Another month, another Marvel film. That little “run o’ the mill” opening is not intended as a judgement on their quality, or an indication of weariness on my part. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) seems to have adopted a solid formula for making quality films. I am also unsure if they have a direction at the moment. With the last phase, whatever number in the series that was, all the movies were pulling in the same direction to varying degrees. All those missiles landed with Avengers: Endgame (2019) in neat order. With such a cathartic conclusion, with half of the population of the universe being wiped out and then brought back by our heroes, the question remains: where in the heck do you do from there? It is one that I have brought up in reviews of the few titles we have been given since Endgame, and so far I have no clue. We are supposed to also factor in the Marvel shows that have premiered on Disney + as well. If any fans of the comics or films care to offer a suggestion, please comment below. I am all ears, er, eyes. At least today’s film, Eternals makes a direct reference to the broader world it occupies.
Eternals is the MCU’s big bang theory. I do not mean the television show of the same name. Is that too nebulous? Anyway, it is a creation story as evidenced by the opening crawl. Something about a race of giant robots(?) called Celestials that seed planets with life. Guess what planet gets one of those seeds? The Celestial leader Arishem (voiced by David Kaye) sends a race of protectors, the eponymous team, to Earth to guide humanity and keep them safe from a race of creatures intent on wrecking everything known as the Deviants. Beyond these two directives, they are not to interfere in human affairs. This is enforced by Arishem’s mouthpiece, the Eternals’ leader Ajak (Salma Hayek). They arrive here in 5,000 BC at Mesopotamia (which is on a large body of water for some reason) in time to fight off the first of the Deviants. From there, they hang around and help move along civilization through the millennia. The first to be focused on of these ten superpowered heroes, though each with their own individualized abilities, is Sersi (Gemma Chan). She can change almost anything into anything else, and she is living a normal life in present-day London. She even has a boyfriend, Dane Whitman (Kit Harington), a teacher for whose class she is giving a lecture on evolution. Not long into her instruction a massive earthquake begins to rock the building they are in, and we see her use her powers to discreetly save one of the students. In the aftermath, in true English fashion, they keep calm and carry on, with Dane and Sersi going on a date. While there, they link up with another Eternal, the eternally (pun intended) youthful Sprite (Lia McHugh). She is a master of illusions, either being able to change her appearance or project images. She is at the same pub as Dane and Sersi, and leave with them. When they step outside, they are attacked by a Deviant, which they thought they had defeated the last of five hundred years ago. Coming to their add is the flying, laser eyed Ikaris (Richard Madden). This Deviant, though, is a special one named Kro (voiced by Bill Skarsgård), with its own unique traits that make it difficult to kill, as Ikaris, Sersi, and Sprite are unable to do. They decide that they need to find Ajak and the others because it appears that Deviants are not gone as they thought. Unfortunately, when they get to Ajak’s South Dakota ranch, they find her dead, the victim of Kro. Ajak had apparently chosen Sersi as her successor (somehow), and this gives Sersi the ability to communicate with Arishem. In doing so, she learns that their mission all along had been to do what they had done so that the planet would reach the right energy level for a new Celestial to emerge. When this happens, the planet is destroyed, the Eternals return (not to what they believe is their home Olympia) to the world forge where their memories are erased (because they are also robots), and sent back out to do the same thing somewhere else in the universe. This process is called the “Emergence.” Sersi, like many of her teammates, have grown attached to the Earth and do not want to see it harmed. Hence, with a few bumps and bruises along the way, they manage to gather the remaining Eternals together to put a stop to the Emergence. There are a few who want to see the new Celestial emerge (again, pun intended), namely Ikaris. As it turns out, he had been the one responsible for Ajak’s death when she told him about the planet’s intended fate, their real purpose, and her designs on changing it. Thus, while the others attempt the “Uni-Mind,” which they think will combine their powers enough to stop the Celestial, Ikaris does his best to aid the Celestial cause. Still, the Uni-Mind works, giving Sersi the extra juice she needs in order to turn the new Celestial into stone just as it is sticking its head up out of the South Atlantic. Ikaris is ashamed of what he had done to his longtime friends, and decides to (fittingly, given his name) plunge into the sun. As for the rest, half of them leave Earth to find other Eternals to fight the Celestials. Sprite, tired of being a kid forever, chooses mortality and decides to stay with Sersi. Sersi’s is not long for the planet because Arishem shows up and takes the remaining Eternals with him in order to examine their memories and determine whether or not the Earth is worth saving. So, cliffhanger ending, I guess.
Eternals is fine. What does not get it a more ringing endorsement from me is the way it insinuates them as the arbiters of pretty much every “legend” ever recorded. They all have names meant to evince familiar mythological tales. Many of these are slightly different, like Thena (Angelina Jolie), who is supposed to be the inspiration for Athena, the Greek goddess of war. Others are less subtle, like Gilgamesh (Ma Dong-seok), the incredibly strong Eternal who shares his name with an ancient Mesopotamian hero. There are other mentions of archaic tales that they all supposedly gave birth to, but they do not (thankfully) touch Christianity. Then again, Marvel, in general, has seemed reluctant to touch Faith at all outside of vague, scattered references. What makes them a bit annoying to me is the convenience of it all. Another moment I take issue with that is more history than legend is them witnessing the Spanish sacking Tenochtitlan in 1522. Why have this event at all? The way it is presented is all wrong, and its only reason for being in the movie is to show way the master of others’ minds, Druig (Barry Keoghan), left them, prompting them all to go their separate ways. These stories are meant to be instructive, which I suppose they still could be, but it seems a little less special to know their source, somehow. There are a few other plot points that went nowhere, but these are the ones I found particularly prominent.
The Eternals’ Druig brings up an interesting concept that is explored in the film, which is free will. God gave man free will as a test of Faith. We can either choose to believe in Him and enjoy the eternal (could not help myself) rewards, or deny Him and suffer punishment. That is an over-simplification of Faith, but there is a basis of truth in that either/or statement. For our heroes, there is a choice between following the purpose for which they were designed, or choosing their heart. For Ikaris and a few others, their heart is their mission. For Sersi and the ones who agree with her, they were transformed by the peoples with which they interacted. This is where things get tricky, Faith-wise. God desires everyone He makes to be with Him in Heaven, and Jesus showed us the pathway to Him. Much of Western philosophy has come from contemplating these mysteries. If it is our nature to move towards God, why is there sin? Why do humans seem so predisposed towards hurting each other? There are no good answers, at least none that I could give you, but people like St. Thomas Aquinas have done a pretty good job. My understanding is that it is love that trumps all. Sersi and those who follow her act out of love. God acted out of love when He gave life to you and me, not doing so because of some robotic mission as Ikaris sees it. It is love that explains why Sersi behaves as she does.
Speaking of love, one tidbit I noticed before seeing Eternals is that it contains the first sex-scene in the MCU. And sure enough, it is in there, but there is no nudity. It is between Ikaris and Sersi, and there is this whole history (though that seems too small a word given their longevity) between them into which I did not delve. It is not entirely germane to the plot, except that it keeps Ikaris from not shooting laser beams through Sersi’ skull as she turns the Celestial to stone. Otherwise, it is a solid entry into the MCU despite its warts.