During their Hall H panel at Comic-Con International: San Diego, Marvel Studios unveiled the cast of the next big addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Eternals.
Created by Jack Kirby in the 1970s, the obscure and esoteric Eternals are basically the ‘Ancient Aliens’ of the Marvel Universe – powerful beings from space who shaped human history while being perceived as gods.
While we’ve gone over their history in depth, with the new knowledge of which Eternals will make the cut for the movie, we’re ready to delve a bit more in to the “who” along with the “why”.
Unlike Asgardians, Eternals don’t exactly have specific special powers. They’re all incredibly strong, essentially immortal, indestructible, and can channel the Cosmic Energy that powers them to devastating effect.
Each Eternal does have specialties, but its their personalities and roles that truly set them apart. So who are they?
Described by Kevin Feige as the leader of the MCU Eternals, in comic books Thena is the daughter of Zuras, the elder leader of the Eternals. She was born in ancient Greece, and was named ‘Thena’ in honor of the Greek goddess Athena to seal a pact – with the city of Athens, Greece named after her and not the goddess, in an odd twist.
Thena is a consummate warrior-poet, and took over as ruler of the Eternals following Zuras’ death. When the Eternal Sprite made all other Eternals believe themselves to be mortal, Thena became an employee of Stark Enterprises.
Thena is also one of the Eternals greatest enemies – or at least, she’s been a pawn of their foe Kro, leader of the Deviants, who once brainwashed her into allying with him against Ikaris.
Aside from that last potential twist, Thena seems to be making it to the big screen pretty much straight from comic books, portrayed by Angelina Jolie.
Likely the most recognizable of the Eternals, Ikaris is also the most superheroic of the bunch. Named after the mythical Icarus (who was actually Ikaris’ son – yeah, Eternals is weird), Ikaris is one of the Eternals greatest warriors. He even defeated Apocalypse – yeah, that Apocalypse. He also awakened the ancient sleeping Eternal, Ajak (more on that shortly).
Ikaris often butts heads with Thena over leadership of the Eternals – Ikaris even challenges and defeats Thena in combat for the role of Prime Eternal. For while Thena is bound to tradition as the daughter of Zuras, Ikaris believes the Eternals belong among humanity as superheroes, even teaming up with members of the Avengers on occasion.
Like many of the Eternals, Ikaris has also clashed with other heroes for reasons beyond human morality – he even defeated the Silver Surfer at the behest of the High Evolutionary.
Ikaris’ role in the Eternals film is likely similar to the one he occupies in comic books. Played by Richard Madden, he’s just about the most direct page-to-screen casting of the bunch – which makes sense for the highest profile comic book Eternal.
Makkari is the fastest of the Eternals, and in comic books, he’s the Eternal with the strongest connection to the Celestials - as well as deep ties to the superhero history of the Marvel Universe.
In comic books, Makkari loves interacting with humanity – in ancient Rome he appeared as the god Mercury. In recent years Marvel Comics also cleverly retconned a Timely Comics title from 1940 Red Raven Comics #1 that included a speedster superhero named Mercury to reveal it was Makkari.
Makkari's backstory was also expanded to give him another superhero identity in the 1950s - Hurricane - who teamed with Ulysses Bloodstone, Doctor Druid, and the Wakandan huntress Zawadi to hunt down Deviant monsters in 1998's Marvel Universe. He was also a supporting character in Mark Gruenwald’s Quasar series.
Throughout history, he also gifted humans with special knowledge – appearing to the ancient Egyptians as Thoth - and even taught music to Elvis. Yeah, that Elvis.
But in modern times, Makkari’s biggest role is that of the prophet of the Dreaming Celestial – an ancient, dormant Celestial hidden on Earth that speaks to the Eternals through Makkari.
Interestingly, Makkari will undergo a few changes in translation to the MCU – notably, Makkari will be played by The Walking Dead actor Lauren Ridloff, who is deaf. This makes Makkari the MCU’s first deaf superhero (and swaps the character's gender for the big screen).
The mysterious Sprite was described by Kevin Feige as “one of the oldest beings in the Marvel Universe, played by the youngest member of the Eternals cast” – and that’s an apt description for the eternally youthful and wise but impish Sprite, who in Neil Gaiman's 2006 limited series wiped the cosmic memories from his fellow Eternals and left them to live among mortals.
The problem is – no one asked him to.
