Eternals: Everything you need to know about Chloe Zhao’s new Marvel superhero movie

·11-min read
 (Sophie Mutevelian)
(Sophie Mutevelian)

It feels like an eternity has passed since the 2019 Comic-Con where Marvel president Kevin Feige first introduced the cast of Eternals, the next superpowered group to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Since then the world has changed unimaginably. The film, which was originally due to arrive in cinemas last November, has been rescheduled multiple times. And its director is now an Oscar winner.

After a long wait, the blockbuster is here and it looks poised to make a statement with a couple of firsts: the first openly gay superhero and the first deaf superhero in the MCU. It will boldly confront topics of age, sexuality, gender and ethnicity, and will lay out the template for the future of the franchise. "The impact Eternals will have on the MCU will be nothing less than redefining the cinematic universe entirely,” says Feige.

But who’s in this super team? What have they been busy doing while the Avengers were taking on bad guys? And is Harry Styles heading in the direction of a superhero role? Here’s everything you need to know about the upcoming Marvel film.

Who are the Eternals?

Meet the Eternals (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)
Meet the Eternals (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

Let’s start with the basics. Beyond the latex, skin-tight suits, pointy headpieces and protruding shoulder pads, who exactly are this brand-spankin’ new team?

In short, they are a group of immortal, super-powered beings who were created centuries ago when the Celestials came to Earth and experimented with the human race. But who are the Celestials? Well, they are a bunch of ancient beings who during their peculiar experimentation made the Eternals and also less-evolved, evil creatures known as Deviants.

Like any good band of heroes, the Eternals’ job is to disguise themselves as ordinary citizens and protect the planet from the Deviants, their destructive counterparts. Each Eternal has a unique power but they can combine their abilities to form a powerful entity known as Uni-mind. Cue dramatic music. It involves a lot of light and an intense fusing of bodies.

What’s the Eternals’ history in the comics?

The Eternals were dreamed up in 1976 by Jack Kirby, who co-created other Marvel wonders like Captain America, Iron Man, X-Men and Thor. In the comics, the Eternals are humanoid aliens from the planet Olympia who are sent to fight against the evil Deviants. They tend to keep to themselves and don’t like their existence to be known. Even when Thor met them, the encounter was wiped from the Asgardian god’s mind (Men in Black-style).

And the film looks like it won’t veer too far away from the comics and their creator. At last week’s premiere, Feige said: "The whole movie is a love letter to what one man was able to do with a pencil, sitting at a little desk on the East Coast.”

Okay, the Eternals’ cast list: how does this superhero group line up?

Sersi (Gemma Chan)

Gemma Chan as Sersi (Sophie Mutevelian)
Gemma Chan as Sersi (Sophie Mutevelian)

Instead, leading the pack is Sersi, played by Crazy Rich Asians star Gemma Chan. This Eternal can manipulate non-sentient matter (she can basically alter objects).

She masquerades as a museum curator and dates a human (Dane Whitman, played by Kit Harington). She also has a complex romantic history with Richard Madden’s Ikaris. It might get awkward when Jon Snow and the Bodyguard unite on-screen.

The character will both kick butt and offer a different take on the superhero. “It has always been a passion for me to create a nuanced female superhero that is rarely seen in the genre,” says director Chloé Zhao. “Gemma was very interested in this idea and took on the challenge. She brought a beautiful sense of gentleness, compassion, and vulnerability.”

Thena (Angelina Jolie)

We’ve seen Jolie take on Maleficent and Lara Croft, and now the Oscar winner plays Thena, a fearsome warrior who can make weapons appear out of thin air. In the trailers, the acrobatic superhero is seen in exile from the main group. Is she the rogue one? Or the dangerous one?

She may be an incredibly powerful and skilled warrior, but she suffers from a dementia-like form of memory loss known as Mahd Wy’ry. As the Eternals are immortal and have century-old histories to remember, they can sometimes be affected by the condition. It might also explain why she’s so detached from the group. But how long has she suffered from this affliction? And more importantly, what can she remember?

Jolie took on the role after feeling the part was quite close to home: “I just wanted to be a part of this family. I have a slightly unconventional family myself, so it felt familiar.”

