The Eternals

Yesterday The Eternals became available on Disney+. Given the reviews and discussion from its theatrical release, I didn’t have particularly high expectations. I figured it would just be the typical Marvel thrill ride. And mostly it was that, but it also had a few zingers that made it interesting.

I don’t remember much from the comic book version of The Eternals. I just recall them as one of Jack Kirby‘s offbeat creations, one I don’t remember being very developed, at least not during my comic book period, which was mostly the late 1970s. It sounds like the concept got fleshed out a lot more in the decades since. Not being familiar with any of the later stuff, the plot twists were completely new.

The Eternals are a group of beings sent to Earth c. 5000 BC to protect humanity from creatures known as Deviants. Their mission is narrowly focused on the Deviants. They are forbidden from interfering in human conflicts. Which explains why they don’t do much about human conflict throughout history. Or why they don’t show up in the Avengers movies to help in the battle against Thanos. (Although this movie does have an interesting tie in with Thanos in the closing credits.)

The Eternals were sent by someone known as Arishem. Arishem is a Celestial, one of the giant ancient primordial beings identified in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie as the developers of the Infinity Stones. So Arishem comes across as a sublimely powerful entity.

The Eternals manage to eradicate all the Deviants just as the Spanish are conquering the Aztec empire in 1519 AD. But for unknown reasons, Arishem does not recall them. So they continue living on Earth, but go their separate ways. They are living in different parts of the world, more or less acting like normal humans, until modern day, when Deviants suddenly start showing up again.

But this isn’t just a story of the Deviant threat. It turns out that Arishem hasn’t recalled them because their main mission isn’t over yet. And that mission, not realized by most of them, isn’t just to protect humanity from the Deviants. The Eternals are not what they think they are, nor are the Deviants. Both are pawns in Arishem’s broader purpose, a purpose involving a dark fate for humanity.

One of the things I liked about this movie is there are no cackling villains. There’s plenty of conflict, and some characters do make monstrous choices. But everyone has reasons for their actions, reasons that, to them, seem like the only right choice. As a result, the movie feels slightly more morally complex than a lot of superhero stuff.

Overall I enjoyed it, and recommend it, but with a warning. It ends on something of a cliffhanger. That’s concerning because the reviews for this movie are pretty lackluster, and for a Marvel movie, its box office numbers are nothing to write home about. It makes me wonder if there will be sequels. I hope so. The story and premise are interesting and I’d like to see more. I guess we’ll find out in time.

Have you seen it? If so, what did you think?

15 thoughts on “The Eternals

  1. I had the interesting experience of feeling my mind tune out a bit at, “The Eternals are a group of beings sent to Earth c. 5000 BC to protect humanity from creatures known as Deviants.” Some part of it got up and went to the snack bar for popcorn. ๐Ÿ˜€ I think I’ve had my lifetime share of superhero movies (I never was much into the TV shows). The costumes are ridiculous, and superpowers seem to create the same inherent narrative inconsistencies time travel does.

    Note that I don’t intend this view as normative or prescriptive. It’s my problem I can’t join in on the fun. I feel like the guy at the Renaissance Faire who won’t dress up or speak Medieval (wait, I am that guy). ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

    I think part of it is that movies and TV shows naturally have more “yeah, but” moments (books have more range to dot ayes, cross teas, or indulge in written puns). When shows are about superheroes — which I’ve come to think work best on comic book pages — for me there are too many “yeah, but” moments. And people playing dress up, which never comes off quite right in live action. ๐Ÿฆธโ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿฆธโ€โ™‚๏ธ

    Sadly, I’ve always been this way… I can’t blame it on old age. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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    1. Hopefully I got the point across that the fight between them and the Deviants isn’t actually the main conflict of the movie. Similar to a lot of anime, the final premise ends up being different from the ostensible one at the beginning. And the whole thing had more of a sci-fi feel than a superhero one. (Which might explain why it wasn’t that popular.)

      But this is definitely the type of fiction that requires you to suspend your disbelief in a lot of areas. The characters all have their special powers, and most of them don’t make sense from an energy perspective. You have to hold tightly to Clarke’s third law and hope for the best.

      On the costumes, yeah, Marvel seems committed to showing characters in something like their comic book costumes. It makes me wonder what they would have done with the Wolverine movies, where putting him in that yellow getup from the comics would have led to a very different feel.

      Similar to our discussion about anime clothes and hair, costumes in comics (and in animation) have a purpose, to help in easy character identification. The purpose seems a bit redundant in live action stuff with human actors. I think the CG technology manages to make them look less ridiculous, more like uniforms or something, but there was one character running around with a head ornament and I had a hard time not seeing that as silly. But they’re not in their costumes for most of the movie.

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      1. Oh, I don’t at all doubt the movie focuses on the characters. They all do that to one extent or the other; it isn’t the source of my ennui. It’s more, on a small level, about stuff like head gear (I mean, really? seriously?), and on the bigger level about how problematic superpowers are on so many levels. I tend to favor things like Invincible or The Tick that deconstruct the whole thing.

        It isn’t just the fantastic nature of superpowers but how inconsistent their application can be. The canonical example is how Superman kind of makes the Justice League pointless. Wonder Woman is maybe his equal, but the rest of them are second string, and the Batman is just a guy. Superman also offers canonical examples of the inconsistency in when he uses heat vision, super breath, super speed, or whatever. The Marvel movies tend to be bad offenders in that area. It’s all so ‘what the writer wants in the moment.’

        The costumes work very well in the comics, not just for identification but also for the sheer visual fun and flamboyance. But they’re just one major element of superheroes that doesn’t translate well to live action.

        All that said, some of what I’ve read about The Eternals intrigues me, in large part because it sounds atypical. It seems to have gotten a lot of heat but reading between the lines it sounds as if some complaints are that it’s not an expected Marvel movie. Which might commend it in my eyes.

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        1. On all the uses of the superpowers, I know exactly what you mean. Although in actuality that ends up happening in a lot of fantasy and sci-fi. I remember a Youtube video that came out shortly after the Lord of the Rings movies had finished, asserting what would really have happened given the available options. It showed Gandalf and Frodo riding an eagle to Mt. Doom, chucking in the ring, and then flying off to celebrate.

          I did find the premise of this movie interesting. Although I don’t want to oversell it. It’s still Marvel, so don’t expect anything intellectually stretching. ๐Ÿ™‚

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          1. World-building is always hard. That much harder in SF and F. And LotR is as good an example as any of how the innate contradictions implied by superpowers are a challenge in storytelling. I’ve compared it to time travel, which is also hard to get right because of the inherent contradictions.

            I noticed a graphic novel version (I saw Neil Gaiman among the authors) on Amazon Prime, grabbed it, and will give it check. That stuff works okay on the page. (Even the headgear! ๐Ÿ˜‚)

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  2. I haven’t seen it yet, but I will eventually. It’s part of the MCU, and I’ve enjoyed all of the MCU movies thus far. I do like that they’re putting more thought into the villains for these movies than they used to. The cackling villain thing was a real weakness in the earlier films.

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    1. Now that you mention it, I realize I’ve enjoyed every MCU movie myself, at least the ones I’ve seen so far. The TV shows have been more uneven. But the movies are all at least entertaining. I’ve never felt challenged by them, but I’ve also never been bored.

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