Eternals – New MCU mythologies explore existential questions

Following her sweeping Oscar-winning portrait of the American nomadic spirit in Nomadland, writer-director Chloé Zhao takes us on a soulful journey into Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Eternals, introducing 10 Super Heroes never seen before on screen.

“We are excited for audiences to go on this epic journey through time and space with a group of immortal heroes,” says  Chloé Zhao, a Chinese writer, director, editor and producer whose most recent film, Nomadland, premiered at the  and was awarded the Golden 2020 at  the Venice Film Festival and also earned the industry’s highest acclaim, including Golden Globe, BAFTA, DGA and PGA awards, and three Academy Awards for best director, best actress in a leading role and best picture.  The screenplay for Eternals was written by Chloé Zhao and Chloé Zhao & Patrick Burleigh and Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo, from a screen story by Ryan Firpo & Kaz Firpo.

(L-R): Richard Madden and director Chloé Zhao on the set of Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo by Sophie Mutevelian. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.m=

Joining the MCU and taking the helm of a huge movie on the scale of “Eternals” was a welcomed challenge for Zhao, who has always been a Marvel fan. “The MCU is full of heart—a world filled with great characters and epic adventures,” she says. “It’s made by people who truly love storytelling and have immense respect for their fans. I came into the process as a filmmaker and also as a fan. To be able to make a standalone movie, but also to celebrate what came before us, to expand the mythology and to shape the future of the MCU, was an exciting challenge and an honour to be a part of.”

Zhao’s vision for the film was unique and tied to how she sees the world through her filmmaker’s lens. She explains,“My initial vision for the film can be summed up in the opening of William Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence.’ ‘To see the world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower, hold infiity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.’ Blake meant that you can find meanings and the endless beauty of our universe inside the smallest things on earth, and with the most intimate moments between human beings. We set out to capture both—something as epic as the creation of a sun and as intimate as the whispers of lovers. To find a way for these moments to coexist and to use them to explore our relationship with our planet, the cosmos and ourselves was a challenge that we loved deeply.

Sersi (Gemma Chan) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Nate Moore, who is a producer along with Kevin Feige, comments, “Chloé is a rare filmmaker who is as adroit with finding real human moments as she is crafting and delivering heady science fiction. We were so excited to see her work with the ‘Eternals” cast. She captured those special moments that give the MCU films heart and believability, and allowed each of the ten Eternals to have a distinct voice and presence. And she’s not afraid to embrace offbeat humor at unexpected times, which informed the tone of the film. Her vision and passion for the project are unmatched.”

“We want audiences to discover a corner of the Marvel universe they’ve never seen before. We want them to discover a mythology that is a challenging sci-fi movie but also has a human heart. And we want them to meet ten heroes who they hopefully can relate to.”

“The scope of the film would be daunting for most filmmakers, but Chloé’s eye for detail combined with her enthusiasm for pushing the envelope visually has given Eternals a palette all its own, both from a practical locations perspective and how the visual effects in the film are expressed.”

(L-R): Gemma Chan and director Chloé Zhao on the set of Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo by Sophie Mutevelian. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Commenting on Marvel Studios’ choice of Chloé Zhao to helm Eternals, Angelina Jolie, who plays the Eternal, Thena, says, “Chloé is an extraordinary choice. I knew she’d bring something different, but I really didn’t know how since this is a huge movie. It is huge in scope and the span of time. It’s huge in the effects and new-world creation. It’s huge in that you have ten different brand-new characters that you’re introducing and creating, and everything about them and their personalities, their backgrounds, their histories and their type of fighting. When I saw the film, I didn’t know how she did it. I didn’t know how she was able to balance so much. What I wasn’t surprised by is how authentic it was. This epic film feels very personal and very emotional and very human. I believe that’s her gift.”

Who are the Eternals?

Jack Kirby’s original Eternals Marvel comic books, which were first published in 1976, provided the inspiration for the film. His stories presented a unique opportunity to explore uncharted time periods and diverse characters, and to delve into the rich history of the Eternals.

The Eternals Super Hero lineup is the MCU’s biggest ensemble cast of new characters to date in one movie. THENA (Angelina Jolie), SPRITE (Lia McHugh), SERSI (Gemma Chan), PHASTOS (Brian Tyree Henry), MAKKARI (Lauren Ridloff),KINGO (Kumail Nanjiani),GILGAMESH (Don Lee aka Ma Dong-Seok),IKARIS (Richard Madden),DRUIG (Barry Keoghan) and AJAK (Salma Hayek).

