Last weekend, Marvel Studios finally unveiled its full slate for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Phase Four, which will kick off with Black Widow on 1 May 2020. Of all five movies revealed, The Eternals is arguably the riskiest. Heck, it’s probably the riskiest MCU movie since 2014’s Guardians Of The Galaxy.
Prior to its release, many journalists were predicting Guardians Of The Galaxy to be Marvel’s first flop, considering how obscure the property was even amongst comic book fans. They were ultimately proven wrong when the movie managed to end its run with an impressive US$773.3 million.
The Eternals could be said to be in the same boat as Guardians Of The Galaxy was. Both are based on source material that the general audience has never heard of, and one even comic book readers have little knowledge about. Both of them are cosmic in nature, featuring strange characters out in the depths of space.
However, compared to Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Eternals has a relatively-unknown director attached to the project. Chloé Zhao only has a few indie flicks to her name while GOTG director James Gunn was already making a name with movies like Slither, Super, Scooby-Doo, and Dawn Of The Dead.
Advantage: Star Power
An advantage that both movies share is in sheer star power. The Eternals boasts an ensemble cast of veteran A-listers like Angeline Jolie and Salma Hayek, as well as Game Of Thrones star Richard Madden, stand-up comedian Kumail Nanjiani and Train To Busan star Don Lee.
That international mix of actors and actresses will definitely attract both young and old audiences, even if they don’t understand what the heck the movie is about. While a star-studded cast doesn’t guarantee a movie’s success (Universal’s The Mummy in 2017, X-Men: Dark Phoenix in 2019, etc.), it will at least pique the interest of people who don’t care who The Eternals are.
The fact that Marvel Studios is capitalizing on the casting for this movie isn’t strange, but it’s actually the sensible and logical marketing choice for a movie like this. Why would normal audiences care about a Marvel movie with no Avengers or popular superheroes in it?
Disadvantage: Obscure Source Material
In the comics, The Eternals were created by the late legend Jack Kirby in 1976. A race of space gods called the Celestials (who you may have noticed in a flashback in 2014’s GOTG) arrived on Earth millennia ago and experimented on humanity, thereby creating two offshoots: the Eternals (who look like humans) and the Deviants (who look like disfigured monsters).
The Eternals can best be described as what humans would call ‘gods’, or rather ‘gods’ in the way that Marvel’s Asgardians are also regarded as ‘gods’. Some of these Eternals are actually based on and inspired by existing mythologies like Greek and Mesopotamian, so you might recognize several of their names, like Gilgamesh and Thena (based on Athena).
Fun fact: Thanos himself is a member of the Deviants, and his parents and brother were members of the Eternals. That’s probably how they’re connecting the MCU dots in the upcoming movie, by associating Thanos with the story.
In all my years of reading comics, I’ve probably come across The Eternals once or maybe twice. Marvel Comics have essentially ignored the property for decades because the reality is that even the House of Ideas has no clue how to make these race of space gods remotely interesting. They’re essentially a cheap facsimile of DC Comics’ New Gods anyway.
The entire race of Eternals was unceremoniously killed off in the most recent relaunch of the Avengers comics, as Iron Man and Doctor Strange discovered that they have all committed suicide after discovering a horrible secret about their Celestial origins. Marvel Comics’ decision to do this doesn’t exactly instill much confidence in the property’s value in the eyes of fans.
Will The Eternals Be The MCU’s First Real Flop?
The MCU is so ingrained in popular culture that it’s almost impossible to imagine that a Marvel movie can flop or bomb. If even movies like GOTG and Ant-Man can garner huge box office returns (and with the MCU still riding high on Avengers Endgame), The Eternals will likely be another massive hit.
The Eternals movie can work if it’s promoted as a cross between Guardians Of The Galaxy and Thor, which is what the movie will probably turn out to be like if any of their previous cosmic-themed movies are any indication.
General audiences may not be prepared for a high-concept and more cerebral science fiction story set in the MCU, so I don’t think that Marvel Studios will be going that particular route, though they should really start easing them into it with The Eternals. That would pave the way for more cosmic stuff like the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU.
It certainly seems like nothing can currently halt the juggernaut that is Marvel Studios, but a lot can happen in a year’s time. People’s reactions to the first eventual trailer for The Eternals will tell us much about how the movie will perform. Until then, the MCU can do no wrong.
In case you missed it, head on over here for all the highlights of Kakuchopurei’s San Diego Comic-Con 2019 coverage.