Fed up after being treated like a perpetual child due to his never-aging body, Sprite used the power of the Dreaming Celestial to hide the legacy of the Eternals and transubstantiate to a human form that would grow older over time. And, in doing so, caused almost all the other Eternals to become dormant, taking on mortal identities.
Sprite himself became the star of a childrens’ TV show – with his appearance on TV leading Ikaris to awaken Makkari and other Eternals. But upon their awakening, Sprite fled, refusing to take responsibility for his actions. Ultimately, Sprite did pay for his deed when he was caught by Zuras, former leader of the Eternals – who executed Sprite for his actions.
Now here's why all this may tell us something about the plot of Eternals. Because Sprite will be played by 12-year-old Lia McHugh, (another gender-swap from comic books), it stands to reason the actor could only play the role once (she's going to get older pretty quick), given never aging from his/her child-like appearance is the entire premise of the character. If McHugh can only play the role once, this lends some support to the idea that Sprite dies.
Add the fact the Eternals have been neither seen not heard from in the MCU up to now, and all put together it could mean Marvel will be borrowing heavily from the Gaiman series - and 12-year-old McHugh could be one of the funkier and more unlikely MCU villains yet.
Also known as the “Forgotten One,” the legendary warrior Gilgamesh has a reputation as one of Marvel Comics least popular and often silliest heroes. But his role as an Eternal is quite different than his nobody’s favorite status lets on – he’s basically their Thor.
Gilgamesh got his name from the mythical hero, like many Eternals. He’s also been mistaken for Hercules (whom he later roomed with when down-and-out as a failed superhero), though his real role was as a great savior to the Eternals.
Gilgamesh also joined the Avengers for a time in a short-lived, much-ridiculed tenure that's best remembered for him wearing bull horns on his head.
He’s played by Don Lee in the film.
Phastos’ Eternals history is interesting – he’s one of the few leading members of the group not created by Jack Kirby (he was added later by Peter Gillis and Sal Buscema). But he’s one of the core characters in modern stories, filling the role of the Eternals’ inventor, builder, and weapon maker – his name is even connected to the Greek god of the forge, Hephaestus.
Little is known of Phastos outside this role, but he’ll be played on film by Atlanta’s Brian Tyree Henry.
Like Phastos, Kingo Sunen is a lesser-developed Eternal. With historical ties to ancient Japan, Kingo is depicted in his few comic book appearances as a samurai and swordsman.
Kingo is likely a bit of a blank slate on film – Kumail Nanjiani has been cast as the swordsman, with no further character details yet revealed for the movie.
The ancient hero Ajak is the greatest warrior in Eternals history, slumbering in the heart of their cosmic City of the Space Gods until he’s awakened by Ikaris to once again take on the Eternals’ ancient foes the Deviants.
Like many Eternals, Ajak has a reputation among humans connecting him to the deity Quetzalcoatl, and he also encountered other Marvel heroes in his time, even once besting Thor in combat.
Ajak was corrupted by the Deviants and turned into a monstrous assassin, slaying many Eternals and humans before being restored to his original form – after which he killed himself out of grief.
Salma Hayek plays Ajak in the film, swapping the character to a woman as with Makkari and Sprite.
Though she hasn’t been announced as part of the cast (yet), Sersi is one of the most well-known Eternals – in fact, thanks to her time on the Avengers, she’s got a rep even among those who don’t know her history.
Sersi – who in the Marvel Universe was the real-life inspiration for the sorceress Circe in Homer's epic The Odyssey – is a powerful seductress and enchantress who long ago left the Eternals to use her gifts among mortals.
In comic books, Sersi has a longstanding history with the Avengers, often trying to seduce Steve Rogers before and after joining the team. Her strongest Avengers connection, however, is to Dane Whitman, the Black Knight.
Whitman and Sersi shared a long romantic relationship, with the pair even transporting across dimensions to the Ultraverse for a brief time (don’t expect to see that in the MCU anytime soon).
Prior to the official cast announcement at Comic-Con, Sersi was the presumed lead of the film for months - with several Hollywood trades speculating Jolie, who we now know plays Thena, would take the role. The character's absence Saturday was conspicuous.
With rumors of Millie Bobby Brown joining the cast a few weeks back, and Variety outright naming her part of the cast, could Brown ultimately wind up play a markedly different version of the character?
Disney's D23 Expo is just around the corner, don't be too surprised if Sersi's inclusion and casting serve as an announcement during Marvel Studios' two-hour presentation.
Eternals is due out in theaters November 6, 2020.