This article examines minor mentions in Marvel Studios’ “Eternals“
that, although unrelated to the storyline of the film, which will be released on November 5, may be considered spoilers.
A passing pop-culture allusion in a Marvel Studios film is as ubiquitous as a form-fitting unitard. But when Disney published a featurette for Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals” last week in which a toddler refers to the Eternal called Ikarus (Richard Madden) as “Superman,” it sparked hundreds of deep-dive response videos and head–spinning tweets questioning, “What does this all mean?”
Ikarus and Cersi (Gemma Chan) are visiting the house of Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry), a fellow Eternal who has created a family with his human spouse, Ben (Haaz Sleiman), and their kid, Jack (Esai Daniel Cross), who witnessed Ikarus battling an evil Deviant on TV.
“That’s Superman, Dad!” Phastos, Jack says, pointing to Ikarus. “You were wearing a cape and blasting laser beams out of your eyes!”
The scene’s implications quickly turn heads. The Marvel Cinematic Universe currently includes the fictitious icon Superman, who created the whole superhero genre as the flagship of Marvel’s longstanding adversary, DC Comics, as well as “actual” superheroes like Thor, Captain Marvel, and Black Panther.
So, who made the decision to make Man of Steel canon in the MCU?
And, according to the Oscar-winning director, who co-wrote the script with Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo, and Kaz Firpo, the conversation with Marvel Studios CEO Kevin Feige was brief.
“You write it on the paper, present it to Kevin, and if he doesn’t say anything, you’re OK,” Zhao said. “I don’t believe there was any discussion. Not much, until he says, ‘Oh, that’s nice.'”
For Zhao, it all comes down to the basic concept of “Eternals,” which is that the ten people at its heart came at the start of human civilization and not only served to influence human progress, but also inspired our earliest myths. Angelina Jolie, for example, portrays Thena, the goddess of battle, in the same way as the Greek deity Athena does. Don Lee portrays Gilgamesh, the strongman from the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” one of the earliest tales ever recorded.
“We’re playing on a genre that borrows so much from mythology, and Superman, for example, was produced in comics as well as by these wonderful filmmakers along the road — they’re contemporary reinterpretations of mythological figures that exist in many cultures,” Zhao said. “Our interpretation is Ikaris.” That doesn’t mean we can’t pay homage to the really famous version that we’ve all come to love and that has affected us.”
Superman isn’t the only DC figure to receive a mention in “Eternals.” When Gilgamesh reunites with Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) and meets Kingo’s (human) valet, Karun (Karish Patel), he refers to him as “Alfred,” a reference to Batman’s butler.
In explaining why, Zhao made it clear that in the MCU, these DC characters are simply that: fictitious characters created to amuse viewers and readers.
“Gilgamesh and Phastos all delved into different elements of human existence, whether it’s cooking, pop culture, or movie watching,” Zhao said. “So they choose the aspects of us that they like the most – aspects of us that are pretty exceptional.” And he watches ‘Batman’ for Gilgamesh. So when he sees someone’s valet, he thinks to himself, ‘Ah, I know!’ Because he, like so many of us, adores Batman.”
DC and Marvel’s respective ardent followers have spent decades instilling a fierce antagonism between them, but Zhao hopes that viewers for her film accept these allusions with a sense of awe.
“Everything in this film, whether in words or aesthetically, is an homage,” Zhao said. “It’s because we like and admire these individuals.”