Eternals: Thoughts About Marvel's Flawed But Interesting Experiment

Eternals is now streaming on Disney+. It's an attempt to change up the MCU formula with more ambitious themes than the usual superhero punch-up. Writer-director Chloe Zhao adapted Jack Kirby's take on the Erich von Daniken "ancient astronauts" theory of the 1970s. The ideas and themes it deals with are a lot more complex and complicated than the usual Marvel movie.

13 New High-Quality Images from Eternals Shows Off the Cast
Marvel Studios' ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2021 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.

We have some thoughts about the flawed experiment that's Eternals. It's best if you watch the movie first before you read the rest of this. We go deep into spoiler territory.

Eternals: Thoughts About Marvel's Flawed But Interesting Experiment

The Eternals are Not Good Guys

The Eternals are colonisers, not underdogs. They were sent to Earth to oversee and influence the progress of Humans. They're an elite for whom the stakes of losing Earth aren't that high since they'll just be taken off-world and rebooted. The thing about real-life colonialists like the British is that the government conditioned the rank-and-file people to believe they were doing good and bringing civilisation to the colonised countries rather than exploiting them for their resources. That's a strong analogy that Eternals draws with its main characters. Then they realise they're working for the bad guys and decide to save the world, which is a common Marvel story trope. The Deviant Kro is right when he points out they're not heroes.

The Deviants Were More Interesting in the Comics

We kind of miss the more nuanced version of the Deviants in the comics – that they're the flipside family to the Eternals, an ever-evolving, a chaotic race that are endlessly plotting against the Eternals in Kirby's allegory for the Cold War where the Deviants are the Communists while the Eternals are the West. They were more interesting than the mutant dinosaurs of the movie, and the one evolved Deviant that becomes Kro. Gone is the tragic Romeo-and-Juliet love story between Kro and Thena (Angelina Jolie), an allegory for East-West Detente.

The Eternals are ultimately exterminators, pest control for Deviants in the movie.

The Eternals vs. God

The movie should have had the Eternals fighting Celestials instead of Ikaris (Richard Madden) representing the pro-genocide/colonisation view, which basically makes him the Good Nazi. We predicted his heel-turn from the trailers painting him as an anticipated White Guy Heroic Leader. He's Chloe Zhao's subversion of Superman as "What if Superman was Establishment-Evil?", which is a dull trope and ultimately a misunderstanding of what Superman stands for at his core. It's always easier and lazier to write Evil Superman than to write Social Justice Warrior Superman.

The big idea here is God created man to keep making more God. The Celestials exploiting planets and consuming them to create more Celestials is an allegory for Capitalism. And interesting that in the end, the Eternals are threatened with punishment for killing God. That's the most subversive theme in the movie.

The Eternals are the Elite, Not the Underdog

There's also a class bias in the movie: the Eternals assimilate into society by taking upper-class, aspirational lives, elite jobs, well-off lifestyles, even Sprite goes to private school. They're immortal, so they get to be rich and aspirational. Druig (Barry Keoghan) rules over a small township of mind-controlled subjects. Sersi (Gemma Chan) has a cushy job at the British Museum. Ajak (Selma Hayek) talks about saving the humans but as if they're pets. The flaw here is that the Eternals don't make for very sympathetic protagonists. Their attitude to humans throughout the movie is paternalistic at best.

Sersi doesn't really work as a protagonist because she's way too passive throughout. She's reactive, not active, always led by everyone else rather than taking charge. She makes a weak hero and leader, a fatal no-no in Screenwriting 101.

For all the criticism of the movie, the movie was still a hit. Its flaws are not that it was too "woke" or its diverse casting. It makes no difference what skin colour the actors were; the flaws are in the script, not the casting. Eternals is worth seeing for its attempts to do something different rather than more of the same.

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About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh is a filmmaker, screenwriter and novelist. He wrote radio plays for the BBC Radio, “JLA: Age of Wonder” for DC Comics, “Blackshirt” for Moonstone Books, and “La Muse” for Big Head Press. Most recently, he wrote “Her Nightly Embrace”, “Her Beautiful Monster” and “Her Fugitive Heart”, a trilogy of novels featuring a British-Indian private eye published by Atria Books, a division Simon & Schuster.
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