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Important! What You Need to Know Before Seeing Marvel’s ‘Eternals’

The latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe marks the biggest injection of new superheroes to date. Here’s what you need to know about them.

The word “ambitious” is often thrown around when discussing any impending Marvel Studios project, but there is perhaps no better time to use it than when talking about Eternals. The upcoming film features the largest ensemble of new heroes of any MCU film to date: The world’s original superheroes—a group of 7,000-year-old aliens who look exactly like beautiful humans—reunite in the face of yet another doomsday scenario for the poor earthlings who can’t seem to catch a break.

Eternals is the third film in the MCU’s Phase 4, following the conclusion of the Infinity Saga, and clocking in at two hours and 40 minutes, it is the second-longest MCU movie behind only Avengers: Endgame. It’s also helmed by the MCU’s first Oscar-winning director in Chloé Zhao (Nomadland), who has been tasked with telling a story that stars a host of extremely famous actors, introduces an ancient race of superheroes and predatory shape-shifting aliens known as Deviants, and provides a greater explanation of the godlike beings called the Celestials that first appeared in Guardians of the Galaxy. The scope of Eternals expands beyond even the most ambitious Avengers crossovers: It spans thousands of years and tells the origin story of the entire MCU. “Eternals explores the very creation of the Marvel universe itself,” Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige says in a featurette for the film.

Eternals is due in theaters Friday and already faces an uphill battle at the box office—at least, as much as any Marvel blockbuster can—due to the ongoing pandemic and mixed reviews from critics, many of whom have praised the movie for its diverse cast, but found issues with the lesser-known slate of characters and the plot’s massive scale. With all of that said, an unknown title character didn’t stop Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings from shattering the all-time Labor Day weekend box office record earlier this year, nor did it stop audiences from falling in love with Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014. Eternals may still succeed on the merits of its star-studded cast and its visionary director, as well as its role as a cog in Hollywood’s most lucrative blockbuster machine.

After the MCU introduced talking trees and rock people and steeped itself deeper into a multiverse of parallel worlds and timelines in Phase 4, Eternals reaches even stranger new heights in the realm of science fiction. So to help you prepare for the upcoming film and familiarize yourself with its spate of new heroes, here’s everything you need to know about Eternals.

Meet the Eternals

The ancient immortal aliens known as the Eternals arrived on Earth 7,000 years before present day from the planet Olympia, and they were sent there in order to protect humans from the threat of Deviants (the Deviants like to eat humans). It’s no coincidence that the Eternals’ home planet shares the name with the ancient Greek site, as most of these heroes draw inspiration from—or in the context of the story, serve as the inspiration for—gods and characters found in Greek mythology and other cultures. Fittingly, Eternals travels through the entire course of human history itself, telling its narrative across two timelines—one that traces back to ancient civilizations of the past and one that focuses on the impending present-day apocalypse.

With so many new faces set to debut, here’s a brief rundown of all 10 Eternals featured in the film, plus one human who has the misfortune of getting involved with them:

Sersi (Gemma Chan): Sersi has the power to manipulate non-sentient matter, and perhaps more than any other Eternal, has a deep love and respect for humanity. In the film’s present-day timeline, Sersi works at the Natural History Museum in London and is romantically involved with Dane Whitman, a human.

Ikaris (Richard Madden): Ikaris is one of the most powerful members of the Eternals and can fly and shoot beams out of his eyes. He also has a centuries-long on-off relationship with Sersi. As Phastos’s son points out in one of the film’s teasers, the guy is pretty much the Superman of the MCU.

Ajak (Salma Hayek): Ajak is the leader of the Eternals, as well as the matriarch to this dysfunctional family of ancient aliens. She has the power to heal, as well as the unique ability to speak directly with the Celestials. “She’s the bridge between the Eternals and the Celestials, and it’s never easy to hold two sides together,” Hayek said of her character in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.

Thena (Angelina Jolie): Thena is the goddess of war, one of the elite fighters in the group, with the ability to manifest various weapons. (After all the blockbusters Jolie has starred in through the years, how is it possible that this is her first superhero movie?)

Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry): Phastos is the inventor in the Eternals, a thinker who can assemble anything out of any kind of technology—he’s the OG Tony Stark, thousands of years before Iron Man came to be. He’s also the first openly gay superhero in the MCU.

Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani): Kingo is a warrior who can manipulate energy with his hands, but he also happens to be a Bollywood star in the film’s present-day timeline. Nanjiani even has an elaborate Bollywood number in the film that the actor spent several months training for.

Druig (Barry Keoghan): Druig has the ability to manipulate other people’s thoughts with his mind. The comics version of the character tends to use this power to a villainous effect, and is a longtime rival of Ikaris.

Makkari (Lauren Ridloff): Makkari has super speed, not unlike DC’s Flash or Marvel’s Quicksilver, and is the MCU’s first deaf superhero. In the comics, Makkari was originally a male character, and he, not Ikaris, had an on-off relationship with Sersi.

Gilgamesh (Don Lee): Like his character in Train to Busan, Lee (whose Korean name is Ma Dong-seok) uses only his fists to fight his foes as the ancient brawler Gilgamesh. He’s the strongest warrior of the group, and Lee was able to incorporate his own experience as a longtime boxer in Gilgamesh’s fighting style.

Sprite (Lia McHugh): Sprite uses illusions to confuse her enemies and allies alike, not unlike the mischievous trickster god Loki. She is unique in that she is the only Eternal to look like a child, despite being thousands of years old like her cohorts.

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Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington): Whitman works at the Natural History Museum in present-day London alongside Sersi. And while Dane is set to play a minor role in Eternals, in the comics, a man with that same name was an Avenger known as the Black Knight, the wielder of a powerful and cursed sword known as the Ebony Blade. (If you’re keeping track, you’ll notice that, yes, Eternals reunites Harrington and Madden, the eldest Stark brothers in Game of Thrones, and places them in a love triangle around a woman named Sersi, no less.)

Zhao’s Eternals focuses on almost all of the most prominent characters from the comics, with the notable omission being Zuras, Thena’s father and the original leader of the Eternals. The decision to write out Zuras likely came about due to the character’s similarities to Thor’s father, Odin, and is a choice that makes sense for the film considering Ajak’s intriguing role as the sole communicator to the Celestials. Like Zuras, there were plenty of other Eternals who Marvel Studios could have elected to introduce, but the MCU version of the team was designed to feature five fighters and five thinkers. “The idea came about from how human society was structured back then,” Zhao recently told Fandango. “There were fighters, generals, warriors and gladiators, but there were also philosophers, inventors, priests and healers. … Half the team will protect the humans from the Deviants and will protect the gate so they have a safe environment to develop. The other half will nudge them so they can advance and become strong enough to protect themselves one day.”

In the Comic Books

While the Eternals may be new to many Marvel fans, Ikaris and his race of godlike heroes first appeared as a creation of Jack Kirby in 1976. The concepts behind these ancient alien protectors of Earth and the titanic Celestials who spawned them, however, took root in his work at Marvel’s longtime rival, DC Comics.

In the early 1970s, Kirby left Marvel Comics for DC to create the iconic Fourth World and New Gods saga, a series of cosmic tales in which he conceived some of the company’s greatest villains, like Darkseid. A few years after Kirby’s Fourth World run ended in 1973, he returned to Marvel and carried over many of the themes and concepts he was exploring at DC, tackling existential questions around the creation of Earth and the universe itself with The Eternals. The series was unlike anything else that Marvel was publishing at the time, but even from the beginning, the Eternals and these massive robot-like gods known as the Celestials were a bit of an odd fit next to the other heroes in the Marvel universe.