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Eternals: Why Changing the Comics’ Setting Was a Mistake for the MCU

CBR logo CBR 6/27/2022 Mayoorhan Sevverlz
© Provided by CBR

In 2021 Marvel Studios' Eternals came and went, a strange little blip in the larger tapestry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was a lot riding on its success, and while it was a modest hit at the box office, it became the first film in the MCU to receive a "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The marketing and build-up for Eternals loudly proclaimed that it was something unique for the MCU -- a big director-driven drama, a superhero epic that was as big on character as it was on spectacle. It was a big risk that, unfortunately, didn't quite pay off the way Marvel wanted it to.

There are many factors as to why Eternals didn't quite resonate with audiences as much as the studio hoped or indeed expected it to. It was a very long film based on an obscure property that tonally felt out of step with the rest of the MCU and yet insisted it was part of the same cinematic universe. After all, characters reference The Snap, Thanos, and the Avengers a fair amount throughout the film. It's a movie of two halves -- one that wants to stand apart from the MCU and one that really wants to be an intrinsic part of it. But perhaps it didn't have to be like that.

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The Eternals was created by Jack Kirby upon his return to Marvel in the mid-70s. Much like Chloé Zhao and her direction of the film, Kirby was given complete creative freedom with the comic. It was weird, huge, cosmic, and completely and utterly Kirby. The Eternals, in its original run, tells the story that Marvel Studios and Zhao wanted to tell with their film but couldn't quite manage. That is for one very specific reason.

The Eternals, at least in its original run, was not actually set in the Marvel Universe. That changed later on when the characters crossed over into other Marvel Comics, such as Thor. But in Kirby's original story, the Eternals lived outside the Marvel Universe, not in it. Marvel Comics and characters were mentioned in the pages of The Eternals, but as pieces of fiction within that universe.

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That is what the film needed: complete and utter freedom from the restraints of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It would have given Zhao the freedom to explore all the themes and story ideas she wanted without having to make it fit within a larger canon. Eternals could then afford to be a story first rather than a piece of a larger puzzle. The marketing for Eternals went as far as it could to make it feel unlike any other MCU film. Setting it outside the MCU would have been the final little push it needed.

As it stands, Eternals was not the universally loved film Marvel Studios wanted. It's an off-beat chapter in an almost 30 film saga, with an unfortunately mixed reception. Maybe if it took this one minuscule element of the original comics, then it might have stood a chance of standing out in the sea of Marvel media out there.

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