Forget the fact that this is the MCU's first true blemish, it's also deeply anemic compared to the bombastic and wondrous source material its based on
Let’s forget for a moment all the stakes involved here…you know like domestic box office, the first MCU movie ever to star chihuahuas or Lil Nas appears in the end credit scene as The Son of Satan (I’m kidding). The ETERNALS is a seventies Marvel comic book created by the late, great Jack “The King” Kirby. It was his third career attempt at building a pantheon of SUPERHERO GODS that not only watched over us humans but also defended us from crazy, deformed and anomalous mutants called DEVIANTS. Before this had come DC Comic’s THE NEW GODS where Kirby created a vast cosmic space opera that appeared to be influenced greatly by the BIBLE and Kirby’s Jewish heritage. THE NEW GODS was a fresh amalgam of superhero styled comics and neo-mythology…you want to talk about world building? Jack Kirby built worlds on his lunchbreak. This book, like mostly anything Kirby was involved with, was way ahead of its time. His interest in telling a grand cosmology began in the nascent pages of Marvel’s Journey Into Mystery starring THOR where Stan Lee somehow coaxed him into drawing a graphic masterpiece depicting NORSE mythology in a stunning sci-fi fantasy wrapper. THOR transformed from a standard superhero book that was barely distinguishable from The Captain Marvels and the numerous Hercules titles of the time into a head trippy Tolkeinesque space odyssey that introduced kids to concepts like THE BIFROST BRIDGE, YGGDRASIL and RAGNAROK. All of these books, painstakingly illustrated with love almost form a sequential epic that would attempt to connect man’s earliest beliefs in Gods, heroes and monsters from three different points of view. Sounds amazing so far, right?
There are very few creators out there who have the ability to merge the cosmic preponderence of life with blazing superhero action. Jack Kirby was definitely one of those creators. If you look at his body of work as early as The Fantastic Four through his epic run on Thor and down the line where even his lesser books (if they can be called that) like 2001: A Space Odyssey (a movie adaptation) and Devil Dinosaur course with the curiosity and dreams of the author. Jack Kirby was well read and his scholarly interests were the perfect fodder for disposable pop culture literature that comic books were considered back in his day. His questions and technicolor musings became the stuff of comic book dreams. This is why everyone loves Marvel Comics and their impressive run called THE AGE of MARVEL COMICS. Because these stories are truly magical. Don’t let my overflowing love for Jack Kirby fool you. The powers that be…the ones that rule and manipulate every single one of us did not spare Jack Kirby. In 1970, Kirby left Marvel famously due to creative differences with Stan Lee. Translated that means…Jack Kirby was tired of Stan Lee and Marvel messing with his money but draining his brain for every idea he had. he thought the grass was greener at DC Comics (and it was somewhat…he made more money) but it turns out DC was way more uptight and stodgier than even Marvel. They cancelled NEW GODS with a stunning and disrespectful quickness. He spun his wheels working on various other groundbreaking and colorful creations…THE DEMON, MISTER MIRACLE, KAMANDI and OMAC just to name a few but soon those were also upended by the “innovative” minds in DC’s front office. Kirby, having few options to work on his true love…comic books, decided to go back to Stan Lee and Marvel with his hat in his hands. He told Stan that he wanted to create a new book that would kind of bring his SUPERHERO/GOD paradigm full circle. Stan said, “Okay.” And thus was created, THE ETERNALS. Fascinating, am I correct? Great story…now I will actually give you a super quick synopsis of what it was like as a kid to read an ETERNALS comic book…
Reading ETERNALS ISSUE One fresh off the drug store spinner rack was a seminal experience. This was the case with any “KIRBY COMIC” in the seventies. They were multicolor, chromed out, superhero pop culture eye-candy that also titllated the brain with far out concepts that made you think for days after you set the comic book down. The first thing I recognized about THE ETERNALS was its heavy usage of MAYAN/INCAN imagery. This was mind-blowing to me then even as an 8 year-old. Back in those days…UFO’s, ancient pyramids and their connection to early man was all the rage. There was a book and movie called Chariots of the Gods by Erich Von Daniken. Kirby was no doubt inspired heavily by this book and the resulting pandemonium that ensued concerning “Space Gods” and high tech airports that may have been connected to the Nazca Lines. He even drew a facsimile image of a sculpture discovered in Guatemala that oddly resembled an “ancient astronaut” …this same sculpture was making its rounds on shows like “IN SEARCH OF” and the aforementioned, Chariots of the Gods. When reading this comic you couldn’t help but feel like you were in on some kind of stupendous archaeological find that would change human history. There were archaeologists running around and finding ancient temples filled with wonderfully articulated Jack Kirby gadgetry…and then soon swaggering heroic “Gods” soaring and prancing around with all the boldness of THOR and the ethereal sleekness of THE SILVER SURFER. IKARIS was and still is my favorite ETERNAL. He bore a resemblance to THOR in the fact that he was Nordic Blonde, a recurring Kirby trope, but dressed in a flashy blue/red/ and yellow explosion of armor and unearthly raiments fit for a deity. I also recall being impressed with Ajax’s almost Mayan/Aztec get up. I was turned on by the mystery and the historical allure of the concepts being bandied about in ETERNALS but it was always the art that crowned all of my other feelings about the book.
Now..finally…my thoughts on what the MCU managed to put together given all the rich source material they had to mine from. THE ETERNALS commits the MCU’s greatest sin yet of any film studio…they disregarded the visual boom bap of Kirby. None of his bright and magnificent spaceships to be seen in this cinematic portrayal. They were replaced by a monolithic rock that I guess is supposed to be a clever nod to 2001:A Space Odyssey. None of the cherubic high flying Gods depicted in the comics soaring over top fantastic futuristic vistas…this is the most pedestrian treatment of a movie about comic book Space Gods that you will ever see. The actors could all care less about being there and Chloe Zhao seemed more content filming sunrises and landscapes. She may be talented and she does have an OSCAR under her belt but she had no business directing this movie. Her sensibilities were off…majorly. Not only does this movie do us a visual disservice but the story changes are simply awful. This is boring as the day is long and comes nowhere near being the grand spectacle that a KIRBY movie should be. I heard somewhere in an interview that Chloe Zhao won the job to direct ETERNALS by pitching a remake of PROMETHEUS (a Ridley Scott cash in) but with SUPER-GODS. This utterance from her mouth should have been enough to let Feige and company know she wasn’t the one.
Anyway…in retrospect, the original ETERNALS comic book by Mr. Kirby is a fractured gem of a story. I loved the early issues of the series but as I recall I did lose interest maybe around issue 6 or 7…and unfortunately it was canceled soon after. There was something there that Kirby was trying to elicit but he never really had anyone to stand strong behind him with regard to his “ONE MAN SHOW” ideas. To this day, I will maintain that THE ETERNALS is a hell of a premise for a comic book, a Saturday morning cartoon and a big budget movie. But you can’t take work from a master and recast it in your own image. You needed to trust the source material…trust the visuals that made it appealing to you in the first place and then find a way to translate that on screen…with the same light…the same energy. For those of you who are completists…go ahead and watch ETERNALS. For those of you who don’t care about checking off another box, skip the ETERNALS movie and go buy the comics. They are epic and bursting with the life and enthusiasm of a great artist in the twilight of his career.
LONG LIVE…KING KIRBY.