There’s been some speculation for a while that, given the unyielding November release date for Eternals, Marvel might be positioning their grand epic of gods and monsters for an awards season run. They got all the way to a Best Picture nomination at the Oscars with Black Panther, and won three awards there in other categories, so we know it’s not impossible. But can Eternals match that film’s success in a field where Marvel has traditionally been excluded, or even improve on it?
If Marvel’s ultimate goal here is nominations or wins in any of the “Big Five” Oscar categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress), then they’ve already got a tried-and-true weapon in their arsenal: director Chloé Zhao, who plowed through the last awards season like a juggernaut, picking up a string of Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and Academy Awards for her introspective drama Nomadland. Her signature style and name is all over the second and final trailer for Eternals (somehow we skipped right from teaser to final trailer), which was released today at a time beneficial to the West Coast.
That signature style of Zhao’s relies heavily on her affinity for stark, unforgiving natural environments, and her sensitive use of natural light: so from the moment this trailer opens with Salma Hayek’s Ajak traveling by horse across a barren plain with cloud-speckled skies above her, you know Zhao is going to be bringing all of that to the unconventional source material. And this marriage of Marvel’s earth-shattering spectacle with Zhao’s indie filmmaking techniques and stripped-back sensibilities is perfect for the story of Eternals itself; of otherworldly beings accessing the hidden depths of their own humanity, and becoming one with the people of Earth whom they’ve loved from afar for seven-thousand years.
The Eternals, as it turns out, have one job and one job only on Earth – to eradicate a horde of demonic chimeras known as the Deviants. But it seems they may have been a little too good at that: because in the modern day, post-Endgame, the Deviants have been in hiding for millennia and the Eternals have been forced to wait around until they return. Since they’re not supposed to interfere with human affairs that don’t involve the Deviants, that’s forced some of them into an uncomfortable position where they can only watch from the sidelines as humans tear themselves to pieces. Some have already broken the rules entirely and gone to live among the human race, while others have retreated into themselves.
And then there’s Angelina Jolie’s Thena, who I think might secretly be the most important character in the movie. Her mission, as the greatest warrior among the Eternals, was always to lead the charge against the Deviants; but for her, there’s another layer to her internal conflict. While many of the Eternals fell in love with humans and abandoned their divine purpose, Thena is the only one who fell in love with a Deviant – and not just any Deviant, but their leader, a tentacled eldritch being named Kro. I wasn’t sure if this would be carried over from the comics, but the trailer shows Kro lifting Thena into a tender embrace and caressing her face in a way that is equal parts disturbing and…no, actually, it’s just straight-up disturbing. There’s a lot of tentacles going on.
Her teammates have done a bit better for themselves. The matter-manipulating sorceress Sersi is entangled in a love triangle between her Eternal husband Ikaris, from whom she’s now estranged, and Kit Harington’s Dane Whitman – who finally gets to talk in this trailer! We don’t get to see Phastos’ partner, but we know he’s supposed to be Marvel’s first openly gay character, and that he has a husband in the film. As for Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo, he’s just living his best life as a Bollywood movie-star. Makkari, Marvel’s first deaf superhero and a speedster who travels by leaping, also seems pretty comfy on Earth, but we haven’t seen much of her lifestyle yet.
On the flip-side, we can see that Ajak mostly keeps to herself and avoids interactions with humans, while the brooding telepath Druig has started a cult in the woods where he mind-controls people – definitely a healthy way of channeling boredom into productivity. Sprite, who is permanently trapped in the body of a child, seems to have entered her gleefully nihilistic phase of wanting the world to be destroyed so that she can finally be released from her humanoid vessel. Even space-gods in the MCU need therapy, it turns out.
But Sprite might be close to getting her wish, since it seems that another group of divine beings known as the Celestials are on their way to Earth to review the Eternals’ accomplishments and pass judgment on the planet as a whole. The Celestials are the gods whom the Eternals serve, and in Marvel Comics lore they’re actually pretty important – but this trailer provides our first good look at them since a flashback in Guardians Of The Galaxy. They’re massive geometrical creatures rendered in vibrant jewel-tones, straight out of the pages of a Jack Kirby comic. I also have a hard time believing they can be killed by mere Eternals, so I suspect the resolution to that storyline will involve the Eternals pleading with the Celestials on behalf of the human race rather than fighting them in some big space-battle.
I can even think of a way to achieve that which would be comics-accurate and visually stunning. In the comics, the Eternals have the power to sync up their minds and become one being comprised of pure light, known as the Uni-Mind. The Uni-Mind embodies all of them at once, and as such would be the perfect vessel for an exploration of the interconnectedness of humanity.
And I’d be here for it, just saying. Based on everything we know about Eternals, it’s the kind of film where it wouldn’t feel jarring to have it end with a dramatized outpouring of raw emotion, as overly earnest as that might seem on paper. If anyone could pull it off, it would be Zhao, whose love for the planet and respect for ordinary people defines so much of her work. And it would certainly give the film that emotional punch it’ll need if it’s gonna be a serious contender during awards season.
Trailer Rating: 8.5/10