I saw the new MCU film this week, cautiously optimistic about what this new team of “we’ve always been here” superheroes would be, and walked out of the theater disappointed.
I want to say, right up top, I loved the diversity and inclusion. The male/female ratio, the mix of ethnicities, the onscreen healthy gay marriage, the mute/ASL communications, it was all fantastic, and I’m glad Marvel is really stepping up their game. If your complaints about this movie involve the words “Forced Diversity,” we are not the same.
The core of my problem with this movie, isn’t that it “upends the Marvel formula,” it’s that it doesn’t. This movie should have been more than just a Marvel film, and unfortunately, it was held down to fit in.
What if Dune had to stick to Star Wars canon?
The Eternals Were Big
When I was working on Imax for Eternals, I asked [Denis Villeneuve, director of Dune] if it was OK for me to watch Dune. I knew he did incredible things in Imax, so I knew I could learn from him. He was so generous; he was like, ‘Yes.’ So I actually find a lot of strength in our films coming out at the same time and to have a colleague who I respect and love and to be able to go through this together and to hug each other at Venice [International Film Festival] when Dune came out. He even sent me a message last night, so it all feels very empowering.Chloe Zhao, director of Eternals
This movie wants to be epic, and not only that, it wants to be an Epic, akin to The Lord of the Rings (or, again, Dune). With grand historical moments, beautiful ancient locales, and long contemplative moments, the movie wanted you to feel the weight of what it means to be part of the past 7,000 years of human history. Seeing empires rise and fall, seeing the advancement from the wheel, to the atomic bomb, in real time. What does it mean to love people who don’t survive with you, and what does it mean to love the people who do.
That has been in the treatment that I read from the beginning. We knew that to tell a mature love story, a love story that spans thousands of years, to not do any kind of intimate scene felt unnatural to me. And everyone was on the same page. Once we filmed it and edited it together, we did show some folks to see their reactions. And everyone, Disney as well, said, ‘That is a beautiful display of love,’ [regarding] the way our actors played it together and the way it fit into the mood and where it is in the film. So everyone was like, ‘Let’s do it!’ If anything, I was the one who was like, ‘Is it OK? Can we do this?’ But everyone was supportive of that.”Chloe Zhao
These heroes are epic, and are the inspiration for the mythological heroes such as the goddesses Athena and Circe, the great hero Gilgamesh, Icarus who flew too close to the sun, trickster fey sprites, the great fighter Ajax, and more. The imaginative core of humanity comes from these Eternals, and they have been with us and helped us since we began to move from Hunter-Gatherer groups, into actual civilizations.
They were sent here by a being that can create life, can pull energy to create a sun, so that new galaxies can emerge. Our world was chosen to be food, raised like a pig to slaughter, so that another everlasting creature could be born, an event that happens once every million years. Everything about this feels huge, and important.
We knew, to make this film in a way that you believe these immortal people have walked Earth for 7,000 years, it has to be a very immersive experience, visually…
I had this idea that we were able to capture the most grand, epic, cosmic moments — but also the tiniest, intimate moments on Earth. And that juxtaposition allows audiences to explore our relationship with the cosmos and our planet…Chloe Zhao
I could feel this movie pushing itself, trying to become a huge story, but then, there were moments that completely interrupted the pace.
The MCU is Small
The Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, try as it might, is not huge in an Eldritch horror, cosmic way. The MCU is a movie about people, humans mostly, and them pushing themselves to be the best they can be, so that they can save other humans. That saving always comes at the end of a big fight scene, and the MCU requires a fight scene at every turn of the story.
I’ve seen multiple articles with the title “Eternals Breaks the Marvel Formula,” and go on to talk about natural lighting, shooting on location, ASL characters, gay characters, a proper love scene. These things don’t break the MCU formula. Not having a big boss fight where your surroundings are falling apart would break the MCU formula. Having a villain that isn’t a different version of yourself would break the MCU formula. Every time the movie is pushing towards something new, it pulls back, and has a fight scene with explosions and flying.
Also, the movie has to stop and explain multiple times why these characters haven’t been involved in the past 80 years of superhero activity (since WWII with Captain America). They make reference to Thanos, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark’s death, and their ability to sit idly by. The characters that would have defied orders and helped anyway, like Druig and Makkari, well they have been hiding from society for the past few hundred years, just chilling.
Also, if their goal was to help the world reach a human population limit, and they were 8 months (canonically) away from the Emergence, wouldn’t Arishem the Celestial Judge give them an exception on their whole “No involvement unless it’s Deviant related” rule? Even if not, Thanos is actually an Eternal himself, therefore created by a Celestial, probably Arishem, and doing this would totally ruin centuries of work! The only exception is if somehow Arishem knew the Avengers would win the second time around, but that’s a big IF.
Even if not, while Ajak, leader of the Eternals, specifically said not to get involved in human affairs before, I gotta say, they got involved a lot back in the good ol’ days. Druig is given a hard time by his coworkers for wanting to stop humans from killing each other, but Phastos invented the plow, Sersi created a river where there was none, and Sprite obviously increased our storytelling ability and sparked our collective imaginations. Also, it’s not canon, but the inclusion of Stonehenge in the credits sequence makes me believe that they, probably Gilgamesh, helped get those giant stones into place.
Overall, I think if this cast, this story, and this director, were able to remake the movie, call it a Marvel movie, but just not be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then it would have been much better, and would have reached the heights it was aiming for. Feige clipped Zhao’s wings, and we didn’t get to see just how high she could fly.
It Wasn’t All Bad Though
I will say, this movie wasn’t terrible. The relationships, specifically between Gilgamesh and Thena, or between Druig and Akkari, were incredibly heartwarming, and so much more engaging and beautiful than the Dane-Sersi-Ikaris-Sprite love square.
Kumail Nanjiani killed it as Kingo. Did you know he wasn’t asked to get ripped, but when he realized he was going to do a Bollywood dance scene, he wanted to get it right, as a kid who grew up in Pakistan watching Bollywood movies himself? So cool!
Also, since the release of this film, there has been a 250% increase in searches for “Sign Language for Beginners,” and I’m definitely part of that statistic.