In the beginning, Kevin Feige created the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), though he didn’t really set out to do so. In Eternals, the latest Marvel movie, we discover things didn’t exactly go according to the plans of the fictional universe’s creator either.
Echoing Genesis, Eternals opens with the words “In the beginning” on the screen to start the in-universe creation narrative. We are told the Celestials created planets and people, only for those to be placed in danger by the mysterious emergence of the Deviants. In response, Arishem the Celestial creates the superpowered individuals to protect humanity. In doing so, the 10 Eternals become inspiration for much of the gods in human mythology. These original superheroes are only to interfere, however, when the Deviants become involved. This directive spawns much of the cinematic tension as well as provides Marvel with a much-needed excuse for why none of the Eternals showed up to help with past cataclysmic events—like Thanos destroying half of the universe’s population in Avengers: Infinity War.
Academy Award winning director Chloé Zhao gives the audience stunning visuals. Her insistence on filming in real locations rather than studio green screens breaks with Marvel’s established pattern and pays off with beautiful character shots. However, Eternals demonstrates what makes Marvel’s formula work so well—by deviating from it in the wrong ways. The standard MCU fare features a flawed but lovable lead overcoming a generic CGI villain through quips and punches in a predictable battle to secure the weapon/stone/machine/MacGuffin and save the universe. What makes Marvel movies compelling for many is the lovable, quippy lead. We care what happens to Iron Man and Captain America, so we overlook any cinematic flaws. Eternals tries to get us to care about so many people at once that we end up not carrying about any of them enough.
The sheer size of the cast and scope of the story prove too much for the film. The Eternals—Sersi, Ikaris, Kingo, Sprite, Phastos, Makkari, Druig, Gilgamesh, Ajak, and Thena—the humans involved in the story, and the inevitable Marvel post-credit scene character introduction overwhelm viewers. The moments where the audience should be concerned about the fate of the onscreen characters is often met with the internal question, “Wait, which one was that?” This story could have made a great series to stream on Disney+, with each episode centering a character or two before the climactic team up for the finale. Instead, it’s a 2.5-hour movie that often feels that long.
Dedicated MCU viewers will no doubt watch this film as they have the dozens of other stories, and they may appreciate the expansion of the cinematic world and exploration of additional comic lore. The casual MCU viewer will probably feel comfortable skipping the first Marvel movie which feels more at home with Superman and Batman from comic rival DC. More interesting than the onscreen revelations may be what the film reveals about what is driving the works produced by Marvel and parent company Disney.
Feige may not have set to create a universe in the beginning, but he is certainly doing so now. Within Eternals, the creation narrative of fictional MCU, we can see a bit of the creation narrative at work in Marvel Studios. And with this creation, certain religious guidelines seemed to have been handed down. Eternals follows and further entrenches what amounts to the fantastic four commandments of Marvel movies.
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