Eternals: The Next Stage in the Evolution of the Marvel Universe

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Eternals: The Next Stage in the Evolution of the Marvel Universe
© Provided by
Eternals: The Next Stage in the Evolution of the Marvel Universe
© Provided by The Eternals when they first arrive on Earth in 5000 BC. PHOTO courtesy of disney philippines

( “Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?” croons singer Skeeter Davis in the background of an emotional turning point in Marvel Studios’ Eternals. Another Marvel film, another end-of-the-world threat sounds like just another day at the MCU. Yet, things look a little different this time.

This epic film spans thousands of years and is possibly the mega-successful franchise’s most ambitious and unique one so far. With the task of introducing a cast of all new characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a horde of new big baddies, and a mythology unheard of in the 25 films before it, Eternals had lots to carry, and much is expected of the film that will carry the ever-expanding MCU into a new age. “We wanted to make a bold new step and say, ‘You don’t know everything about the universe yet,’” says Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige—and it’s a bold new step, indeed. At the end of the world, a new one emerges.

In a virtual global press conference moderated by Jacqueline Coley, producer Feige—along with Eternals director and co-writer Chloé Zhao, and cast members Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, Gemma Chan, Don Lee, Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, Don Lee, and Richard Madden—broke down what Eternals is and what it means for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) moving forward.

Eternals: The Next Stage in the Evolution of the Marvel Universe
© Provided by From left to right: Lia McHugh, Barry Keoghan, Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Harish Patel as Kingo’s valet Karun, Chan, and Madden look for something hidden in the desert. PHOTO courtesy of disney philippines

So, what is Marvel’s Eternals all about?

Eternals takes place between 5000 BC (the earliest glimpse into the MCU) and present day-MCU (roughly just past Avengers: Endgame’s events that brought back the missing half of the universe that Thanos snapped away). The film features ten super-powered immortal aliens from the planet Olympia called Eternals, and they descend upon Earth on a mission: to spend thousands of years on Earth protecting humanity and helping civilization against brutal alien predators called the Deviants. This is a mission given to them by the Celestials, a race of giant (and we mean, huge) “cosmic builders” that eagle-eyed viewers may have first spotted in Guardians of the Galaxy. Over the last hundreds of years, the Eternals live amongst humanity, only revealing themselves when the Deviant threat returns. As seen here, this chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe really looks to expand what we already know, and it might take a while to really grasp everything.

Tasked to bring this Marvel comic book by the legendary artist Jack Kirby to cinematic life was newly-minted Academy Award Winner, Chloé Zhao. “When Chloé came in and pitched it to us, and took sort of these very general ideas that we had and the Jack Kirby spectacular source material, it felt like a very new special step for us,” said Feige about hiring Zhao. Zhao is most known for directing small-scale Westerns and natural slice-of-life stories, so being the one to direct something as big as Marvel and Eternals was an interesting pairing, but Zhao brought her own ideas into the blockbuster mix, shooting mostly on location and using natural light, showcasing the beauty of the natural world. “It started with me showing [Feige] a macro photo of sand,” says Zhao to the laughter of the cast, “And then quoting a poem from William Blake. [After,] I still was allowed to stay in the room, so it was really nice!”

 Zhao continued: “In that poem, Blake was trying to convey that you can see the endless beauty and the meanings of the cosmos within the smallest things you can find on earth. So the vision of the film was to set up [and] to capture that scale. Something as large as the creation of the sun, and the whispers of lovers.” Kit Harington then jokes, “I should see this.”

Harington is one of the few huge names that Zhao and Feige assembled for this epic undertaking of bringing Eternals to the big screen. The Game of Thrones alum plays Dane Whitman, one of the few characters in the film who aren’t Eternals. Instead, he’s a human who has a special relationship with Gemma Chan’s Sersi. “I did feel in this, I’m representing humanity,” says Harington. “I felt that from the beginning, I had to represent something that was worth saving, maybe. I come in at the start, and in some ways, intro the movie, and then the movie goes its own direction with these wonderful people,” pointing to the rest of the cast who do play the super-powered Eternals.

Eternals: The Next Stage in the Evolution of the Marvel Universe
© Provided by Richard Madden and Gemma Chan play Ikaris and Sersi, two Eternals in love. PHOTO courtesy of disney philippines

Each Eternal has their own special power, whether as fighters or thinkers. Fighters like Ikaris, the character played by Harington’s Game of Thrones brother Richard Madden, is super strong, can shoot laser beams out of his eyes and fly. Chan’s Sersi on the other hand, is a thinker, and she is able to manipulate objects and change them from one thing to another. “She’s not the best fighter,” says Chan of her character, “but what she does have is empathy, and a real affinity for humankind and the earth. And she’s a free spirit.” Sersi and Ikaris’ thousand years-long love story is a focal point of the film, and Madden notes that he loved playing someone driven by love, yet tries to hide it. “He’s kind of trying to bury that love because it gets in the way of his duty, and is constantly wrestling the two, and that’s kind of what made it really interesting for me to pull out that relationship with all the characters, and kind of work out what this relationship is when you’re trying to stick to duty, but your feelings get in the way.”

