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After keeping fans in suspense for what has felt like an eternity, Marvel Studios has released the teaser trailer for Eternals. The 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is directed by recent Oscar winner Chloé Zhao and looks to expand the preconceived boundaries of the MCU across space, time and aesthetic. We can acknowledge that Marvel has a house style and debate how close the visual similarities really are among films, but it’s hard to deny that Eternals does appear to be something different and has Zhao’s signature all over it. Eternals feels both like an utterly new chapter in the MCU, not directly tied to legacy characters or post-credit scenes, and a film that will live up to the promise of Phase 4, which has delivered, and pointed toward a greater attention to inclusivity and creator-driven visions.
The film may be Marvel Studios’ riskiest project since Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), if anything for the studio juggernaut can be considered a risk at this point. Still, if the Guardians existed prior to their film debut as something of a curiosity featuring characters comic readers had heard of it but perhaps didn’t see all too often, then Eternals are Marvel’s hidden gems, unknown to even some of the most consummate comic book readers. As far as Jack Kirby’s Chariot of the Gods-inspired comic book epics go, DC’s New Gods have gotten far more play across mediums than The Eternals. This presents Zhao, who pitched the concept to Feige herself having been a longtime fan of Kirby’s series, the chance to carve out new territory in the MCU without certain preconceived notions. Though clearly distinct from Gunn’s Guardians, Eternals also seems like a film that will be the unmistakable work of its filmmaker.
It’s not just the natural lighting or use of practical sets that makes Eternals look and feel different. Even in the brief glimpse we see of the film, there is a tender and fragile humanity, connection to nature and deep romanticism present, which has defined Zhao’s work across Songs My Brother Taught Me (2015), The Rider (2017) and Nomadland (2020). Zhao’s filmography, which thus far could be described as modern Westerns, has focused on the exploration of a culture and the heartbreak that comes with finding one’s place within it, or outside of it. From the looks of it, Eternals will follow a similar thread, and going by the comics, the Eternals will find themselves pulled between their alien origins and higher purpose and their love for Earth and its people, creating a divide between their culture as near-deities, and their adopted culture as Earthlings. Despite Eternals being one of Marvel’s more out-there cosmic properties, the teaser is innately concerned with the beauty of Earth rather than the stars, which will likely be a central theme of the film.
The teaser, which is a true teaser, keeping plot details, and the confirmed threats of the Deviants and Celestials out of the picture, seems primarily concerned with communicating that Eternals isn’t a superhero movie, but a romantic, sci-fi epic, complete with a lavish Bollywood musical number that Kumail Nanjiani, who portrays Kingo, has highlighted as one of the film’s biggest sequences. The focus on Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Icarus’ (Richard Madden) centuries-spanning romance and the song choice, “The End of the World” by Skeeter Davis, promise a central romance and heartbreak. While love stories have always been aspects in the MCU’s storytelling, they haven’t become central until WandaVision and now Eternals. But rather than that love story being explored through the history of television, Eternals seems to be leaning on the sweeping historical epics of Hollywood’s golden age, though with a modern eye toward inclusivity and worldliness.
Undoubtedly there will be plenty of action in the film, as Thena’s (Angelina Jolie) light sword and Phastos’ (Brian Tyree Henry) staff promises, but in terms of getting audiences to wonder, “Just who are The Eternals?” the goal here is the suggestion that even after Marvel has given audiences their summer action fix with Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals still has something unexpected to deliver to the MCU. While certainly not Marvel Studios’ most explosive trailer, for a film that doesn’t come out until November and is five MCU projects (Loki, Black Widow, Shang-Chi, What If …?, Ms. Marvel) away, it puts the film on people’s radar, while also reminding them via the tag at the end that this is, in part, firmly established in a post-Avengers: Endgame world. As far as distinguishing itself from the formula of the world’s most successful franchise, Eternals does a lot while still revealing very little about what has a chance to be Marvel Studios’ most artistically fascinating project yet.
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