While I’m not sure if Eternals is the best Marvel movie in the studio’s history, I think it is one of the strangest. It may also be the most ambitious. Chloe Zhao’s superhero foray purposely shakes up everything we — Marvel fans, the Marvel-curious, or maybe the people who haven’t tuned in since Endgame — thought we knew about the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The Eternals have been on earth since the beginning of time! They’re cosmic entities who created human civilization! They’re also horny but not good at sex scenes! And they may or may not be responsible for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima!
A movie as sweeping and weird and as Marvel as this may have left you with some questions about the Eternals, the galaxies they’re supposed to be creating, or their relative culpability for history’s great disasters. If so, you’ve come to the right place. I have them too.
Here are some possible answers to the biggest questions you might still have about Eternals after watching it. And if you haven’t seen the movie yet, needless to say, spoilers follow!
Where were the Avengers?
In Eternals, the eponymous superhero group saves us from their own creators, the Celestials, stopping the end of the world by minutes, if not seconds. Sersi (Gemma Chan) halts the Celestial named Tiamut from hatching by turning him to stone, and reverses what seems a for-sure-cataclysmic apocalypse. Before that, Deviants — the villainous animal-like beings — pop up and start wrecking London and a global earthquake happens. The attacks and earthquake make worldwide news, so one would think this international event would, for sure, be observed by Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Right?
Yet, none of them come to the rescue.
Doctor Strange, who is allegedly monitoring Earth for threats? Silent. Okoye, who’s in technologically advanced Wakanda and was part of Black Widow’s global observation team in Endgame? Nowhere to be found. Captain Marvel, who also reported to Nat in Endgame, does not make an appearance either. Neither do Ant-Man nor the newest Avenger, Shang-Chi.
Eternals provides no explanation as to why not a single Avenger is at least curious about how close we were to the end of Earth. The only reasoning that fits in with the story that Marvel previously constructed (i.e., that there’s always an Avenger or two monitoring what’s happening on Earth) is that we’ll eventually find out that they’re off on another adventure.
Maybe Doctor Strange is stuck repairing the multiverse, Captain Marvel is off in space, Ant-Man is doing something with the Quantum Realm, Okoye has her hands tied in Wakanda, and Shang-Chi isn’t fully part of the team yet? After all, the last time we saw Nick Fury, he was in space taking a vacation. Perhaps this is what gets the team back together.
Will the Eternals ever meet the Avengers?
It doesn’t seem like it’ll happen soon.
The mid-credits scene for Eternals contains a big clue. Eros a.k.a. Starfox (Harry Styles) is introduced into the fold, and basically tells the existing team that they’ll need his help to confront Arishem, the Celestials’ leader, and get their kidnapped friends back. That basically sets up a sequel in which the Eternals go up against Arishem, right? And since the Avengers didn’t intervene in the movie, they currently have no business with the Eternals or Arishem.
But there are a couple of tidbits that are a bit curious. The first is Dane Whitman (Kit Harington); Dane, in the final credits scene, is about to touch a magical sword and become the superhero known in the comic books as the Black Knight. Before he touches the sword, Blade’s disembodied voice (Mahershala Ali) tells him to stop. Hence, there could be a story in which Dane joins Blade or the Eternals to rescue Sersi, which sets up an Avengers and Eternals meetup.
But there’s more: In Eternals, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) creates rings that allow the ancient heroes to absorb cosmic power. These rings are very, very similar to the Ten Rings that Shang-Chi possesses. As established in one of Shang-Chi’s post-credits scenes, Shang-Chi’s rings are of unknown origin: Wong, Captain Marvel, and Bruce Banner analyze them and the only thing they can surmise is that the rings are very old, very powerful, and have a beacon attached to them. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that the very old and very powerful Eternals now have rings that seem to be emitting a signal.
Did the Black, gay Eternal really invent the atom bomb?
So prior to the movie’s release, following a few initial screenings, whispers about its plot started coming out. In particular, there was a fair amount of talk about the movie’s flashback to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. It was described, somewhat disingenuously, as “Phastos did Hiroshima.”
That’s not quite what happens. But people were confused, maybe even tickled, at the sheer absurdity of that prospect.
In the film, there is a flashback scene to the bombing of Hiroshima. Phastos and Ajak (Salma Hayek) are in the Japanese city, grieving over the bombing. The mushroom cloud looms in the sky. Phastos’s power is invention, and he feels like his help in the past pushed humanity toward this. Ajak assures him it didn’t, but that doesn’t stop him from grieving.
