Having scooped an Oscar for her introspective drama Nomadland, director Chloé Zhao is next headed for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The maverick filmmaker is bringing us the story of the Eternals, promising to expand the mythology of the MCU with a story that spans eons of time and space.
It's been a long time coming but the first trailer has finally arrived. Here's what we discovered.
1. The movie appears to stick close to the comic book origins of the Eternals
Created by Jack Kirby, the Eternals made their comic book debut in 1976. As per the original lore, the Eternals were one of two races created by the Celestials in a genetic experiment, the others being the Deviants. The Eternals were enlisted to watch over planet Earth and steadily guide mankind on its journey throughout the centuries.
That would appear to be the jumping-off point in the trailer as the Eternals' ship arrives on a dusty planet where everything looks suitably primitive and primordial. There's a definite Guardians of the Galaxy vibe in the way that a pop soundtrack is offset against a feeling of awed reverence.
In the words of the official Marvel synopsis, "The outstanding ensemble cast includes Richard Madden as the all-powerful Ikaris, Gemma Chan as humankind-loving Sersi, Kumail Nanjiani as cosmic-powered Kingo, Lauren Ridloff as the super-fast Makkari, Brian Tyree Henry as the intelligent inventor Phastos, Salma Hayek as the wise and spiritual leader Ajak, Lia McHugh as the eternally young, old-soul Sprite, Don Lee as the powerful Gilgamesh, Barry Keoghan as aloof loner Druig, and Angelina Jolie as the fierce warrior Thena. Kit Harington plays Dane Whitman."
Eternals is setting itself up as a classic Marvel origin story, taking the source code of the original print source before, presumably, deviating into an original narrative of its own. The synopsis for the movie also refers to the moment where the "immortal heroes forced out of the shadows to reunite against mankind’s oldest enemy, the Deviants". However, solid glimpses of the film's bad guys are thin on the ground and the official cast listing doesn't mention any actor playing a Deviant. Are we potentially looking at CGI creations with voice actors a la Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) in Avengers: Infinity War?
2. It shows how the Eternals have had an impact on mankind
Is this handing over of a dagger a ceremonial gesture? It surely points towards the deep-seated connection between the Eternals and human society. We also get a quick canter through key events in human history, including what could be the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii.
As Ajak explains, the role of the Eternals is to observe, not interfere, in humanity's trials, so even if this is a quick-fire montage to come at the start of the movie, it may well be an emotionally wrenching one. In the comics, there were also physical relationships between the Eternals and humans, although it remains to be seen if this will be translated into the drama.
3. Sersi's empathy towards humanity is key to the plot
Tellingly, Sersi is the only Eternal in the trailer who is framed within a contemporary human context (Picadilly Circus in London). This implicitly points to her as the most empathetic member of the group, and a character whose fate is deeply bounded to that of mankind. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has described Sersi as the lead character in the film, and the trailer establishes her as someone with a great deal to lose, in an emotional sense. As per the comics, there's also an emphasis on her marriage to Ikaris, which may again point to an emotional weak spot once the Deviants come calling.
4. Kingo's Bollywood background is also imported from the comics
Much was made of Kumail Nanjiani's buffed bod during his Eternals pre-production gym training. We don't get to see his physique in the trailer, but fans will get a kick out of the Bollywood theatrics that are key to our understanding of Kingo's character. As with the other Eternals, Kingo has learned to blend in with human society, and this extends to his stint as a Bollywood movie star. No Marvel movie has yet incorporated this side of the movie industry, so we can't wait to see how Chloe Zhao riffs on this in a visual sense.
5. It points towards Ikaris as the leader of the new Avengers team
Avengers: Endgame resolved the 'Infinity Saga', bringing the first generation of Avengers ensemble movies to a close. With Eternals occupying a key slot in Marvel Phase Four, and Marvel Phase Five set to begin imminently, we're wondering if a new-look Avengers team is on the cards. In the comics, Ikaris is the tactical leader of the Eternals, so are we looking at the heir apparent to Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) or Captain America (Chris Evans)? It's laughed off as a moment of flippancy in the trailer, but this could be a critical moment for bedding in a whole new generation of world-saving Marvel heroes.
Eternals is set for release on 5th November 2021. Can't wait that long? Check out our list of comic book movies arriving in 2021.