MOVIE REVIEW: Marvel’s Eternals (2021)
The latest installment in Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe™ is Eternals, based on the MANY comic book series bearing the name of the titular beings in them. You might think that means the numerous comic series end and they bring it back because they were popular: ever since their creation by Jack Kirby in the 1960s, that has not been the case. While Superman may be popular, an entire heroic team of Supermen having problems was wildly un-relatable — especially when you realize the comic-book versions of the Eternals don’t get sick, don’t get old, don’t need to eat or drink, don’t need money, and are immortal. You would think an entire team of Supermen would solve the world’s problems overnight, right? It’s a good jumping-in point to the ret-conning to fit these beings into the MCU.
Despite being literal Supermen, the Eternals come to Earth around 5000 BC to watch over it as the servants of Arshem the Judge — one of many interstellar creatures called the Celestials. Each Celestial is bigger than a star, and created the Eternals to assist in their tasks — namely to watch over humanity and keep them safe from a collection of monsters called Deviants. In their time as guardians of Earth, the Eternals were remembered and became the legends of our own past — sometimes heroes, sometimes gods. The one thing the Eternals can’t do (and often fail miserably at doing) is interfere with the progression and evolution of humanity. No stopping wars, no curing diseases, no ending slavery and persecution; nothing. As a result, the Eternals split up once they completed their mission destroy all the Deviants on Earth. They all go their separate ways and have adventures of their own.
The Eternals are:
- Ajak the healer, leader of the Eternals and wandering cowgirl as of late (played by Dame Salma Hayek; Desperado, “Ugly Betty — US Version” [TV])
- Sersi the enchantress and transmuter turned schoolteacher (Gemma Chan, Transformers: The Last Knight, “Humans” [TV], “Doctor Who” [TV])
- Dane Whitman, Sersi’s boyfriend (played by Kit Harrington, AKA Jon Snow on “HBO’s Game of Thrones” [TV], Seventh Son) who factors in later in the show
- Ikaris, inspiration for the legend of Icarus and the team’s Superman analogue (Richard Madden, AKA Robb Stark on “HBO’s Game of Thrones” [TV], Rocketman, 1917). He’s got eye-beams, flight, super-strength, invulnerability, and all the others with none of the drawbacks.
- Kingo the archer, now a multi-generational Bollywood film star (comedian Kumail Nanjiani, The Big Sick, “Franklin & Bash” [TV]) impersonating his own descendants
- Makkari the speedster (played by deaf actress Lauren Ridloff, “The Walking Dead” [TV], Sound of Metal) who chose to stay behind on the team’s starship
- Phastos the builder (Brian Tyree Henry, “Atlanta” [TV], If Beale Street Could Talk, Godzilla vs. Kong), who can build anything he puts his mind to completing
- Gilgamesh the fighter (Korean boxer Don Lee, Train to Busan) and the namesake of the legendary hero now lives in Australia, taking care of…
- Thena the warrior (legendary actress Angelina Jolie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Girl Interrupted, Cyborg 2) and namesake to the Greek goddess of war, now struck with a strange mental disease
- Druig (Barry Keoghan, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, “Chernobyl” [TV]) controls minds, but has been using his powers to bring two Amazonian tribes to peace to prevent humans from harming each other since the team broke up
- Sprite (teenage actress Lia McHugh, “American Woman” [TV]) is an illusionist, but is trapped in the form of a young girl.
The gang gets back together when a few things happen: (1) Worldwide earthquakes strike the planet, so the Eternals go to Ajak in South Dakota for an answer (2) they find Ajak dead when they arrive. Thus begins a mystery of COSMIC-level importance, that could possibly affect everything in the MCU in the past or in the future (not counting Kang the Conqueror’s machinations from the “Loki” TV series on Disney+). The resolution is not your standard Marvel fare: a giant gray blob of blending movement and a color-contrasting villain need not apply. Such an issue actually caused the film to get bad press. Bad press does not make a competent film review, so I urge you all to see it.
CHOICE CUTS (SPOILERS AHEAD):
- There were a few gender swaps and race swaps in the film. Ajak, Makkari, and Sprite changed from men to women. Phastos changed from European-presenting to African-presenting, East Asian-presenting Kingo Sunen now presents as South Asian, the Caucasian-esque Ajak and Makkar are played by Latina Salma Hayek and Afro-Latina Lauren Ridloff respectively, and European-presenting Sersi presents as East Asian.
- Some of the music choices were absolutely horrible. Using Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time” for Starfox totally took me out of the movie. Marvel, if you can’t core a film properly just don’t resort to pop music — please leave that trait to the Guardians of the Galaxy series.
- I found the idea that Phastos was responsible for the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima unrealistic, especially since the US military in 1945 would not trust their purloined Nazi technology to a Negro when they couldn’t be bothered to end racial segregation (which inspired the Nazis’ social policies which led to the Holocaust). Then again, we have the film Hidden Figures to show us that Black people were instrumental to calculations that allowed us to beat Russia in the Space Race to claim the Moon (achievable with assistance by captured Nazi rocket scientist Wernher von Braun under agreements made through Operation Paperclip).
- It was a pleasure to meet Kingo’s valet Karun (played by veteran Bollywood actor Harish Patel, Run Fatboy Run), an amazing person who understands the importance of the whole endeavor…and STILL wants to be a part of it.
