Last month, we got the first teaser for Marvel Studios’ upcoming film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the second feature film in the MCU’s planned Phase Four. (Black Widow will be the first when it premieres in July.) Now we have our first real look at Eternals, in which members of an immortal alien race with cosmic powers reunite to protect the Earth from their malevolent counterparts.
The film is based on the comic book series of the same name created by Jack Kirby in 1976. The storyline tells of alien Celestials who visited Earth a million years ago, creating two divergent races—the Eternals and the Deviants—by way of genetic experiments. Those experiments were also responsible for the rare emergence of mutations in certain humans, giving them super powers. The Eternals protect the human race from the Deviants, and the two races engage in recurrent violent clashes. The Eternals’ immortality and powers come from cosmic energy and their ability to channel it.
Kirby was partly inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (1953)—which featured Overlords who controlled Earth’s fate—and the 1968 nonfiction bestseller Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken, postulating the concept of alien gods. Eternals also owes something to New Gods, Kirby’s own earlier series for DC Comics, circa 1970. When that epic saga series was cancelled (and left incomplete), he wrote Eternals for Marvel Comics. A new Eternals comic series was launched in January of this year, written by Kieron Gillen with art by Esad Ribić.
Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige envisioned the Eternals as being the inspiration for human myths and legends over millennia. Eternals director Chloe Zhao—fresh off Oscar wins for best picture and best director for last year’s Nomadland—has said she wanted to blend Kirby’s original “ancient aliens” vision with her own love of science fiction, fantasy, and manga. She has also cited the 2015 film The Revenant as an influence for action sequences.
Per the official premise, the film “features an exciting new team of Super Heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ancient aliens who have been living on Earth in secret for thousands of years. Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, an unexpected tragedy forces them out of the shadows to reunite against mankind’s most ancient enemy, The Deviants.” There’s no indication yet of what that tragedy might be, but most of the main characters are third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation Eternals, if we’re going by the comics—except for Gilgamesh (Don Lee aka Ma Dong-seok, Train to Busan), who is second-generation.
Angelina Jolie (Salt, Those Who Wish Me Dead) plays Thena, described as a fierce warrior who can fashion weapons out of cosmic energy; Salma Hayek (Bliss, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) plays Ajak, the spiritual leader of the group, who has healing powers; Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry, Atlanta) is an inventor who “secretly helps humanity progress technologically” and is the first gay superhero in the MCU; and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) plays Ikaris, the tactical leader who has a lot in common with Superman: he can fly, shoot cosmic energy beams from his eyes, and has super strength.
Ikaris has a love affair spanning centuries with Gemma Chan’s (Crazy Rich Asians) Sersi, technically the lead role of the film. This is Chan’s second MCU role; she played Kree tactical sniper Minn-Erva in Captain Marvel who perished when Maria Rambeau shot down her fighter craft. Feige was sufficiently impressed by her performance that he invited her to audition for Sersi, purportedly one of the most difficult roles to cast.
The cast also includes Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley, The Big Sick) as Kingo, who can shoot energy projectiles from his hands and is currently disguised as a Bollywood star; Lauren Ridloff (The Walking Dead) as Makkari, the first deaf superhero in the MCU, so she can’t hear the sonic booms created when she uses her super speed to scout distant planets; Liz McHugh (The Lodge) as Sprite, an Eternal who can project illusions and appears as a 12-year-old girl; Barry Keoghan (Dunkirk, The Green Knight) as Druig, who can control minds and disagrees with how his fellow Eternals have interacted with humans over the centuries; and Kit Harington (Game of Thrones) as Dane Whitman, a human warrior with a mystical sword.
There’s not much more information in the teaser, set to a mournful cover of “The End of the World.” It begins with what appears to be the arrival of the Eternals on Earth and mostly just gives us glimpses of our primary characters over the course of centuries. “We have watched, unguided; we have helped them progress and seen them accomplish wonders,” a voiceover intones. “Throughout the years we have never interfered… until now.” The final scene, with various Eternals joking around about who will be the next leader of the Avengers, is the only nod to the larger MCU—and a welcome hint of humor in an otherwise rather portentous teaser.
Eternals is scheduled for theatrical release on November 5, 2021.
Listing image by YouTube/Marvel Studios