By Paula Williams
Marvel’s Eternals was released in theaters November 5th of 2021 but was recently added to Disney Plus, making it readily available for the masses. If you’re a Marvel fan, you likely have mixed feelings about this film and its director, but Chloe Zhao is fresh and adds a new perspective. Eternals differs from the films she has worked on before, but she’s coming off a historic win for first woman-of-color nominated and second woman to win Best Director award at the Academy Awards in 2021, and she’s not slowing down. Zhao is rumored to be working on a Dracula film, with an original, futuristic, sci-fi western feel, so that’ll be interesting.
This film follows 10 ancient, immortal beings (the Eternals) who have been around for centuries; they protect the Earth and its inhabitants from the Deviants, a group of shapeshifting, alien-like beings who do not resemble their quirky, colorful shapes from the original comics (written by Jack Kirby, 1985). Ajak (Salma Hayek) is the Eternals’ leader, and she faces a moral challenge that polarizes the group. This Ajak is different from the comics, where she isn’t their leader. Ikaris, in his 1985 debut, is the unnamed leader of the comics and is said to be the bravest of his Eternal teammates; however, in the movie he (played by Richard Madden) betrays his team to fulfill the divisive mission given to them—very different.
Zhao’s way of implementing ideas of absolute good and evil have a way of challenging morality versus physicality. She ensures that the battles they face are about teamwork and humanity and not their physical strengths, especially since they all have powers. Sure, the Deviants they fight are evil in a physical manner, but I think the moral dilemmas make the film more exciting. The number one moral dilemma begins when Ajak is presented with a reminder of the Eternals’ true purpose. She’s reminded that their time on Earth is limited and that they must decide between completing their mission or saving Earth and humanity. This decision splits them up, but eventually they’re reminded of who they are and choose to save humanity, as a team.
The second moral dilemma is less intense; given that the Eternals have been around for centuries, they’ve experienced all of human history. The film touches on 575 BC Babylon, Mesopotamia, and the Gupta Empire and shows how they protected its citizens from the Deviants. It puts them in some amusing positions where they must learn to mind their business and not meddle in human relationships or the natural timeline. Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) designs a steam engine within the first 25 minutes of the film, while they’re in Babylon, but Ajak reminds him that humans aren’t ready yet. The steam engine wasn’t actually invented until around the 1700’s; so, you know, only a few years ahead of the game.
There is an air to the film that makes it seem sophisticated and somehow more futuristic than the rest, and the design plays a role as well as the plot. The color scheme and costumes are designed with the idea of separating the Eternals from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The colors are less saturated than the typical primary color-rainbow we’re used to seeing in the MCU films, and the color choice alludes to their otherworldly-ness. Each character has their own color scheme, and while each is unique to its character, they all resemble one another in a way that is indicative of a team.
Sammy Sheldon Differ’s costume design is full of circles and graphic patterns, and each one has highlights of gold which make them seem ethereal. Differ is known for her work on Ant-Man, Ex-Machina, X-Men: First Class, the Kick-Ass movies, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and many others. Each of these films have superhero or non-human costumes and each fit their individual characters very well. In the Kirby comics, the Eternals’ costumes are not as fluid or sleek as in the film and do not look related or connected to each other. I think Zhao’s choice was vital to the sophistication of the movie; it gives it a platform to actually stand out from other MCU films and shows us Zhao’s voice and creative mind.
Zhao added elements of fluidity that I just don’t get in other Marvel films. The fight scenes are smooth and naturalistic. They are also not the most important aspect of the film, which is new for the MCU. The storyline and the characters’ connections with one another are really the most important piece. She brings such intimacy into a truly wondrous story, and her message that you could balance the creation of humanity with love is just inspiring. As a Marvel fan myself, I enjoyed Eternals and can’t wait to see what the rest of Phase 4 brings us.
Paula Williams is a biology major at a Chicago university and has recently developed a love for writing. The love of movies, both good and bad, has been there forever.