Marvel's Eternals Is A Madly Ambitious, Intimate New Saga (Set Visit Report)

In visiting the United Kingdom set of Marvel's Eternals back in January of 2020, there was a consistent theme that seemed to echo from every member of the cast and crew. The first was that the film was being made fast. As ComicBook.com visited the set on Day 82 of 82, the production was longer than most for Marvel Studios. This is merely the first sign of just how massive the film is, with producer Nate Moore actually calling it Marvel's "most ambitious" film ever with plenty of examples throughout the day to back up the claim. Looking back at the set visit nearly two years later, Eternals is shaping up to have now taken its additional time (originally slated for a November of 2020 release) delivering something epic in scope and intimate by nature.

Eternals was a globe-trotting production with director Chloé Zhao looking for as many practical elements as possible for her super hero ensemble. This means audiences will see Babylon, the Gupta Empire, the Aztec Empire, London, and Bali (among other places). Eternals will be looking at these destinations across the planet over the course of 7,000 years. According to Moore's estimates, 60% of the film is happening in the present-day of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and 40% of the film being set in various years of the past. This may also include a visit to the Eternals' homeworld of Olympia. 

"In the past, we see the Eternals, who in our version of the mythology, are immortal aliens from a planet called Olympia," Moore explained. The group has been tasked by the Celestials to come to Earth and eliminate creatures known as Deviants. "The Deviants are these parasitic aliens who go from planet to planet, and as they kill the apex predators on a given planet, they sort of take the characteristics of those predators and wipe out intelligent life. Well, the Eternals are heroes, so they've come to earth to eradicate the Deviants and allow humanity to thrive." The mission will see the group of 10 heroes begin to "fracture" as a unit, with these events set after Thanos fighting the Avengers in Endgame calls upon them to reunite. 

"In the present, we meet a couple of Eternals," Moore explained. "Sersi and Sprite, who now live in London, who are shocked when a Deviant arrives after not having seen a Deviant for 5,000 years and they seem to have evolved somehow. So the present is very much a mystery of, 'Why are the Deviants back? Why are they different?' And 'Can we get the band back together,' for lack of a better term, 'in time to stop this new threat?'"

Sersi and Sprite are played by Gemma Chan and Lia McHugh, respectively. The talented stars are joined by Angelina Jolie as Thena, Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo, Salma Hayek as Ajak, Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Richard Madden as Ikaris, Don Lee as Gilgamesh, and Barry Koeghan as Druig. Each Eternal brings their own super power set to the table, like Thena's ability to create weapons with her energy or Makkari's super speed which can break the sound barrier, which also brings the first deaf super hero and cast member to the Marvel Cinematic Universe!

It is Hayek's Ajak who will be introduced as a leader of this bunch. "Ajak is in charge to supervise them, bring them over," Hayek explained. "I'm trying to go around not saying she's the boss. She's the leader." In fact, Hayek's Ajak has a key ability for this film's story: "I'm the only one that can talk to the Celestials." This is going to be an interesting ability for the character, as Hayek also notes, "I decide what I tell, when I tell them," and that seems like it can apply to both her family of Eternals and the Celestials who sent them.

"The looming idea this movie does get to delve into the history of the Celestials," Moore said. "You've seen them a little bit in Guardians [of the Galaxy Vol. 1] in the Collector's Lab, Ego in Guardians [of the Galaxy Vol. 2] is a Celestial but these are sort of the true Jack Kirby Celestials. Obviously updated with a bit of a modern design, but the notion of diving into the history of these space gods, 'What is their role to play in the creation of life across the galaxy? How are they different? What is their end game?' are all things that we will learn in the film."

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(Photo: Marvel Studios)

Despite the massive scale of the film's story which sprawls across locations and millennia, it is going to be a story centered around a romance. "Ikaris and Sersi are very much the central characters of the movie," Moore said. "We've made 25-plus movies now at Marvel, but this is the first movie that's really built around a romance as the central relationship. I mean, obviously, you have Tony and Pepper, you have Steven and Peggy, those tend to be kind of the side stories. This, if we can do it right, is an epic romance."

Throwing a possible wrench in that romantic storyline is Kit Harington as the human character of Dane Whitman, a name comic book fans know to be the Black Knight (though, the team insisted on keeping Black Knight details as secret as possible on the set). Harington wrapped on Day 81 of production, so he wasn't around for this final day, "But we very much explored the relationship between Dane Whitman and Sersi," Moore promised. 

