Review | ‘Eternals’ brings the MCU to new personal heights for its characters


Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons

The cast of “The Eternals” — from left, Kevin Feige, Chloé Zhao, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lauren Ridloff, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Lia McHugh, Don Lee and Angelina Jolie — speak at the 2019 San Diego Comic Con International at the San Diego Convention Center.

By Diana Velasquez, Culture Editor

The Marvel Cinematic Universe, for all its splendor and success, has not been very successful in writing love stories.

Maybe that’s to be expected. They’re superhero movies after all, not Jane Austen flicks. But who doesn’t love a little romance with action sometimes?

Tony and Pepper, from the Iron Man franchise, are cute but not anything to write poetry about. Joss Whedon absolutely dropped the ball with that problematic Bruce and Natasha subplot in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” And no, Steve’s “fairytale” ending with Peggy Carter at the end of “Avengers: Endgame” is not as cute as some of y’all think. 

Watching the film “Eternals,” directed by Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao, I have a newfound faith in my favorite franchise. That love and loss, both platonic and romantic, was finally done right with a true emotional punch.

“Eternals” is about a cycle of love and faith, amid a family that has spent more than 5,000 years trying to figure out how it all works.

To summarize, the Eternals are a group of superhuman beings from space who are sent to various planets by the ancient Celestials to help destroy evil creatures called Deviants. There are hundreds of thousands of Eternals in the universe, but our focus is on the group stationed on Earth who, after supposedly destroying all the Deviants in the 1500s, spent the next 500 years waiting for their next mission.

The Eternals are basically immortal. They don’t age naturally and can only die from an inflicted wound. They arrived on the planet at around the same time as the agricultural revolution, and they’ve seen every nasty crook and cranny of humanity. It’s immediately clear how negatively this has impacted their mental well-being.

First of all, when we meet the Eternals, the team is all separated. 

Sersi (Gemma Chan) is the lead of the movie. We’re introduced to her as a teacher living in modern-day London. She seems content enough — she has a job she likes and a cute boyfriend.

But we learn quickly that Sersi has been long separated from her husband Ikaris (Richard Madden). He left her without explanation about 500 years prior when the team parted ways at the fall of Tenochtitlan.

The rest of the team is similarly scattered around the world — India, Australia and Chicago. Some of them haven’t seen another Eternal since the team’s parting.

An immortal life is a lonely one — especially one without a purpose. This is a pretty common theme, featured in stories ranging from “Twilight” to “The Witcher” to “The Old Guard.” The team breaks up, specifically because Druig (Barry Keoghan) — the Eternal who can control minds — had enough of fighting Deviants and intervening in human affairs without helping people directly.

But why can’t they offer humans their help? The movie’s main conflict revolves around the answer to this question. 

The leader of the Eternals, Ajak (Salma Hayek), is the only one for centuries who can actually speak to Arishem, the Celestial who sent them to Earth. So, she’s the only one who knows that Arishem sent the Eternals to Earth to raise its population, which the unborn Celestial inside the planet needs to grow. And of course, its birth will destroy the planet.

She keeps this a secret from all her companions, except Ikaris who Ajak saw as her successor. Ikaris left Sersi because he was too afraid to tell her the truth. The planet and the people she’s come to love would be destroyed under their hands.

It sounds complicated, and it is. This is a movie that covers literal millennia, and at a two-hour and 37-minute runtime, there is still so much that could be explored about these superheroes. For example, Thena’s (Angelia Jolie) influence over the ancient Greek world as the goddess. There even seems to be another possible romance between Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Druig. 

It’s about as big as you can get for a film. And while some may have found themselves lost and lagging along in this great epic, I was enraptured by these characters and their drama.

A keen focus on the characters’ lives is exactly what this movie needed, because we don’t know these characters. With many of the MCU’s stars having retired at the end of the “Infinity Saga,” Marvel is dipping into their reserves.

The Eternals aren’t exactly A-List superheroes — Jack Kirby created them in the 1970s when he returned to write for Marvel. The team had a comic run in the 80s and the later 2000s, but not much beyond that.

So of course, the build-up is going to be slow, when we’re all so unfamiliar with these people.

I, for one, am more than happy to learn more about them. The MCU is changing, and for the good. The Eternals cast isn’t just a cast of superb actors — it’s a diverse one too.

Marvel movies, for the past ten years, have been dominated by male-led films and overwhelmingly white casts. “The Eternals” featured the first same-sex kiss in a Marvel movie between Phastos (Bryan Tyree Henry) and his husband. It also featured Marvel’s first sex scene, between Sersi and Ikaris.

Marvel should make more movies that embrace love, heartbreak and sacrifice in all its forms. And they can be blockbusters. “Eternals” has already made more than $161 million globally in its opening weekend, despite several Middle Eastern countries banning it — probably because of Phastos’ kiss and relationship.

Though the Eternals team is a few members less at the end of the film — and despite Ikaris’ general dickishness, I still cried through all his scenes with Sersi toward the end of the film — they seem ready to find their own place in the world. I hope that means playing with the big boys over at Avengers HQ or out in the galaxy somewhere. Either way, I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for them.