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SYFY WIRE Eternals

Eternals: What to know before Chloe Zhao's Marvel epic arrives on the big screen

Here's a crash course on everything you need to know about Chloe Zhao's Eternals.

By Josh Weiss
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We're just a few weeks away from the MCU's biggest swing of the cosmic bat thus far: Chloé Zhao's Eternals. Based on a rather obscure group of heroes created in the 1970s, the film promises to be one of the most ambitious and filmmaker-driven comic book projects of all time.

“Chloé Zhao came in with a great pitch,” Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige states in the movie's official production notes. “And we immediately were drawn to her vision. Her passion for the project combined with her directing style and ability to see the big picture for Eternals made her the perfect choice to direct. It was thrilling to work with her and see her vision unfold to bring Eternals to life."

Head below for a quick crash course on everything you need to know about the flick before it opens in early November...

How to watch

Unlike other Disney releases this year (i.e., Cruella, Black Widow, and Jungle Cruise), Eternals will receive an exclusive rollout on the big screen rather than a dual premiere in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access. The studio publicly committed to a sole theatrical strategy for the remainder of its 2021 slate after the record-breaking box office draw of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings over the Labor Day weekend. Tickets for Eternals can be purchased here.

"We are excited for audiences to go on this epic journey through time and space with a group of immortal heroes," Zhao says. "We hope they will have a great time, fall in love with these wonderful characters, learn new MCU mythologies, and explore some of the existential questions humanity has pondered since the dawn of time."

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When is it out?

Eternals will open in theaters everywhere Friday, Nov. 5 — a day short of a year after its intended release date of Nov. 6, 2020. Like all Hollywood tentpoles slated for a wide release last year, Eternals was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which wreaked havoc not only on productions, but on theatrical windows as well. Disney shuffled the title around more than once before settling on the early November date (a slot originally announced for Taika Waititi's Thor: Love and Thunder).

“They’re going to see a movie unlike any they’ve ever seen before, and I really mean that,” cast member Kumail Nanjiani (Kingo) says. “It’s a superhero movie. It’s a sci-fi movie. It’s an epic. It’s morally complicated. It’s got big philosophical themes. But it’s also really funny. The action on is great. It spans multiple time periods. They’re going to see a movie that juggles so many different tones and themes and types of genres. They’re going to see a movie that encompasses so many different emotions. I’m excited to see it, and I know what happens in it!”

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Who are the Eternals?

The race of immortal, god-like alien beings first hit the scene in early July of 1976 in the debut issue of their self-titled comic book series cooked up by Jack "King" Kirby. Created by the Celestials (even more omnipotent beings we first learned about in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1), each Eternal is gifted with unique abilities like laser vision, super-speed, energy manipulation, and more. During the thousands of years that they have lived on Earth, the Eternals have watched humanity progress, all the while protecting them from monstrous creatures known as Deviants. Unless the Deviants are directly involved in some sort of catastrophe, the group is forbidden to interfere. This explains why they did nothing to stop Thanos during the events of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The production notes describe the Eternals as "custodians of the Earth."

“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 producer Nate 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.”

Marvel Studios spared no expense when it came to casting the heroes. The ensemble is as follows: all-powerful Ikaris (Richard Madden), human-loving Sersi (Gemma Chan), wise and spiritual Ajak (Salma Hayek), cosmic-powered Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), eternal young/old soul Sprite (Lia McHugh), intelligent inventor Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), super-fast Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), aloof loner Druig (Barry Keoghan), powerful Gilgamesh (Don Lee), and fierce warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie). 

Game of Thrones' Kit Harington rounds out the principal cast as Dane Whitman, a human who, in the comics, is known for his alter ego: the Ebony Blade-wielding Black Knight. In the movie, Dane works for the Natural History Museum in London and shares a special connection with Sersi.

“My character, Dane Whitman, while not being an Eternal, fits into the movie as the human element of the story," Harington says. "Dane, who is close friends with Sersi, represents all those things that she loves about the planet. He’s meant to kind of stand for Earth and stand for humanity. So, within that we get his quite dry sense of humor, his affection, the way he speaks and the way he moves and talks.”

The film is set in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, around the same time as Spider-Man: Far From Home. That's where the main action takes place, but the story actually spans 7,000 years, including the very creation of the Marvel Universe.

“My initial vision for the film can be summed up in the opening of William Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence,’" Zhao explains. "‘To see the world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity 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."

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The MCU shines with Oscar gold

Eternals is the very first Marvel Studios project to be directed by an Oscar-winning filmmaker. Zhao took home two Academy Awards (one for Best Director and one for Best Picture) at the 93rd annual ceremony this past April for her work on Nomadland. She is only the second woman in Oscars history to win the statue for Best Director (after Kathryn Bigelow), though she still made history as the first-ever woman of color to take home the coveted prize.

"She initially was going to put Nomadland on the shelf until after Eternals was finished and released, and then come back to it," Feige revealed during an interview with Variety in the spring. "Because of our COVID shutdown, she decided to get her laptop out and, you know, finish up this little movie she was doing! And so yes, my joke is, let the filmmaker finish their passion projects when you have some downtime from your giant Marvel project, and suddenly they can make history at the Academy Awards. Knock on wood."

Zhao co-wrote the screenplay for Eternals and shares credit with Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo. The cousins Firpo came up with the original screen story upon which the script is based. Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, and Kevin de la Noy serve as executive producers. Kevin Feige and Nate Moore are producers.

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First reactions

Marvel Studios held the world premiere for Eternals in Los Angeles on Monday evening, and fans weren't shy about their initial impressions of the movie. Surprisingly, several audience members compared it to a movie from the DC Extended Universe over at Warner Bros. Scott Menzel (founder of We Live Entertainment), for instance, wrote: "Eternals is Marvel’s version of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. A film that builds upon a cast of unknown characters and does so with great success. Chloé Zhao['s] direction is superb. Easily one of the best looking Marvel films of all time." 

A number of tweets also praised the movie's two post-credits sequences, but be careful of where you click because one of them has already been spoiled online!