Ikaris (Richard Madden)

Richard Madden as Ikaris (Sophie Mutevelian)
Richard Madden as Ikaris (Sophie Mutevelian)

The Game of Thrones and Bodyguard actor plays Ikaris who has all of the abilities of a standard superhero: flying, strength and shooting light beams from his eyes. Pretty Superman-esque.

He also has a century-old on-off romance with Sersi and is a pretty cocky immortal. In the trailer, while the Eternals are eating dinner, the question of who will now lead the Avengers is raised. Without hesitation, Ikaris says “I can lead them.” The others just burst into laughter. Is there tension in the ranks?

Ajak (Salma Hayek)

Salma Hayek as Ajak (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)
Salma Hayek as Ajak (Courtesy of Marvel Studios)

When Hayek was told Marvel wanted to meet her, she thought it was for a supporting role. "Imagine in your 50s you get a call from this director that you’re crazy about, who says, ‘You’re going to be a superhero,’" she told Entertainment Weekly.

Her character, Ajak, is the mother figure of the group who has the ability to heal. With her arrival into the MCU, Hayek is redefining the role - it was originally written as a man in the comics - and taking on ageism.

Druig (Barry Keoghan)

Barry Keoghan as Druig (Sophie Mutevelian)
Barry Keoghan as Druig (Sophie Mutevelian)

Known for his roles in Dunkirk and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the Irish actor will play an Amazon rainforest shaman with the ability to manipulate other people’s thoughts. The gifted telepath has the power to stop all wars and genocides but is forbidden to do so. The group is not allowed to intervene in the course of history. This Eternal is a bit of a loner who lurks in the shadows. He’s also a tad aloof. The unlikable one then?

Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani)

Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo (Sophie Mutevelian)
Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo (Sophie Mutevelian)

This wise-cracking superhero can shoot projectiles from his hands. He’s also an outgoing, pampered Bollywood star - which involved Nanjiani taking months of dance classes. And based on The Big Sick star’s viral Instagram post, he’s got the pecs to prove it.

Makkari (Lauren Ridloff)

Lauren Ridloff as Makkari (Photo by Sophie Mutevelian)
Lauren Ridloff as Makkari (Photo by Sophie Mutevelian)

Best known for The Walking Dead, Ridloff will play Makkari who is super-speedy and will be the first deaf superhero in the MCU - which Ridloff says will mean "more people are starting to see themselves in that universe, and that’s powerful.”

The character is a huge break from the original in the comics. “Traditionally in comic books, it’s this big muscular, buff, blond guy, and he’s hearing,” explains Ridloff to EW. “And they considered me — a woman, Black, deaf — to play this role.” The Eternal can also create cyclones and run on water. She sure will make waves.

Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry)

The Atlanta star plays Phastos, an intelligent tech guy who makes weapons and is the first openly gay superhero in the MCU. He has an Arabic husband, played by Haaz Sleiman, and they have a child together.

In the film, the couple will share a kiss, which Sieman described as a "beautiful, very moving" moment. "Everyone cried on set," he told NewNowNext.

Sprite (Lia McHugh)

Lia McHugh at the Los Angeles premiere for Eternals (AFP via Getty Images)
Lia McHugh at the Los Angeles premiere for Eternals (AFP via Getty Images)

This Eternal may look like a kid and be played by 15-year-old McHugh, but like the other heroes, Sprite is ancient. The character, who appears as a man in the comics, can shapeshift and create crazy illusions to confuse opponents. The demigod has a non-binary, Tinkerbell-like look, is sort of a trickster, and acts similarly to the mischievous Loki.

Gilgamesh (Don Lee)

Nicknamed The Forgotten One and Hercules, Gilgamesh is super strong and the first Korean superhero in the MCU. Played by Lee, the Eternal gets on well with Jolie’s Thena and often knocks enemies out with a single punch. Kapow.

Dane Whitman (Kit Harington)

Kit Harington with his Eternals co-stars at the Rome Film Festival (AP)
Kit Harington with his Eternals co-stars at the Rome Film Festival (AP)

Plot twist: Whitman isn’t an Eternal. He’s just a guy who works at the Natural History Museum. But, even bigger plot twist: he does have the superpowered alter ego of Black Knight, a superhuman that’s resistant to magic and handy with a mythical sword. His affair with Sersi will bring him closer to the Eternals and possibly even into the fold.

