest Best Director and Best Picture winner Chloé Zhao, is Eternals an MCU addition for the ages, or is it one best left in the past?
Although technically set a mere eight months(ish) after the events of Avengers: Endgame (for the present-day storylines, at least), Eternals spans millennia, way before the Earth had even existed. In 5000 BC, the Eternals were tasked with protecting Earth from Deviants, creatures that had gotten out of control from the Celestial in charge, Arishem (David Kaye). Once their mission is completed in the year 1521 AD, they disperse across the globe, trying to find new purposes as they await Arishem’s next command. Fast forward to 2021, and Sersi (Chan) is living her life contentedly with boyfriend Dane (Harrington) and fellow Eternal Sprite (McHugh), until they are attacked by a Deviant named Kro (Bill Skarsgård). Shocked by the return of the Deviants, Sersi brings the Eternals back together to drive them away once again. However, along the way much information pertaining to the existence of the Eternals and their mission comes to light and inserts wedges into the groups’ relationships, forcing them to revaluate everything they know and, for some, everything they stand for.
As MCU movies go, this one is about right for one sitting toward the beginning of a new phase and that introduces new characters. It’s a decent ride that sets up a lot for what’s to come, but it’s nothing to get hugely excited about. Certain aspects are exciting, such as the race and gender diversity in the cast and the expansiveness of the world of the Eternals, including the way the characters are catalysts for many of our well-known myths and legends spanning known history, but story-wise it’s not got the same feel to it as other ensemble MCU movies; certainly nothing like Guardians of the Galaxy or any of the Avengers. One might argue that that’s a good thing, as it can then stand on its own two feet as a unique entry into the franchise. Normally I’d be inclined to agree, but I’m currently struggling to see how Eternals fits tonally into the grand scheme of Feige things. Perhaps it’s too early to write it off in such a way, as we’ve still a way to go in phase four and there’s many potential ways (14,000,605?) in which the characters can spark new storylines within the universe, but as things stand right now, the future is hazy.
Although Eternals is saturated with characters (originally there was to be more…!), it’s really three or four we are encouraged to focus on, with others playing more of a secondary role. Chan mostly leads the movie, and she does a fair job of it. The character of Sersi (the irony of the name, pronounced the same as ‘Cersei’, and the casting of both Madden and Harrington has only gone unnoticed by those living under a rock and who never saw Game of Thrones) is the typical reluctant-hero-protagonist whose heart and morals are firmly in the right place. Chan’s experience as a supporting actor in much of her work (which includes a small role in Captain Marvel) allows for an understated performance, one that works well for the character. Madden has an almost equal role as Ikaris – he who flew too close to the sun but is ironically eclipsed a little by Sersi – and, without giving anything away, he plays the character in such a way that there’s nothing particularly surprising about him. While Nanjiani (Kingo), McHugh (Sprite), Henry (Phastos) and Ridloff (Makkari) are good in their roles, humourous at times and support the group well, great support comes in the form of Jolie (Thena, aka Athena), Ma Deong-seok (Gilgamesh, credited under his western name, Don Lee) and Keoghan (Druig). It’s mostly Jolie and Ma together that act as a lynchpin for a relatable emotional side to the story and Keoghan’s dry wit as Druig and general screen presence that gives the whole movie its human side in many ways. What’s also notable is that the cast have been allowed to retain their natural accents, which is incredibly refreshing (although Madden’s native Scottish accent sounds like it is downplayed a little).
Eternals does feel like an epic retelling of history, and I think that’s what also makes it feel not quite so MCU-like. It has an air of Cecil B. DeMille about it, a Hollywood retelling of history but this time on a larger, more fantastical scale (plus a little more in the way of CGI). Perhaps it’s easier for those well versed in Marvel Comics to see where things will go over the next couple of years as we get through phase four, but for us following via the MCU, things aren’t so clear. Zhao and her co-writers have set up something that some of us may not yet understand, but fingers crossed upcoming movies will help us to see where this story and its characters will fit in (cue mid- and post-credit scenes).
***MID- AND POST-CREDIT SCENES SPOILERS AHEAD***
So, the mid-credits scene boasts the arrival of Eros, Thanos’s brother, aka Starfox, and a huge groan from me as we see they’ve cast Harry ‘One Direction’ Styles as Eros (having only seen him in a minor role in Dunkirk I suppose I can’t really comment on his skills as an actor… not yet, anyway…). Unlike the rest of the movie, THIS is one character whose potential in the future of the MCU is boundless and is most certainly exciting. From my research, Eros/Starfox has a link to She-Hulk, a character whose own Disney+ series is in development, so it’s possible we’ll see Styles pop up in that show.
The post-credits scene sees Sersi’s boyfriend Dane picking up a sword and we hear a bodiless voice that basically rephrases Uncle Ben’s “with great power comes great responsibility”. The sword is the Ebony Blade, a relative of King Arthur’s Excalibur. Thus, it seems that Dane is to become Black Knight. At first, I thought the voice belonged to Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, but Zhao has confirmed the voice to be that of Mahershala Ali, who will be – wait for it – Blade. Yes, THE Blade as originated in film-form by Wesley Snipes back in the late 90s/early 00s. THIS I am excited for, as a fan of the vampire-slaying… well, vampire.
It seems that the extra scenes have given us something to look forward to, even if Eternals itself was a little lacklustre in that department.