On July 20, 2019, Marvel President Kevin Feige took the San Diego Comic-Con stage to announce the latest phase of Marvel Studios projects. Sequels, spin-offs, and shows for established IPs like Doctor Strange, Loki, and Falcon overran Twitter's trending topics as fans feverishly speculated what subtitles like Multiverse of Madness and Love and Thunder meant for their favorite heroes.
Among those announced projects were two new properties: Shang-Chi and The Eternals. The former had a somewhat familiar pitch (powerful title character estranged from their criminal family), but the latter promised to be unlike anything Marvel Cinematic Universe audiences had ever seen before.
While details surrounding Chloé Zhao's MCU directorial debut were kept close to the vest at SDCC 2019, fans were reassured by the film's impressive ensemble. A-List talent like Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, and Salma Hayek highlighted a squad of Marvel rookies that brought a century of acting experience into the ever-expansive universe.
Eternals is a Cinematic Experience
Above all else, Eternals is a cinematic experience that only comes around every so often. Not every film needs to be seen on the big screen, but Eternals was made for it.
Director Chloé Zhao spares no expense when it comes to showcasing this sensationally stunning world. Prioritizing the visuals emphasizes the scope of this story, which consequently sets it apart from anything the MCU has ever done before.
The Influence on the MCU
With a story that spans centuries and characters so powerful they are mandated "not to interfere" in most human conflicts, many will walk into Eternals expecting the MCU's DNA to be rewired. Despite everything this film accomplishes, the Marvel Cinematic Universe retains its identity.
Bringing in an all-powerful ensemble that is linked to the very creation of the universe is precarious. If done wrong, Eternals risks rendering everything that preceded it obsolete. Rather than redefine the MCU, Eternals offers a new point of view on everything, which is a massive win.
Similar to how religion and science offer different perspectives on the universe, Eternals brings a fresh viewpoint to what the MCU is on a cellular level.
The Century-Long Story
As confirmed by the film's press release, Eternals splits its narrative into two separate timelines. MCU movies have utilized flashbacks before, but never to this scale.
The storytelling structure should be confusing, but Zhao weaves in and out of time periods effortlessly. The present-day plot is enhanced by narratives told in the past. For all the good the storytelling structure does for Eternals, it does require significant brain power to fully appreciate.
Eternals can be a popcorn blockbuster, but the true value of the film lies in its intricacies. Approaching it with a laser-focus similar to an Interstellar or Inception will yield the best possible experience.
As the film jumps around, it does run into some pacing issues. There is plenty of action to satisfy the Marvel movie viewer, but those high-energy sequences are usually bookended by slower, dialogue-heavy scenes.
Eternals has the strongest ensemble the MCU has ever delivered.
While the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy have a hierarchy to them, the Eternals balance ten characters that all operate on a fairly even playing field. Richard Madden's Ikaris and Gemma Chan's Sersi stand out among the group in terms of leadership, but not a single remaining Eternal feels like a background player.
Come November 5, each individual Eternal will have a significant fanbase. Lia McHugh's Sprite, Brian Tyree Henry's Phastos, and Kumail Nanjiani's Kingo all stole every scene they were in while each bringing a different niche to the table. Sprite is the carefree spirit. Phastos is the soulful heart. Kingo is the charismatic rock star.
That's not to discredit any of the remaining cast either.
Angelina Jolie's Thena fits into this ensemble seamlessly. As one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood, it would've been easy for Jolie to stand out among her peers simply because of how massive her star power is. Instead, she operates as a true team player.
Lauren Ridloff's Makkari's unique speedster powers allow her to have some of the most memorable action sequences in the film. Despite being the muscle, Don Lee's Gilgamesh is at his strongest when he's having heart-to-heart conversations with his various teammates. The same goes for Salma Hayek's Ajak, who has some of the best dialogue throughout the two hours and 37 minutes.
Many will walk away talking most about Ikaris or Sersi, but Barry Keoghan's Druig sneaks atop the leaderboard for most memorable Eternal. Keoghan brings this subtle and borderline silent charm to Druig, making every scene he speaks in completely captivating.
While he's not a member of the team, Kit Harington's Dane Whitman is a welcome addition to this star-studded cast. His role is minimal, but he makes the most of it. Similar to how Thena is her own character and not just the movie star Angelina Jolie, Harington sheds any elements of Game of Thrones' Jon Snow in his performance.
Despite being introduced in Phase 4 of a 13-year franchise, Eternals elects to create its own world within the already established MCU.
Marvel buzzwords like "Avengers" and "Doctor Strange" are dropped occasionally, but Zhao builds this film around its unique characters, locations, concepts, and terminology, not unlike September's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. While Shang-Chi occasionally made the extra effort to remind viewers that it's set in the MCU, Eternals barely feels bothered to incorporate MCU familiarities.
While this might be jarring for fans of Marvel Studios, this is a genius play long-term. Going all-in on this Eternals IP allows it to grow on its own so that when the time does come for an Avengers crossover, these characters will be able to hold their own opposite Marvel's poster ensemble.
Even though Eternals is more of a perspective shift rather than a universe-altering project, Eternals is a game-changing victory for Marvel Studios.
Box office numbers will dictate how Disney approaches making more movies like this, but Eternals proves the MCU can create rich stories outside the traditional formula. Eternals opens the door for future ensembles like Fantastic Four and X-Men to stand on their own while simultaneously existing within the MCU.
For anyone who fears the Marvel Cinematic Universe is getting tired, Eternals is a surge of stamina. Not every audience will embrace its boldness right out of the theater. Like all great thinker's films, Eternals requires viewers to let it settle before truly appreciating it. In a genre that is becoming more and more populated by forgettable flicks, Eternals has a shelf life that will stand the test of time.
Eternals hits theaters on November 5.