Eternals is a 2021 American superhero film based on the Marvel Comics race of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film is directed by Chloé Zhao, who wrote the screenplay with Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo. It stars an ensemble cast including Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Kit Harington, Salma Hayek, and Angelina Jolie. In the film, the Eternals, immortal alien beings, emerge from hiding after thousands of years to protect Earth from their ancient counterparts, the Deviants.
In April 2018, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced that a film based on the Eternals had begun development, with Ryan and Kaz Firpo hired to write the script in May. Zhao was set to direct the film by late September, and was given significant creative freedom with the film, which resulted in filming on location more than previous MCU films. Zhao rewrote the screenplay, to which Burleigh was later reported to have also contributed. Principal photography took place from July 2019 to February 2020, at Pinewood Studios as well as on location in London and Oxford, England, and in the Canary Islands.
Eternals premiered at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on October 18, 2021, and was released in the United States on November 5, as part of Phase Four of the MCU. The film grossed $402 million worldwide. It was criticized for its screenplay, pacing, runtime, and character development, although it received praise for its themes and visuals.
Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said in April 2018 that the studio was actively developing a film based on the Marvel Comics series Eternals, created by Jack Kirby, to be released as part of their Phase Four slate of films. Marvel Studios had met with multiple screenwriters, and was believed to be focusing on the character Sersi in the film. Marvel set Ryan and Kaz Firpo to write the script a month later, with their outline including a love story between the characters Sersi and Ikaris. In June, Feige said Marvel was interested in exploring the “ancient aliens kind of sci-fi trope” by having the Eternals be the inspiration for myths and legends throughout the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
During late August, Marvel’s director search for Eternals narrowed to a shortlist that included Chloé Zhao—who had also been in the running to direct Marvel’s Black Widow (2021)—Nicole Kassell, Travis Knight, and the pair of Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra. Zhao approached Marvel Studios about making the film as she had been a fan of the MCU. She wanted to work with the studio to bring her own take and world-building to the franchise, and impressed them with a presentation that Feige described as fascinating, with “reams of visuals”. Zhao worked with producer Nate Moore to develop her pitch. The presentation left Marvel concerned that she might take on a different big-studio project instead of Eternals, forcing them to move quickly to secure her, and Zhao was hired as director in September. Zhao hoped to push the scope of the film further than Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame (2019), but also wanted it to have intimacy. Zhao described the film as a melting pot of influences, from Kirby’s original work, Neil Gaiman’s 2006 run, previous MCU projects, Zhao’s fandom of the MCU, and her love of science fiction and fantasy films and manga. Speaking specifically to her love of manga, she hoped those influences would create a “marriage of East and West”. Zhao cited the TV series Ancient Aliens, the Final Fantasy video game series, the concepts from Yuval Noah Harari’s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and the films of Terrence Malick as her inspirations for the film.
Marvel considered Eternals to be a perfect transition into its next phase of films along with projects such as Captain Marvel (2019), allowing the studio to cast a diverse group of actors to portray the various Eternals. Moore’s initial planning documents for the project including the swapping of genders, sexualities, and ethnicities of some characters from the comic books, with Zhao further advocating for this approach. In February 2019, Feige reiterated that Marvel was interested in the Eternals due to Kirby’s epic, century-spanning story, with the film version spanning 7,000 years and exploring humanity’s place in the cosmos. Zhao noted that the Eternals “have lived among us for so long, the same struggles like identity, purpose, faith, personal freedom versus greater good — all the duality and flaws that make us human”. When trying to develop a story that spanned so many years, Marvel realized that the characters would likely be a family unit, with friendship that would “turn into frenemies, and then turn into enemies, and then come back to friendship”. Zhao also looked to the Earth as an eleventh character in the film, chronicling its journey alongside the Eternal characters. Marvel also wanted to create more ensemble films that were not crossover films, like Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), while introducing relatively unknown characters to audiences as they did with that film’s title characters and the Avengers.
- Gemma Chan as Sersi:
An empathetic Eternal with a strong connection to humans and the Earth, who can manipulate and transform matter through physical contact. Sersi has been in love with Ikaris for centuries and has a strong connection with Sprite. In the present day, she is a museum curator on Earth and dating Dane Whitman. Producer Kevin Feige described Sersi as the lead of the film. Director Chloé Zhao said she and Chan were interested in creating “a nuanced female superhero that is rarely seen in this genre”. Zhao added that Chan “brought a beautiful sense of gentleness, compassion and vulnerability” to the character that would “invite viewers to rethink what it means to be heroic”. Chan called Sersi “grounded… [and] a little bit of a free spirit”. Chan previously portrayed Minn-Erva in the MCU film Captain Marvel (2019).
- Richard Madden as Ikaris:
An Eternal who can fly and project cosmic energy beams from his eyes, and is determined to fulfill his purpose. Speaking to the relationship between Ikaris and Sersi, Madden said that they have “a deep level of romance”, and “are two opposing sides of how they connect with the world”, since Sersi has compassion for humans while Ikaris is more disconnected given the Eternals’ long life span. Madden worked to find a way to portray Ikaris in a way that he would not come across as “bored of everything”. Zhao’s take on Ikaris was influenced by director Zack Snyder’s interpretation of Superman in Man of Steel (2013), which “left a strong impression” on her for its “authentic and very real” approach.
- Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo:
An Eternal who can project cosmic energy projectiles from his hands. Enamored with fame, Kingo becomes a popular Bollywood film star to blend in on Earth. Nanjiani wanted his performance to combine the wisecracking attitude of John McClane from the Die Hard film series with the look of Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan. He studied Errol Flynn films and some of the original Zorro films to prepare for the role. Nanjiani, who is not a dancer, found learning the Bollywood dances challenging.
- Lia McHugh as Sprite:
An Eternal who can project life-like illusions. Sprite has the physical appearance of a young girl, with McHugh calling her an “old soul” dissatisfied with humanity. Described as “the Tinker Bell to [Ikaris’s] Peter Pan”, McHugh was primarily inspired by Neil Gaiman’s 2006 run on the character.
- Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos: An Eternal and an intelligent weapons and technology inventor. He is the first superhero to be depicted as gay in an MCU film.
- Lauren Ridloff as Makkari:
An Eternal who can move at superhuman speed. The character is the first deaf superhero in the MCU. After starting to run more in anticipation of the role, she shifted to muscle building in order to have “the symmetry of somebody who looks like a sprinter”.
- Barry Keoghan as Druig: An aloof Eternal who becomes frustrated with the inaction of the other Eternals in human affairs. He can manipulate the minds of others.
- Don Lee as Gilgamesh:
The strongest Eternal, with a deep connection to Thena. Lee pursued the role in order to be an inspiration to the younger generation as the first Korean superhero, and was able to utilize his boxing training for the role.
- Kit Harington as Dane Whitman: A human who works at the Natural History Museum in London as a history professor and is dating Sersi.
- Salma Hayek as Ajak:
The wise and spiritual leader of the Eternals, who has the ability to heal and is the “bridge” between the Eternals and the Celestials. Changing the character from a man in the comics allowed Hayek to lean into Ajak’s femininity and make her the “mother figure” of the Eternals. Hayek was initially hesitant to work with Marvel, assuming she would have a supporting or “grandmother” role.
- Angelina Jolie as Thena:
An elite warrior Eternal who can form any weapon out of cosmic energy and develops a close bond with Gilgamesh over the centuries. She also suffers from a psychological condition called Mahd Wy’ry. Jolie trained with various swords, spears, and staffs for the role, as well as taking ballet.
November 5, 2021
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