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Spoiler alert! Mild spoilers ahead for Marvel's Eternals. Do not proceed if you haven't seen it yet!
Following the events of Avengers: Endgame, it seemed almost impossible to imagine what could come next in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The conclusion of the Infinity Saga closed a major chapter for many of the beloved heroes that have been saving the world on the silver screen for the better part of the last decade.
And while we know there are adventures ahead for Tom Holland's Spider-Man, Anthony Mackie's Captain America, Brie Larson's Captain Marvel and more -- as well as the on-screen introduction of fan-favorite characters from the comic canon like Kate Bishop and Ms. Marvel -- perhaps one of the most ambitious projects of Marvel's Phase 4 slate was the introduction of the Eternals, a team of supernatural heroes tasked with protecting humanity from impending doom.
The Eternals aren't as well known among casual comics fans as characters like Iron Man or the Hulk, and the idea of an origin film that introduced 10 new characters to the MCU canon may have seemed ambitious at best to some. Thankfully, the powers that be at Marvel had an ace up their sleeve: director Chloe Zhao, fresh off her double Oscar win for Best Director and Best Picture for 2020's Nomadland.
Having made her name in quiet, heartrending independent films, Zhao injects that humanity into Eternals, crafting a multiverse-spanning epic with an intimate touch. As a whole, the Eternals are united in their role as superhuman protectors of Earth, yet they have incredibly different powers, personalities and experiences, making for a captivating team.
"We do kind of make this dysfunctional family," admitted Gemma Chan, who stars as Sersi. "I love it. I love that everyone has their own dynamic, their own thing going on, their own strengths, and each of us gets to have our own interactions with one another."
"When I actually saw everything put together on the big screen, that's when I saw Chloe's genius," Lauren Ridloff, who plays the speedster Makkari, agreed. "She was able to see everything and put everything together that touches on so many different themes and I feel like this movie really explores the beauty and the ugly side of humanity."
Eternals is a Marvel masterpiece like no other, capable of thrilling die-hard fans who are fastidiously tracking every Phase 4 storyline, as well as casual moviegoers who have never before seen a comic book film. It leaves viewers both wholly satisfied and excited for what's to come, breaking new ground and leaving the MCU forever changed.
So, who are the Eternals? Created by Marvel mastermind Jack Kirby upon his return to the comics empire in the 1970s, the group made their first canonical appearance in The Eternals #1 in 1976. The characters have appeared off and on in several short series throughout the years, including a notable 2006 miniseries written by author Neil Gaiman.
The Eternals themselves are a creation of the powerful Celestials, representing half of their experimentation on Earth as they diverged from the grotesque and monstrous Deviants. Granted superhuman life spans and unique abilities, the Eternals have lived for centuries on Earth, protecting the unknowing human race from the threats posed by the Deviants.
Though Zhao’s interpretation of Eternals lore -- which she wrote with screenwriters Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo -- has been kept tightly under Marvel wraps ahead of the film's release, ET got an exclusive first look at each character and interpretations from the actors themselves.
Sersi, played by Chan, is an empathetic Eternal, with a strong connection to the human race. “She has the power to manipulate matter,” the actress shared. “And she’s had a long-running, on-off relationship with Ikaris.”
Richard Madden plays Ikaris, describing him as “the loyal soldier” of the group. One of the most powerful Eternals, with the ability to fly and project cosmic energy beams from his eyes, Ikaris -- who, the film explains, made up his namesake myth about the man who flew too close to the sun -- is more jaded about humanity than his lady love, committed to his divined role as a warrior.
Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos is the technological whiz of the team, and "can assemble anything out of any kind of technology,” the actor explained. He's also the member of the Eternals who has tried his hardest to live a normal life among the mortals of Earth, building a home with his husband and their son. “These superheroes reflect the world we live in,” Henry noted.
Thena, played by Angelina Jolie, is the “fight first, ask questions later” Eternal. “She’s the goddess of war,” Jolie noted. “She can manifest different weapons, which was really fun.”
