Will Marvel's Eternals succeed? It's a question that's getting more and more pertinent as the film's November release date approaches. Eternals will explore the story of a race of super-beings that have been on Earth since ancient times, and played a pivotal role in shaping the planet's history. Eternals has a lot of potential to be one of the most pivotal chapters of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, uniting the ancient cosmic history of the MCU with the modern age of superheroes it has spawned. Marvel Studios just released a new MCU Phase 4 sizzle reel trailer, but Eternals doesn't seem to be making the kind of impact it should.
So will Marvel's Eternals succeed? There are a few reasons to worry about that answer...
Right now, the first thing to worry about is the fact that Eternals has almost no hype or brand awareness behind it six months before its release date - which is a year later than it was supposed to hit theaters (originally November 2020). The Eternals characters appeared in the earliest days of Marvel Comics stories (the creations of the legendary Jack Kirby), but their mainstream cultural impact is nominal, at best.
Marvel Studios has overcome that kind of hurdle several times before, as Iron Man and (especially) the Guardians of the Galaxy were far from achieving mainstream popularity before their MCU films. At the same time, the appeal of Iron Man was easy and clear - and James Gunn's unique directorial vision sold audiences on the quirky Guardians concept. Eternals doesn't have the immediate appeal of Iron Man, nor the quirky and humorous tone of Guardians of the Galaxy. Mainstream audiences have no idea what to make of it - or why to be excited about seeing it, beyond the Marvel name being slapped on it.
The lack of hype and brand awareness for Eternals might not be as worrisome if we weren't in the precariously fragile time period of trying to get the movie theater industry back on its feet. There is no streaming release plan for Eternals - Disney and Marvel are putting this film out with movie theater-level expectations for its performance.
In the past, a Marvel movie coming to theaters pretty much guaranteed its success; we have no idea how big films will be performing in theaters even by this fall. Right now, moviegoers are still by and large jaded and apprehensive about getting back into the theatrical experience. There will no doubt be 2021 that are highly-anticipated or outright popular enough to incentivize theatergoers to risk the outing - but it's hard to argue that Eternals has that kind of draw (see above). A hot trailer and the usual Marvel marketing may change that - but at the same time, it feels like for the next year or so movie consumers' standards are going to be much higher and more discerning than they used to be.
Timing is also a big factor in this discussion. Eternals is arriving in November - exactly when cold/flu season could really be hitting. Even with vaccinations rolling out across the US and worldwide, the future of the COVID-19 pandemic is still in flux. It's already being feared that variant strains of the coronavirus, as well as the non-vaccinated sector of the population, could cause another wave of the pandemic, and/or force Americans to get another booster shot to retain the protective effects of vaccination.
If that's the case, public gatherings indoors could quickly become a danger again, and the movie theater industry would have to endure another significant reduction (if not complete stall) in business. So, even if the marketing generates enough hype for favorable box office projections, Eternals could still suffer due to social circumstances beyond its control.
The Zhao Cut
As stated, Guardians of the Galaxy's obscurity was counter-balanced by the uinqueness of director James Gunn's vision and voice. Even if a wide audience didn't know Gunn by name, his eccentric style spoke for itself, and drew the masses in before many of them ever learned his name. Eternals director Chloe Zhao is a different sort of filmmaker, entirely.
Zhao just nabbed both a Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Director, as well as a second Oscar for Best Picture, thanks to the success of her film Nomadland. That said, the divide between "Oscar-bait" film fans and blockbuster film fans has arguably never been wider; Zhao's success during awards season does not in any way really contribute to Eternals' success at the box office. Beyond the headlines around Nomadland (which was really a popular film in terms of mass viewers), the Marvel audience probably doesn't know her name or any of her past works. Having Chloe Zhao attached to Eternals isn't a draw for most - and goregous eye for pastoral beauty and naturalism (though praised by Marvel's Kevin Feige) does not translate into being a great blockbuster action director.
By now we know that Marvel Studios has an army of second unit directors and technical wizards that can help inexperienced directors achieve the action standards expected of the franchise, so Eternals will no bout end up looking an MCU project. However, that could actually end up working against Eternals, given the current climate around big movies.
After the release of Zack Snyder's Justice League, passionate fans have become somewhat fixated on the idea of studios meddling with directorial vision; if Marvel Studios has to pad Chloe Zhao's work with standard-issue studio action sequences, it may be perceived the wrong way. Eternals is a film featuring Marvel's most diverse cast of actors and characters yet - under the leadership of an Asian female director. Any perceived altering or tampering of Zhao's work could aruably spark backlash - fair or not.3comments
In the end, Eternals is the riskiest launch we've seen from Marvel - possibly since the MCU began with Iron Man. Do you think the film will succeed? Let us know in the comments!
Eternals will be in theaters on November 5th.