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I'm not saying it was aliens... but it was aliens.
Welcome to Pop ‘n’ Pizza, a weekly newsletter highlighting what’s new in pop culture and pulp fiction. This week, I’m talking about the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Chloé Zhao’s ETERNALS. 🍕🥤
Genre: Superhero / Sci-Fi
Release Date: November 5, 2021
Running Time: 157 Minutes
Studio: Marvel Studios
Behind the Scenes
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Written by Chloé Zhao, Patrick Burleigh Ryan Firpo, Kaz Firpo
Cinematography by Ben Davis
Music by Ramin Djawadi
In Front of the Camera
Gemma Chan (CRAZY RICH ASIANS, CAPTAIN MARVEL)
Richard Madden (GAME OF THRONES, ROCKETMAN)
Kumail Nanjiani (THE BIG SICK, SILICON VALLEY)
Salma Hayek (DOGMA, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN)
Angelina Jolie (MALEFICENT, SALT)
How Did We Get Here?
In 1970, artist and writer Jack Kirby left Marvel Comics for DC Comics, where he began work on NEW GODS, a sprawling space saga blending mythological and science fiction concepts. Unfortunately, the series — while visionary — was canceled after 11 issues. Frustrated with the company’s management and their attempts to undermine his creativity, Kirby returned to Marvel in 1976 to focus his cosmic fixation on an original title similar to NEW GODS, THE ETERNALS.
THE ETERNALS concerns a race of immortal humanoid aliens sent to Earth thousands of years ago to protect sentient life from ravenous alien predators known as Deviants. Created by the gigantic Celestials, a race of cosmic builders, the Eternals are more than superheroes — they’re gods. And like NEW GODS, THE ETERNALS was canceled before it had the chance to tie up many of its narrative threads. Despite inspiring other writers and artists, THE ETERNALS never found an audience. Kirby’s run lasted 19 issues, and a 1985 revival by Peter B. Gillis lasted only 12.
Twenty years later, author Neil Gaiman and artist John Romita, Jr. resurrected the Eternals for a 7-issue miniseries set during Marvel’s CIVIL WAR crossover event. The popular limited series reintroduced the long-dormant characters and successfully integrated them into the larger Marvel universe.
And with that, we have Chloé Zhao’s ETERNALS — a film adaptation inspired by Kirby and Gaiman’s work that has to do a Celestial-sized amount of world-building. Like the 2006 miniseries, Zhao’s movie has to make a roster of obscure, oblique characters accessible to mainstream audiences while weaving them into the exceedingly elaborate continuity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
What’s It About?
“ETERNALS follows a group of heroes from beyond the stars who have protected the Earth since the dawn of man. When monstrous creatures called the Deviants, long thought lost to history, mysteriously return, the Eternals are forced to reunite in order to defend humanity once again.” — Marvel Studios.
Why You Should Check It Out
Chloé Zhao is a Filmmaker™. Her 2020 film NOMADLAND won Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director at the 93rd Academy Awards, making her the first Asian woman (and only the second woman) to win the award. While I don’t worship at the feet of Oscar, the fact that Marvel Studios has an Academy Award-winning auteur at the helm of a $200 million blockbuster is pretty exciting. The result is a movie as contemplative as it is bombastic — a heady, soul-stirring spectacle that shows how much the MCU has matured since IRON MAN (2008), but not without its own growing pains.
In terms of structure, ETERNALS plays out like THE GODFATHER PART II with a story that takes place across two time periods, one set in the past when the Eternals were an unstoppable team and inseparable family, and one in the present, with the group fractured, content to live among humans, hiding in plain sight. When the sinewy, shape-shifting Deviants reemerge, the Eternals must put their differences aside and regroup.
Who are the Eternals, you ask? Well, there’s:
Sersi (Gemma Chan): a molecule-manipulating Eternal who lives in London and works at the Natural History Museum.
Ikaris (Richard Madden): an all-powerful Eternal who can fly.
Ajak (Salma Hayek): the matriarch of the Eternals, gifted with healing powers.
Thena (Angelina Jolie): a fierce warrior and master of weaponry.
Druig (Barry Keoghan): an intense Eternal who can control minds.
Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani): an outgoing Eternal who has become a Bollywood star.
Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry): a master inventor and technopath.
Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-Seok): a kindhearted Eternal who possesses great strength.
Makkari (Lauren Ridloff): the fastest woman in the universe.
Sprite (Lia McHugh): an illusionist and trickster who, despite her immortality, has the physical appearance of a child.
In addition to the Eternals, the cast also features Arishem the Judge (David Kaye), leader of the Celestials, the Deviant Kro (Bill Skarsgård), and Kit Harington as Dane Whitman, Sersi’s human love interest… amongst other things.
ETERNALS is more of a religious epic than a superhero team-up. While Marvel’s signature brand of humor and lighthearted fun is present, it takes a backseat to a more thoughtful exploration of what it’s like for these ancient aliens to coexist with humanity. You see, the Eternals are not allowed to interfere with any human conflict unless Deviants are involved — it’s why they didn’t join the fight against Thanos or prevent any of history’s other atrocities. But what happens when these alien gods go against their creator’s grand design to save mankind from annihilation?
With sweeping, naturalistic cinematography by Ben Davis (DOCTOR STRANGE, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY) and elegant work by production designer Eve Stewart and costume designer Sammy Sheldon Differ, ETERNALS is an ambitious, sumptuous blockbuster that is at its best when it isn’t bombarding us with exposition but letting quiet moments of beauty breathe. The scripting is clunky at times, the dialogue heavy-handed, but the power of the visuals and the sheer scale of the story being told outweighs the film’s flaws.
It will be interesting to see how audiences react to ETERNALS. Considering its origins are closely tied to DC Comics’ NEW GODS, it has more in common with ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE than an AVENGERS movie. But, of course, it’s hard not to compare the two when you’ve got Ikaris, who is essentially Superman, Thena — a warrior goddess like Wonder Woman — and Makkari, the Marvel equivalent to Flash. Even the computer-generated villain, Kro, emits Big Steppenwolf Energy™.
I enjoyed ETERNALS more than I thought I would, but then again, I love stories about ancient aliens and giant cosmic overlords that sit upon their space thrones and judge us. I’m very interested to see how these new characters interact with heroes like Shang-Chi, Thor, and Rocket and how this story affects future entries in the MCU. Check it out — in IMAX if possible!
Slices (Out of 5)
Where to Watch
ETERNALS will be released theatrically in the United States on November 5. Check out Fandango for tickets and showtimes near you.
You May Also Like…
If you dig this, you may also enjoy:
NOMADLAND (Amazon Prime Video)
ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (HBO Max)
ETERNALS BY JACK KIRBY: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (B&N)
MARVEL’S 616 (Disney+)
MARVEL: 75 YEARS — FROM PULP TO POP! (Disney+)
ANCIENT ALIENS (Hulu)
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