The actress admitted that her character can be a bit "heavy," but she shares a strong, compassionate bond with Don Lee's Gilgamesh, the strongest Eternal, who packs a serious punch. Lee added, however, that Gilgamesh is at heart “a protector,” who uses his power for good.
Ridloff plays the speedster Makkari, the MCU’s first deaf superhero. “Obviously she’s fast,” the actress said of her character, who often communicates with her team via sign language. “But also, she’s loyal.”
That loyalty connects Makkari with Druig, played by Barry Keoghan, who possesses the power of mind control. Often at odds with his teammates over the powerful effect they could have on the world if they used their abilities more freely, Keoghan shared that Druig "stands up for what he believes in, and [thinks] that there shouldn’t be violence.”
Though she’s played by 14-year-old Lia McHugh, Sprite has lived just as long as her fellow Eternals. She only looks like the baby of the team, leading to an interesting dynamic. “Sprite can create illusions,” McHugh said of her character. “She’s really sarcastic, especially with Kingo.”
Kingo, played by Kumail Nanjiani, decided to hide in plain sight when it came to his Earth-bound identity, becoming a Bollywood star. “I would say Kingo is a little self-involved,” Nanjiani admitted with a smile.
And then there’s Ajak. Salma Hayek plays the soulful leader of the Eternals with a maternal heart, noting, “Her power is healing.”
The actress, who was initially fearful of signing on to a Marvel film, worrying that, at 55, she might be cast in a "grandmother" role, was a proud matriarch on and off-screen as she watched the team come together, telling ET, "There was something about this film that created friendships that are special."
"We are very, very different people coming together with different experiences," she added, "and it was such a natural family and we learned so much from each other."
Eternals breaks new ground for the MCU in many important ways, large and small. It follows Captain Marvel and Black Widow as just the third Marvel film to be directed by a woman, and spotlights a diverse group of heroes -- representative of the comics' worldwide fanbase -- led by a powerful female presence in Ajak, who is a male character in the comic canon but brilliantly interpreted by Hayek as the "leader, healer, and mother" of the team.
The film's focus on representation meant a lot to the cast, and was a major selling point for Jolie, who said she sees herself in Thena in more ways than one.
"It is true sometimes in my family there's [a sense of] this film relates to this child or this group, but it's very rare that I am standing in a family that I think, 'Oh this reminds me of Maddox, and Makkari reminds me of Z, and has the similar background and culture,'" the mother of six told ET during the film's junket. "What I've learned within my family is, we are stronger because we are a diverse family. That is what makes our family, what we've learned from each other, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I'm so happy that people around the world will watch this film, and I'm hoping this is just the new norm."
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Indeed, in also featuring the MCU's first deaf superhero and first same-sex couple and kiss, Eternals showcases representation that's been a long time coming in a franchise responsible for some of the biggest blockbusters in film history.
"It's about time, you know?" Lee told ET. "I think that's a really smart idea for global audiences, so we can entertain more people and more countries too… This movie itself has a really strong message that we don't wanna divide each other with race or gender, you know, we are stronger when we are together."
"Even though the Eternals are immortal gods when they come to Earth, it sort of shows you how they become human," McHugh agreed. "The diversity really showed the humanity, and it represents Earth. That's what the Eternals stand for."
Like many Marvel favorites before it, Eternals concludes with the promise of adventures to come. Arishem, the Celestial who has guided the team's time on Earth so far, ominously promises a future return to the planet to judge humanity's value to the multiverse at large. Kit Harington's character hints at the fact that he may be more than Chan's mere mortal boyfriend. And a jaw-dropping post-credits introduction proves that even the most dialed-in fans have no way of predicting what's to come.
While the cast certainly couldn't spill any details about a possible sequel, or their involvement in future MCU films, all were game to suit up once again if asked.
"Once you're in the MCU, it's pretty much, you're committed to it," Ridloff noted, adding with a laugh, "It''s almost like getting married to Marvel, you know? I feel like at the premiere, that night was my wedding night. So, I can't wait."
Hayek, ever the intrepid leader, put it more plainly. "We were born ready," she said. "Challenge accepted."
Marvel Studios' Eternals is in theaters on Nov. 5.