Well, this Eternals trailer starts with two “important” pieces of information, namely that the film takes place after Avengers: Endgame (which I think we can assume as the status-quo going forward) and that our immortal alien protagonists didn’t pitch in with the whole “stop Thanos from erasing half of the universe” thing because of the patented “We cannot interfere!” excuse. Apparently, they can’t help out thanks to a giant robotic-like creature that looks like Galactus but is actually Eson The Searcher.
I get that this is comic book logic and the real reason is because the Eternals didn’t “exist” in the MCU yet, but I’m ever more impressed at how Minions had our evil protagonists frozen for centuries as the big reason they weren’t involved with the great horrors of the 20th and 21st centuries. For all the grief that Man of Steel gets for Superman saving the day like a drunk kaiju, at least he wouldn’t have watched the Holocaust play out and say “Well, that’s unfortunate, but I can’t interfere.”
Snark and applying real world logic to comic book continuity notwithstanding, the sheer size and scope of the horrors inflicted by “The Snap” or “The Blip” are such that it now casts a grim shadow over everything else in the MCU. I’ve long argued that Tony’s “protect my kid at all costs” solution, essentially breaking the world for the second time in five years, would have such astonishing consequences as to render other world-imperiling threats relatively insignificant.
We have a handful of mega-powered beings whose entire second trailer is mostly about why they didn’t show up in Avengers: Infinity War. It’s one thing dealing with new solo superheroes who happen to be good at martial arts or the continuing adventures of a street-level web-slinger. However, the Avengers’ failure in Wakanda in 2018 and their “fix things but not really” solution in upstate New York in 2023 casts a pall both on any new super powered beings who might show up (like the Time Variance Authority) and any new “the world is in peril… for real this time” plotting.
Anyway, we now have our second and “final” trailer for Marvel’s Eternals. While this second pitch is still going heavy on “tone poem,” while indeed acting as a 150-second alibi as to where the hell they were or weren’t when the chips were down, it does a better job of establishing who these newbies are, or at least showing off some inter-character chemistry. Yes, much of the action will likely be our heroes shooting CGI powers at CGI “deviants,” but that’s par for the course.
The question is whether the MCU brand will help sell a movie that frankly looks like any number of doomed YA fantasy franchises that popped up in the wake of Harry Potter. As noted this past May, this is the MCU version of the kind of movie that no longer stands a chance alongside Marvel/DC comic book movies. It looks lovely, but you take away the MCU logo and it’s essentially a teaser trailer for a “general audiences have no idea what fantasy world this is” movie featuring known but not “huge” stars engaging in generic fantasy franchise behavior.
Take away the MCU logo, and this essentially feels like the teaser for Dune or Netflix’s television show Jupiter’s Legacy. It’s not unlike the many YA fantasy franchises that perished in the wake of first Harry Potter, then Twilight and finally The Hunger Games, selling broad fantasy adventure world-building without marquee characters like Katniss, Bella or Hermione. I liked Spiderwick Chronicles, The Golden Compass, Beautiful Creatures, Mortal Engines and even Chaos Walking. But did you even see them?
Chloe Zhao does get billing in the trailer, which puts to rest concerns that Disney would downplay her involvement over the Chinese government’s alleged displeasure over previous statements she made before she was an Oscar-winning director. Avengers: Endgame earned a record $620 million in China, but the film would have earned $2.3 billion (enough to pass Titanic) without a penny from the world’s biggest overseas marketplace. Captain Marvel ($154 million in China) would have grossed $974 million with or without it.
Spider-Man: Far From Home would have earned “just” $932 million without the $199 million Chinese box office. As noted many times over the last several years, the boom in China for Hollywood has mostly been about artificially inflating (since studios only get back around 25% of the ticket sale) the global grosses of already successful movies. China rejecting Star Wars after The Force Awakens didn’t stop the five Disney Star Wars flicks from earning $5.923 billion combined.
Mulan bombing in China last year only mattered because much of the rest of the world was closed. Prior to the pandemic, Niki Caro’s $200 million actioner was tracking for a $70-$80 million domestic debut. That said, with source material that is (at best) C-level in terms of mainstream popularity among actual comic book readers, we are getting more “big” stars this time out. The trailer does do a better job of highlighting is stacked cast.
We get solid beats from Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Koeghan, Don Lee, Kit Harrington, Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie. To the extent that the likes of Hayek, Nanjiani and Jolie are butts in the seats stars, or even “Gee, it would be neat to see them in an MCU movie” stars, well, that may decide the film’s commercial fate when it opens (be it in theaters only or via the theaters/Premier Access hybrid option) on November 5, 2021.
I’m not yet predicting doom-n-gloom, especially considering Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was much better than its trailers implied. In a normal world, a brand like Marvel or Pixar could get away with underselling their product, safe in the knowledge that folks would show up anyway and spread the “Wow, it’s much better than I expected!” buzz after opening weekend. Spoiler-free marketing creates a sense of ownership and discovery among viewers.
This also boosts post-debut legs. We saw just in late 2013 with Gravity and Frozen as well as just last weekend with Free Guy. Here’s hoping Eternals is better than it looks, as the pedigree is certainly there. The extent to which it looks like “Marvel does an indie flick” may be to its advantage, being ever more impressive for folks who otherwise mostly consume straight-up franchise/IP content. When you don’t watch Taxi Driver or Nightcrawler, Joker and Cruella are like nothing you’ve ever seen.