After Avengers: End Game, the epic culmination of over a decade’s worth of Marvel superhero films, many fans wondered where the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would go next. We soon found out with Disney’s announcement of a slate of new TV series and films. Many of which would center around characters fans were already familiar with, but it was time to take it a step further.
Marvel Studios President, Kevin Feige planned to explore new stories and heroes that would connect with a wider audience. One of the biggest announcements was Eternals – a film based on the classic Jack Kirby comics about a team of immortal beings who protect humanity from some cosmic baddies known as the Deviants. Many fans knew little of the Eternals, but we certainly eager to learn more.
KEVIN FEIGE: In a post-Infinity saga world, we wanted to make a bold new step and say you don’t know everything about the universe yet and that there are these 10 spectacular heroes who you haven’t met who’ve been here the whole time.
Properly introducing ten new heroes to the fans was a monumental challenge to take on. To accomplish this, Feige reached out to Academy Award winning writer/director, Chloé Zhao (Nomadland) to bring her unique creative vision to the MCU. The goal, a superhero film that would redefine just what a Marvel film can be, exploring not only a new group of heroes, but to also tell a more human side of their story.
Zhao was inspired by a poem from William Blake and used it to convey her vision to Feige in the early days of pre-production.
Chloé Zhao: In that poem, Blake was trying to convey that you can see the endless beauty and the meanings of the cosmos within the smallest things you can find on earth. The vision of the film was to set up, to capture that scale. Something as large as the creation of the sun and-and as intimate as whispers of lovers.
While still a superhero film, at its core, Eternals is a story about family; one that would be told with a diverse cast and would explore themes previously untouched by Marvel before. The world, even the MCU, had more stories to tell – different people, different backgrounds, different sexualities. It was time to deliver a film that better represented what the world really looks like – the human family.
Screen icon Angelina Jolie who plays the mighty warrior Thena, and Gemma Chan a relatively new name for fans explained what factored into their decisions to join the film.
ANGELINA JOLIE: When they first talked to me about the story, really, it was the-the cast. It was the idea of what this family would be. And I just wanted to be a part of this family before I even knew very much about who I was gonna play.
A lot of us were cast to bring out something from our own lives, something within ourselves, that maybe we weren’t even aware of. And then let it live and let it grow within the film.
GEMMA CHAN: Sersi is a superhero, but her powers are not kind of the most obvious or the flashiest. She’s not the best fighter. But what she does have is empathy and a real affinity for humankind and the earth.And she’s a free spirit. Um, yeah, I loved that. That was the, one of the enjoyable things about the film, was going on that journey with that character. It’s kind of her coming-of-age, even though she’s probably thousands of years old.
Playing the fire-throwing Kingo was something Kumail Nanjiani took very seriously. He earned the attention of fans when he transformed his body for the part. In addition to his new chiseled physique he also brought a lot more to the film – his trademark comic timing and also a more dramatic performance than fans have seen before. But what he found the biggest challenge may surprise fans.
KUMAIL NANJIANI: Oh, by far the hardest thing was the dancing. I’m gonna put Chloe on the spot. I can’t swear, so put in a swear word here. Chloe lied to me.
When we first talked about the movie, she was like, “There’s a Bollywood dance sequence,” and I was like, “Chloe, I don’t think I can do that.” She’s like, “Okay, we’ll make it a Bollywood action scene.” And then as soon as I got to London, she’s like, (laug”It’s a dance sequence.”
While Zhao did surprise him with some dancing, he still put his faith in the filmmaker’s vision.
KUMAIL NANJIANI: I completely trusted her. I didn’t always see that she had this whole movie, this whole universe in her head. I didn’t understand it until I watched the movie, but I knew enough to trust her.
Zhao’s vision for the film can be seen in the way it was shot, the focus on the humanity of the characters, but also who played the superheros. Eternals gives a voice and heroes to groups of people who had long lacked proper on screen representation. Brian Tyree Henry discussed how this deeply affected him and helped make his decision to play Phastos an easy one.
BRIAN TYREE HENRY: The thing that really attracted me to this part was that I just think about all the images of black men and-out there and-and how we are portrayed.
I remember when I was coming to this project that I, Brian, had kind of lost faith in humanity – just looking at all the things that we’ve been through. Just what the images of black men were and how we were being portrayed and how the power was taken from us – the lack of power or feeling powerful. What I really love the most about Phastos is that through all of that, him being eternal, him never being able to die, he still chose love. He still decided to have a family even though he may have to watch them perish.
Henry spoke with Zhao before shooting the film about her expectations for the performance. When asking how much weight he should lose, Chloe surprised him with her answer.
BRIAN TYREE HENRY: To be a black man, to have someone look at you and say, “We want you exactly the way you are,” is unlike anything that I’ve ever felt. And, it just triggered me to being an 11-year-old kid who’s watching these superpower movies, superhero movies, and not ever seeing anyone like me reflected. Like how I would take these posters and put them in my locker and just hope that, you know, one day there would be somebody representing me and the way that I am.
It’s unlike any feeling I’ve ever experienced. And to work with this palette, this beautiful palette of people and make a family ’cause this is what families look like, this is what they are.
Eternals will premiere exclusively in theaters on November 5th.
The film stars: Gemma Chan (Sersi), Richard Madden (Ikaris), Angelina Jolie (Thena), Kit Harington (Dane Whitman), Kumail Nanjiani (Kingo), Brian Tyree Henry (Phastos), Salma Hayak (Ajak), Lia McHugh (Sprite), Lauren Ridoff (Makkari), Barry Keoghan (Druig), Don Lee (Gilgamesh)