The Eternals are a race of immortal aliens from the distant planet Olympia who arrived on Earth thousands of years ago to protect humanity from a race of alien predators called the Deviants. The Eternals were alerted to the Deviant threat by the Celestials, a race of cosmic builders who were first glimpsed in Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

The 10 individuals are like a family unit, living and working together for thousands of years. As time passes, their personalities evolve and change, as do the friendships within the group. This influences the dynamics, and as some individuals’ perception of their position within the group and outside of it changes, it becomes clear there are many different facets to their personalities.

(L-R): Karun (Harish Patel), Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), Sprite (Lia McHugh), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ikaris (Richard Madden), Thena (Angelina Jolie), Gilgamesh (Don Lee) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

The Eternals’ mission to spend thousands of years on Earth to protect humanity and civilization, as well as the planet, is something that connects with current thinking about how humans interact with each other across the globe and their responsibilities as custodians of the Earth. As Moore says, “I think that’s something that will resonate with audiences, because as a society, both as the U.S. society and a global society, we’re starting to tackle what our relationship is to this earth and what our relationship is to each other. That’s an important theme to explore because the fun is there. And the action will be there. But thematically, that’s the kind of storytelling I think audiences want, because those are the things we’re facing on a day-to-day basis.”

The Eternals on Earth are a diverse and powerful group—thinkers and fighters, sharing the same cosmic energy, which manifests itself in different powers within each individual. When they work together these powers complement each other.

“What makes them different from other groups we’ve had, including the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, is that they can pool their energy and create something called the Uni-Mind,” explains Moore.

“The Uni-mind is a concept that was borrowed from Jack Kirby’s run in 1976. It allows the Eternals to amplify the power of any single Eternal. However, they all have to be somewhat connected to do so. So, they can’t be on opposite sides of the world and create a Uni-Mind. They have to be in proximity with each other. It is an amplification device, but it does require the power of all the Eternals together.”

As Moore details, “What is interesting about the ‘Eternals,’ even narratively, is that the Celestials and the Eternals themselves, wanted to recruit a group of people who could integrate themselves into Earth. And the truth about Earth is that there are people from all walks of life. There are people who look different from each other. There are people of all ages. And that allowed us to build a cast of talented people who aren’t from the same place.”

“For me, each of these Eternals and the emotional journey they go through and the transformation they go through in this film represent an aspect of human nature that we like to explore,” comments Zhao. “They represent an exploration of the duality in each of us. So in a way the ten of them have lived for 7,000 years, but what they picked up from us that they love or hate says a lot about who they are, but also says a lot about who we are.”

The Making Of Eternals

Eternals is one of Marvel Studios most ambitious films to date. The scope is epic, spanning over 7,000 years on Earth and in space. Within the story there are flashbacks, visions, a love story and many other surprises.

Much like Jack Kirby’s original comics, the filmmakers made a conscious decision to explore parts of history that are not often seen on screen. The story commences in ancient Mesopotamia 7000 BC at the very dawn of civilization and then leaps forward to ancient Babylon 2500 BC, where the Eternals have assisted the humans in building a society. The group are then seen as part of the Gupta Empire at 400 AD in Southeast Asia, before jumping to the fall of the Aztec Empire in 1521 AD.

Since Director Chloé Zhao employs a naturalistic style of location-based filmmaking, she wanted the filming
to take place at practical locations, as much as was feasibly possible.

“To tell this story, we needed to capture both the epic and the intimate and visually bring these elements together,” explains Zhao. “We shot mainly on location. We used wide-angle spherical lenses and deep focus in order to explore the relationship between the characters and the world they live in. When you watch Sersi walking through a village in ancient Babylon, it’s no different than watching Fern walking through a present-day nomadic camp in ‘Nomadland.’”

Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) in Marvel Studios’ ETERNALS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2021 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.

She continues, “The movements of the camera, the wide-angle lenses and the deep focus allow audiences to explore the world within the frames and to make discoveries themselves. The visual experience of this film must feel immersive and interactive enough for audiences to believe that these characters have walked the earth for 7000 years. It’s not possible to do that on a stage.”