Harington's Whitman, in comics, draws his powers from an Ebony Blade which is a weapon enchanted to cut through any object but one which comes with a dangerous side effect. Not entirely unlike the Ring in Lord of the Rings, the Ebony Blade will slowly corrupt its beholder and cause their worst traits to be exploited, which eventually leads Whitman to ditch the Blade in the books. "You won't see the Ebony Blade in this movie," Moore said. "He's not going to be Black Knight necessarily, but that is something that we get to play with down the road."

With or without the Black Knight, Eternals will satisfy those who enjoy super heroics in excess. The film's costume room had more costumes in it than one for the original Avengers movie would have back in 2012, when that was considered a massively ambitious crossover with five movies leading up to it. The Eternals costume room, a dark space with some concept art sprinkled onto walls, came to life with the fully-practical and vibrantly colored designs standing tall all around it as though they were an uncased display in a museum. Eternals tasked its costume designers to drum up costumes for ten heroes, cutting the normal number of back-ups which account for tears or other damage as a means to keep things moving for that original November 2020 release date. Impressively, Sammy Sheldon Differ managed to create exceptionally designed super suits for the cast of heroes to suit up in.

"These were a really massive job to build, I can't stress that enough," the costume designer explained. Typically, the team would make about 14 of each costume to be used through production. In this case, they worked with six or eight of each. "Luckily they don't fall apart, which is amazing," Differ said of the costumes, a Marvel veteran who also worked on Ant-Man. "We looked into the universe, and nebulas, and minerals, and earth, and galactic, and tried to pull some texture together that gave it a surface that didn't look like it was just a fabric...So, everything is hand painted and hand printed. The fabrics where we started off with some paintings that we made out of paint oil and metal powders to try and recreate paintings that look like the universe."

It's easy to imagine how those costumes are going to fit into this world when walking through it. Aboard the interior of their fully built ship, various interplanetary terrariums and plants are crafted inside of softly lit parts of the wall behind glass barriers. The various corridors lead to one main room, where a massive reddish-pink Celestial is standing tall, a statue of one of the Eternals' creators, Arishem. It's no wonder the massive triangular ship has been kept tidy and the plants inside are thriving; "[Makkari has] been in hiding out in the ship for ages," production designer Eve Stewart explained. "And so she's collected loads of old books. She's an avid reader. I think she can read through 1200 pages a minute or something."

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(Photo: Marvel Studios)

If it all sounds like a massive undertaking, it is. Moore and Marvel Studios, however, have full faith in their award-winning director Zhao. "A couple of things we learned when we met her, one, she grew up reading Manga. She grew up in Beijing, China, so sort of comic book storytelling is kind of in her blood. Two, she's a huge MCU fan. She's seen our movies countless times. She loves them. She loves Captain America, especially, and she sort of blew us away with her infectious energy," Moore explained. "She also comes out the Sundance Lab and it was actually the same year as Ryan Coogler, who directed Black Panther, and they approached storytelling in a very similar way. They're different filmmakers in a lot of other respects, but again, in talking to her early on, we realized this was a true storyteller, a writer, director who did have a very on vision of what the movie could be. And it's been proven true. Look, she's been writing on the script every day. She's great with actors. She sort of pushed us, I think, as a filmmaker to make Eternals feel aesthetically different than any other Marvel movie."

Of course, the looming question for Marvel fans is where the Eternals character have been throughout the adventures Marvel fans have been watching unfold with Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, The Wasp, and pretty much everyone else since 2008. The Avengers had to fight for the entire universe in a battle against Thanos and a team of super powered individuals were seemingly on Earth, hiding in plain sight? "[Avengers: Endgame doesn't] directly affect it, although the Eternals are quite aware of what happened in the Endgame and what happened with Thanos, and you sort of get to hear their opinion about what happened and why maybe they didn't get involved," Moore said. "So it is both in a post-Endgame world, but isn't a direct line, as far as storytelling."

In fact, the Eternals are familiar with the Avengers enough to have opinions of them. "She's really impressed with them. She really is impressed with them," Hayek said of her Ajak character's thoughts on Earth's Mightiest Heroes. "That's a lot of respect, and actually can't believe they pulled it off."

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As the Marvel Studios leader Kevin Feige loves to say; all will be revealed, in less than one month when Eternals hits theaters. "It's a big cosmic crazy movie set on earth over 7,000 years," Moore concluded. "It's to some degree our most ambitious, well not to some degree, it is our most ambitious first film, but we're really excited about it. When we talk about phase four, this is the first new property of phase four...This is the first new property [after Avengers: Endgame], and because of that, we wanted to take a big swing. We want to take some chances and give audiences something that feels completely new. So that is the Eternals."

Want to hear more about ComicBook.com's time on the set of Marvel's Eternals? Join our Phase Zero podcast for Episode 40 this Wednesday and feel free to hit me up on Instagram! Eternals hits theaters on November 5.