Granted, the optics of making these two Eternals feel and maybe even be tangentially responsible for the American government’s bombing of Hiroshima is a choice. It could be interpreted as these two fictional beings — played by people of color — having responsibility for the mass death perpetrated by a predominantly white government at the end of World War II. That’s part of the reason everyone defaulted to absurdity when they read about the scene.
But it seems like what director Chloe Zhao was getting at in this scene, and which the movie plays with constantly, are the ideas of colonialism and isolationism. The Eternals were sent to Earth to help cultivate humanity and rid the planet of Deviants at the same time. They set technological advancements, civilizations, medicine, arts, and everything in between into motion. But they also are told not to intervene and to let humans sort out their differences, no matter how gruesome or horrific — e.g., slavery, American Indian genocide, the Holocaust, WWI, etc. Those decisions weigh on their eternal souls.
Your mileage may vary on how well you think Zhao executed this. There were definitely some clunky, gummy parts. When I first saw the movie, I interpreted the Hiroshima scene as Phastos coming to terms with that isolationism and how he set humanity on a path that eventually led to an atomic bomb being detonated, rather than “Phastos did Hiroshima.”
I don’t believe the movie really wants you to think their isolationism is a good thing. They fail to realize that conflicts and violence may be something humans learned from watching the Eternals hunt down Deviants. The Eternals could’ve stopped such atrocities and they didn’t. Also, their long game hinges on the complete destruction of Earth. They’re not supposed to be inherently good beings.
The main crux of the movie is that the “good” Eternals have a change of heart and realize humanity is worth saving, but how each one comes to that conclusion isn’t tidy either. Ajak is more altruistic and is inspired by how the humans and Avengers fought Thanos. Sersi and Phastos are swayed in large part because they fall in love with humans.
When it comes to Phastos, that 1945 flashback is important because that’s when he loses all faith in humanity. He’s fine with abandoning humans forever. That faith is only restored by his husband and their son.
How do Eternals and its villains, the Celestials, change the MCU?
Since Endgame, Marvel storytelling has been pushing around the idea of alternate dimensions as the studio’s new big adventure. In WandaVision, Wanda Maximoff shows that, among other things, she can warp reality itself. In Loki, it was revealed that alternate timelines do exist and that the organization in charge of them has lost all control. The upcoming Spider-Man movie, No Way Home (a collaboration between Sony and Marvel) is allegedly going to introduce some dimension-jumping heroes and villains.
So, it seems like this giant, swirling, maybe-confusing multiverse is here to stay. The bigger mindfuck is that The Eternals introduces a concept to layer on top of that: There are all-powerful cosmic beings called Celestials, and they’re constantly creating new universes.
For fans, that means there’s not only the possibility of alternate dimensions and parallel timelines, but there could be whole unidentified and maybe not-yet-created universes throughout the MCU, all with their own different timelines and dimensions. We could be headed down an endless rabbit hole of possibilities but, it’s ultimately Marvel’s call.
An immediate effect — already in progress — will likely be more of a distinction between Avengers who take on these big cosmic adventures (e.g., Captain Marvel, Thor, Doctor Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy) and Avengers who are more street-level (e.g., Hawkeye, Black Widow, and the upcoming She-Hulk) and handle terrestrial business. We saw the beginnings of this with the debut of Marvel’s Disney+ shows like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and the ending of Black Widow. The split might be inevitable given how big the MCU feels like it’s going to get.
What this also means for the MCU is probably the introduction of some cosmic villains for the Guardians of the Galaxy or Captain Marvel to take on. It all but sets up an introduction of the famed comic book villain Galactus, who literally eats planets. Galactus has run into the Avengers and Fantastic Four more than a few times (and the latter group has a movie in the works). SWORD, which was hinted at in a Spider-Man: Far From Home post-credits scene and referenced in WandaVision, is an observation agency that deals with space threats and should factor more and more into the future of the MCU too.
So how was that sex scene so not sexy?
I am not here to bury the Eternals sex scene nor am I here to exalt it. The only thing I can say is that the rules of sex scenes are not simple nor are they finite, and even a scene involving Richard Madden and Gemma Chan on a beach can go wrong.
Two regular-looking people could film the steamiest scene in cinematic existence. Two beautiful people could film the most flaccid sex scene known to man. I do not make the rules!