A few weeks after a Phase 4 teaser gave us our first glimpse of Chloe Zhao’s Eternals, a teaser trailer has arrived showing us the Eternals in action throughout human history. The sweeping opening shot of a pre-historic cliff is lovely, the crashing waves contrasted with the simplicity of a people scraping by on inhospitable earth is 100% Chloe Zhao, but I must admit, this teaser, at least, has plenty of Marvel house style on display. That flat lighting! WHY! STILL! I will never understand. We have long since accepted all the Marvel things coexist, I do NOT and WILL not understand the continued insistence on the house style, especially since the lighting is so consistently boring. It’s a testament to Zhao that she can make a storm over a green field and that prehistoric cliff-side look so grand despite Marvel’s flattening aesthetic.
As has long been the case with Marvel teasers and trailers, we are given no f-cking context for what is happening, which in the case of the Eternals, feels a little left of the mark, since they’re one of Marvel’s weirder groups. Guardians of the Galaxy was an easier sell, since they could be parsed as “Avengers in space”, but the closest shorthand we have for the Eternals is “like gods, but not”. We definitely get a sense of their Ancient Aliens history with humanity—yes, the in the world of the MCU, the Ancient Aliens guys are right, UGH—as they arrive and begin helping those hardscrabble cliff people build civilization. We get a little glimpse of some of the Eternals in action, including speedster Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), inventor Phastos (Bryan Tyree Henry), warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie), their leader Ajak (Salma Hayek), and Sersi (Gemma Chan) helping to grow plants. We also get a quick cut of eternally young Sprite (gender-swapped for the movie and played by Lia McHugh) singing on a jet plane, scowling Druig (Barry Keoghan), and Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) dancing in a Bollywood movie. GIVE ME ALL OF THAT, PLEASE.
But we see nothing of the Eternals foe, the Deviants—except for a suggestion that the Deviants caused the destruction of Pompeii, maybe?—nor do we see Richard Madden’s Ikaris in action. We do see Ikaris and Sersi renewing their vows over the years, at least until we also see Sersi having a moment with hapless human Dane Whitman (Kit Harington). We know those two have a connection thanks to set photos, so I am SUPER curious to see what the Ikaris-Sersi-Dane plot looks like. Robb Stark and Jon Snow are reunited and into the same woman! The song in the teaser is Skeeter Davis’s rendition of “The End of the World”, which plays just as well for an alien invasion as it does a ten thousand year love story finally coming to an end. Marvel hires directors like Zhao less for the action stuff and more for the human storytelling stuff, so I am here to see what she does with these three characters.
My favorite part of the teaser is my favorite part of any Marvel movie: the hangout. Seeing the Eternals gathered around a table, giving Ikaris a hard time for saying he could lead the Avengers is the vibe I want. Natasha Romanoff spent a lot of time calling the Avengers a family, but they never really felt like one. They came across, at best, as friendly co-workers. Hopefully, the Eternals can more effectively capture that “family” feeling, which is exactly the kind of humanist storytelling Chloe Zhao brings to the table. I am very interested to see how much of Zhao’s sensibility really pushes through the Marvel house style. The most successful filmmakers on that front have been James Gunn and Taika Waititi, who, not for nothing, have made the best Marvel movies. Can Chloe Zhao meet, or even exceed, their standards? I see no reason why not, unless the Marvel house style gets too much in her way.