Eternals: A refreshing break from the Marvel formula?
Gwenllian Page-Gibby considers The Eternals’ move towards grandiosity and epic-scale and what that means for the forthcoming wave of the MCU.
Quick-witted one-liners, self-important superheroes and convoluted sub-plots are what we’ve all come to know to expect from the latest Marvel blockbusters but could their new release have succeeded in breaking the mould? The Eternals seems to have divided the critics but with Disney reporting $300 million dollars in the worldwide box office, it’s evident that audiences are loving it. Many are asking, though, how has it succeeded in breaking away from the predictability of phase 1?
The film began with an air of the epic (befitting of the group’s name), emulating the Biblical ‘In the beginning…’, filling the screen in a Star Wars-esque display of the eternals’ history. While some may view the move as risky and slightly pretentious, it was certainly a sign of things to come, setting up the science fiction link to magic and mysticism seen far more in this film than in its predecessors. It also felt very different from previous films which tended to take great pains to introduce its characters on screen, rather than describing them in this non-conventional fashion.
Instead of drip-feeding the audience with character-by-character introductions, we were thrust into the action against the deviants, seeing the heroes’ unity and power for ourselves before we were even certain of their names. The audience were given as much information as the protagonists, not learning the reason behind their perfect synchronisation or apparently innate powers until the mid-point of the film. Perhaps this new style is a hangover from director Chloé Zhao’s usual Indie films, helping the audience to empathise with those whose perspectives they’ve never experienced. This could also be argued in the case of the time jumps, leaping from century to century, from harmony to dissonance, in minutes. This did however lead to dishevelment and a feeling almost of motion sickness, used perhaps to highlight the different times these ancient beings have experienced and how difficult it is to adapt and stand on the sidelines of history. Depicted as being as powerless to change the events as us, the spectators, in our theatre seats, it was certainly a different direction and potentially an uncomfortable watch at times.
Instead of drip-feeding the audience with character-by-character introductions, we were thrust into the action against the deviants
The Eternals’ inability to meddle was a refreshing take on the superhero arc, reversing completely the usual trope of Human turned God with Gods turned human. This, in turn, was a brilliant opportunity to include more diversity which the film certainly didn’t disappoint with, presenting the first LGBTQ kiss on Marvel screens and the first deaf superhero, Makkari (Lauren Ridloff). This attributed the group a more human aspect, explaining why they were willing to risk everything for the sake of the planet, especially prevalent in Sersi’s (Gemma Chan) connection with humanity. The realisation that The Eternals were ultimately the villains of the tale for so many other planets in their forgotten pasts was an unexpected twist but does link to Marvel’s growing affinity for anti-heroes, as seen in the Loki series, Venom and the continuation of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Eternals also saw more characters being introduced in the post-credits sequence than ever before. With allusions to Black Knight, Blade, Pip the Troll and Eros all squeezed into the two post-credits scenes, those who didn’t wait those extra few minutes in their seats (to the discontent of the cleaners…) truly missed out on a treat. These appearances are also a sign of the villains we can soon expect to love to hate, ranging from the celestials, the potential mistrust of Eros and the eagerly awaited Adam Warlock, hinted at by the appearance of Pip the troll. Whether Adam Warlock becomes a hero or a villain, audiences are certainly in for a treat in the next few films.