Another major name, and maybe one of the biggest ones to join the MCU in recent memory, is superstar Angelina Jolie. Jolie plays Thena, an (of course) incredibly skilled fighter and one of the group’s strongest warriors who can create weapons out of energy. Thena, though, is also suffering from all the memories of centuries of battles, like a cosmic case of PTSD. “Chloé is known for bringing reality to a film to somebody’s true self,” explains Jolie when asked about playing Thena. “A lot of us were cast to bring out something from our own lives, something within ourselves that maybe we weren’t aware of. And then let it live and let it grow within the film.” Jolie adds, “She is maybe the most fantastic [character] I’ve ever played,  and yet my children said they thought it was most like me.” When asked about why she chose to join the MCU, Jolie says, “I was attracted to this project for many reasons. I am a fan of the MCU, was a big fan of Chloé’s, [and] really, it was the cast. I just wanted to be a part of this family before I even knew very much about who I was gonna play.” To play a family who’s been together pretty much for 7000 years really relies on getting the right cast.

Eternals: The Next Stage in the Evolution of the Marvel Universe
© Provided by Salma Hayek as Ajak, the healer and the acting mother of the group. PHOTO courtesy of disney philippines

The cast that Jolie talks about is Marvel’s most diverse one yet. People of varying shapes, sizes, races, age, and backgrounds. That a lot of folks would see themselves as superheroes for the first time “was the whole idea,” said Feige. Leading the Eternals is Ajak, played by the iconic Salma Hayek. Ajak was originally a man in the comics, so when Hayek was asked to play the character, she thought “Everything is possible!” Hayek says about her casting, “It’s very humbling when in the middle of your 50s, a brilliant director gives you the opportunity to… do something that comes from a deep place [and] that it’s also a blockbuster.” She adds: “And when you think about it you know, in your 50s, Mexican, I’m short with big boobs. It’s not the normal superhero. They were not afraid that grandma was going to break in the middle of it. [At the Eternals premiere,] I nearly cried because I saw this Latino family, the mother and the three little girls all dressed like Ajak—it was all so moving.”

Eternals: The Next Stage in the Evolution of the Marvel Universe
© Provided by From left to right: Lia McHugh, Barry Keoghan, Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Harish Patel as Kingo’s valet Karun, Chan, and Madden look for something hidden in the desert. PHOTO BY courtesy of disney philippines

Also in the cast is comedian Kumail Nanjiani who plays Kingo, a flashy Eternal who spends his idle time on Earth becoming a massive Bollywood movie star. “Chloé lied to me,” Nanjiani says when recalling his first meeting with Zhao. After saying he couldn’t do a dance sequence, Nanjiani says that Zhao noted that they’ll make it a Bollywood action scene. “And then soon as I got to London, she’s like ‘It’s a dance sequence’”. Another major character in the film is the inventor Phastos, Marvel’s first openly gay superhero, played by Brian Tyree Henry. In the film, Phastos has a husband and child. “What I really love most about Phastos is that through all of him being Eternal, him never being able to die, he still chose love. He still decided to have a family even though he may have to watch them perish.” About being cast in a superhero film, Henry asked, “How much weight do I have to lose? And Chloé was like, ‘What are you talking about? We want you exactly as you are,’ and to be a black man, to have someone look at you and say ‘We want you exactly as you are,’ is unlike anything I’ve ever felt.”

Another first for the MCU is the introduction of super speedster Makkari, the franchise’s first deaf superhero. Lauren Ridloff, best known for her role in The Walking Dead, plays the character and is very excited about having deaf kids wearing Makkari-inspired Halloween costumes. The film also includes Korean actor and Train to Busan star Don Lee as the fighter Gilgamesh, Irish actor Barry Keoghan as mind-control master Druig, and teen actress Lia McHugh playing the eternal trickster 12-year old Sprite, one of the youngest (or at least youngest-looking) superheroes in the MCU.

Eternals: The Next Stage in the Evolution of the Marvel Universe
© Provided by Kingo (Nanjiani) fights off one of the alien predators called Deviants. PHOTO BY courtesy of disney philippines

 This diverse cast is not just one of the ways that Marvel is stepping into a new era. Yes, this cast and these characters showcase diversity like never before in the MCU, but Eternals also feels like Marvel’s most complicated movie yet, not just in terms of story but in its themes. The film deals with themes of existentialism, PTSD, zealotry, among other very big concepts. Though the film doesn’t often have enough time to really focus in on these because it’s juggling so much, it’s refreshing to see a Marvel movie take its time to focus on these feelings rather than just good vs. evil.

What happens next?

Eternals: The Next Stage in the Evolution of the Marvel Universe
© Provided by Director Chloé Zhao talks to Chan on set. PHOTO courtesy of disney philippines

So, what does this all mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in terms of its stories? Eternals really blasts the door open to what possibilities there are for what’s to come. The movie ends on a massive note that really shakes up the world. If you’ve been keeping up with the likes of the MCU television shows like Loki and WandaVision, and have seen the teases for Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the universe is about to break open, and who knows what else will come to Earth because of this. Make sure to stay for the film’s two post-credits scenes that seem to open up more new worlds, with some surprise cameos to boot.

One thing’s for sure, it’s already clear that this next step into the MCU looks to be more inclusive and more diverse, bringing stories not often seen in blockbuster superhero films into the spotlight. Just look at The Falcon and the Winter Soldier or future Marvel projects like Ms. Marvel and Blade. The goal is that Eternals will be among those to lead the way into more of these inclusive stories always being a part of the MCU across all its films and television shows. It may be the end of the world, but the stories will be universal. Nanjiani noted that this choice to cast such a diverse group of people wasn’t just to do it but it was for a greater purpose, saying “The diversity of the cast and this team is something we talk about a lot, but the way [Chloé] approached it was so interesting. It wasn’t as if to make a point, it’s as if to say, ‘This is how things should always have been.’”

Marvel Studios’ Eternals will have an early limited release on November 29 and 30, with a wide release starting December 1. Photos and videos courtesy of Disney Philippines.

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