- Lebanese actor Haaz Sleiman (“Jack Ryan” [TV], “Killing Jesus” [TV movie]) played Phastos’ husband, which led to a controversy. Many people had a problem with the only gay Eternal also being one of the two African-presenting Eternals. This only adds fuel to the idea that Disney (and to a greater extent, Hollywood) is constantly trying to feminize men of color not only as a population control scheme, but as a way to weaken their ability to fight. That assumption smacks strongly of homophobia, especially when so many of our nation’s soldiers who fight fiercely and without mercy are gay. This is also compounded in light of those same homosexual soldiers married to their beards for legitimacy in one of the nation’s most homophobic institutions. In any case, the representation is fantastic for those who wish to see themselves represented.
- I truly enjoyed the bouncing around in time, showing the Eternals in key locations throughout history. A lot of the complaints about this movie talk about how it made no sense to do that in an MCU movie. But forget those guys. Non-linear storytelling: it’s not just for Tarantino anymore.
- I sincerely hope the dead Celestial body sticking out of the Earth’s crust continues to be a feature in later MCU films. It would AT LEAST be a new source of stone for the world. It would be really cool if the ruler of Latveria snagged some of that stone and built his castle from it, taking advantage of the cosmic energies within.
- Happy to see the Uni-Mind represented! It’s crazy as hell in the comics, but easily represented in the MCU…and I am pleased with that.
Thanos is mentioned several times in this film, though he does not appear (obviously). He is a shadow that hangs over the movie, as his presence deals with many things involving Eternals and the Celestials. Discourse about this aspect of the film is listed below.
- Thanos’ brother Starfox (played by Harry Styles, a former member of British pop group One Direction) shows up as a post-credits scene bonus, along with Pip the teleporting troll (voiced by comic actor Patton Oswalt, “King of Queens” [TV], “Agents of SHIELD” [TV], Ratatouille).
- Thanos of Titan is an Eternal (not a Titan; the phrase “The Mad Titan” is a moniker) that has manifested the Deviant gene in the comics, which is why he looks radically different from his blood-related brother Starfox. When Starfox was introduced in the MCU end-credits scene, he is introduced as the “brother of Thanos”. But the movie established the Eternals are NOT living beings. Does that mean Thanos in the MCU was created in the World Forge? Or does it mean something else?
- Thanos has only one blood-related child in the comics (Gamora and Nebula are adopted, while his blood-related son Thane is half-Inhuman), but no offspring in the MCU. This might lend credence to the idea that Eternals cannot reproduce, just like how Phastos and his husband adopted their son. Granted one could say they can’t reproduce because they’re two men, but remember: one of them is a sophisticated artificial being with super powers, AKA not a man.
- In the comics, Eternals cannot reproduce with each other but they can reproduce with humanity and Deviants. The half-Eternal offspring are called “Nephilites”. Given this information, can Eternals reproduce as artificial beings in the MCU? By that token, would all humans in the MCU be considered artificially-created beings made of flesh and blood (with trace elements of star-stuff and Eternal lineage)? Aw man…are we all Cylons bro?
- If the Eternals in the MCU are super-powered sophisticated artificial beings created in the World Forge, why were they designed to have compatible sex organs to have intercourse with anyone, including each other? Is it for sexual pleasure while intermingling with the livestock they shepherd to bring about the Emergence?
- If the Eternals are tasked with watching over humans but also have sex with them, does that mean the Eternals are the cosmic equivalent of android shepherds that have sex with their sheep?
- In the comics, the Deviants, Eternals, AND humans are offshoots of a proto-human ancestor from Earth. While Eternals got the best looks of the lot, the Deviants got some nifty abilities of their own while getting shafted in the looks department. Humanity got no powers (except for the mutant gene, which gave us the X-Men and all mutantkind). In the MCU, the Deviants were created by the Celestials as bio-weapons to remove native predators on a given planet to allow the humanoid creatures to thrive — a necessary component of bringing about the Emergence of a Celestial from that planet. When the Deviants malfunctioned and replaced the predators, the Celestials were created to exterminate the Deviants and watch over the humanoids on a given planet. If Thanos in the MCU is an Eternal with the Deviant gene (synthesized into a representation applicable to an artificial being; see above), does that mean the World Forge still has Deviant DNA inside and actually infects other versions of the Eternals? Could this be the source of Thena’s Mahd Wy’ry — allowing her to retain her memories of past Emergences and the consequences resultant?
- After seeing this movie, one of my fellow movie-goers asked: “If the Celestials made the stars, planets, Eternals and Deviants, who made them?” Thinking about the nature of the entire multi-eon history of the Celestials and how to explain Erich von Daniken’s book “Chariots of the Gods?” inspired Jack Kirby to create the entire Eternals storyline OR what the First Firmament actually is was a task that would take too long to explain. Also, I did not know the answer at the time.
- If the Celestials are born of planets, and Ego the Living Planet called himself a Celestial, and Peter “Starlord” Quill is his son (making Starlord half-Celestial), that means Starlord’s powers were Celestial based. When Starlord said, “I’m gonna start making some weird shit”, he wasn’t joking — he could have actually done it. (update 2021–11–07@12:47: James Gunn, creator of the MCU version of Guardians of the Galaxy, says Peter Quill “gave all that up” in a Twitter post.)
This is too many questions for one film, and I sincerely believe Marvel screwed up their own multiverse by making the Eternals artificial beings instead of living beings. The idea that an artificial being can be considered to be “real” — i.e., have a soul by common parlance — is another argument for another time. This does not mean the movie is bad; their screw-up was VERY entertaining.