It’s also probably safe to assume Marvel has long-term plans for Harington’s character. And the actor confesses he hopes “this is the tip of the iceberg” for the role. It’s lucky then, after his Game of Thrones heydays, Harrington knows a fair bit about brooding with a sword.

Where does this film fit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

The Eternals is a standalone film, but will “have a very big effect on the future of the MCU” (Sophie Mutevelian)
The Eternals is a standalone film, but will “have a very big effect on the future of the MCU” (Sophie Mutevelian)

The question is then where the heck has this superpowered group been? And why didn’t they help the Avengers battle Thanos (the big purple giant) when the villain annihilated half of the universe?

In the trailer, Whitman asks Sersi that very question. “We were instructed not to interfere in human conflicts unless Deviants were involved,” she replies. But who instructed them, and how do they feel about their lack of superhero action?

“The audience will understand how complicated not interfering made them feel,” Zhao said in an interview with GamesRadar. “We explore that. The Eternals were instructed not to interfere with any human conflict unless Deviants are involved. There’s a reason why that’s the case. And that was the instruction from the prime Celestial Arishem.”

It’s unclear why the red-armoured Celestial Arishem (who’s in charge of judging whether a civilization will live or die) instructed that. But what is clear is that the events after Thanos’ dreaded snap called the Eternals back into action anyway because when half the population re-emerged, so too did the Deviants.

Despite the minor links to previous films, this film stands alone. But Zhao has teased this film will expand the film franchise: “It will have a very big effect on the future of the MCU….which you know, as a fan, is really satisfying for me. I geek out”. Producer Nate Moore has compared it to the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, which set up its own isolated sphere before the crew later met up with the Avengers.

Who’s behind the Eternals?

Director Chloe Zhao won two Oscars earlier this year (Getty Images)
Director Chloe Zhao won two Oscars earlier this year (Getty Images)

Taking the reins is Zhao. She’s had success with her coming-of-age debut Songs My Brothers Taught Me and more recently Nomadland- the neo-Western that won Best Picture at this year’s Oscars and saw the director become the first Asian woman and only the second woman ever to win Best Director.

After her successful indie work, Hollywood was always going to come calling. But nobody expected it to be Marvel - the studio that’s drawn criticism for their largely white and male directors. It’s a major move for Zhao and a welcome one for fans of the franchise.

And the Oscar winner has been bold. She’s championing diversity, swapping genders and ethnicities of the original characters, and dumped green screens as much as possible. Instead, she opted for more location shooting. "I shot exactly the way I wanted to shoot," the director told THR. "On location. A lot of magic hour. Three-hundred-sixty degrees on the same camera as I did on Nomadland. Same rigs."

Who else is in the series?

Beyond the band of superheroes, Haaz Sleiman (The Visitor) will play Phasto’s husband, while Ozer Ercan will play a smuggler. Gil Birmingham (The Twilight Saga), and 17-year-old Zain Al Rafeea will also appear in undisclosed roles.

That’s not all. According to recent speculation, Harry Styles will show up. The singer will supposedly play another Eternal called Eros, who is Thanos’ brother and can control people’s emotions.

In the comics, the carefree character grows up with the villain on the planet Titan. He has a string of superpowered bust-ups and an even longer string of romances. When Thanos turns to villainy, Eros rethinks his womanising ways and joins the Avengers to help defeat him. But what direction the film franchise will take him is uncertain.

Where can I watch The Eternals and when is the release date?

Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) (Photo: Sophie Mutevelian)
Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sersi (Gemma Chan) (Photo: Sophie Mutevelian)

The film will be released in cinemas in the UK on November 5. Will it be available on Disney+? Not immediately. It will have a minimum 45-day exclusive window in cinemas before it hits digital platforms. The film is an epic blockbuster that calls for the big screen, filled with plenty of spectacular action and plenty of spandex-wearing superheroes.

The Eternals run time

Eternals’ run-time is 2 hours and 37 minutes.

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