Featured image from Marvel.
Last week, Marvel released its first film directed by a woman of colour, Eternals. This film, directed by Chinese-American Chloé Zhao, consists of many Marvel firsts including the first female Asian-American lead, queer and deaf heroes. Despite the hype for this new film, and social media excitement surrounding the introduction of Harry Styles into the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) the film got ‘Tomato Bombed’, i.e, the film received extensive negative reviews on the film critique website Rotten Tomatoes.
Rotten Tomatoes is an American-based review website, where audiences and film critics can rate and review film and TV shows. Eternals received a “Tomato meter” score of 47%, which is historically low for Marvel films. Some reviewers call the film “forgettable,” “overstuffed,” and just too long. But who are these reviewers? Well, they are mostly all men.
The backlash received by the Eternals speaks to a speech made by Marvel’s Captain Marvel Star Brie Larson. When Larson received the award for Excellence in Film in 2018, she made a speech where she called for more diversity in entertainment reviews and coverage. She noted in her speech that “of the 100 highest-grossing movies in 2017, less than a quarter of the critics were white women, less than 10 percent were underrepresented men, and only 2.5 percent were women of colour.” Larson’s speech speaks to a significant issue in the film industry and Hollywood. Lack of representation in the film industry and lack of diversity amongst film critics – those who determine if a film is good or bad. Which leads to underrepresentation in film.
Eternals is socially unconventional compared to other Marvel films. The cast consists of women, people of colour, gay and disabled characters. There are many firsts, including Marvel’s first deaf hero and the first gay kissing scene. This film received significant backlash from critics likely due to this increase in diversity, and significant unconventionality compared to other Marvel films. Most superheroes we see in films are straight white men, therefore it makes sense that there would be backlash for Marvel to defy this norm.
Another significant aspect of Marvel films is the overarching theme of American patriotism and American ideology. Marvel films like The Avengers and Captain America, are based in the United States, and express a theme of American superiority. After all, Tony Stark and Stark Industries contributed to American innovation and aided the United States Armed Forces.
However, Eternals takes a different approach, and the film does not make America look so great. For example (spoilers ahead), the Eternals observe the progression of humans over time, including events that appear to be colonization and genocides of Indigenous peoples. The Eternals observe violence and soldiers killing the Indigenous tribe they were living with. The characters struggle with the moral dilemma to not interfere with human progression and stop this heinous event from taking place. In another scene, one of the Eternals, Phastos, is shown crying in the aftermath of the World War II Hiroshima bombing. He is upset because his gift of innovation skills led to the invention of nuclear technology which humans utilized for mass death and destruction.
Hiroshima Scene, image found here.
These events, as opposed to other Marvel films, do not shed the United States in a very good light. The film shows that America has an evil past, one of destruction and genocide. This is in stark (pun not intended) contrast to the pro-American messaging portrayed in many previous Marvel films. Thus, it can be said that Eternals is extremely unconventional compared to other Marvel films. It can be no coincidence that a Marvel film that strays from the mainstream, receives the worst reviews for a Marvel film of all time.
I thought the film was great, personally. I especially loved the introduction of many Marvel firsts and the increased diversity. There was a perfect balance of action and drama. The film is not an oversaturated action movie, but a deep and philosophical drama, that happens to feature immortal, and incredibly overpowered, superheroes.