A Piffany About Our Eternals Struggle To Justify Our Existence
Or why Captain Marvel is the only true super hero in our cinematic universe
Life bedeviled me more than usual this week, so much so that by last night, I really needed to clear my head. Chemicals don’t work; only make my problems worse. A walkabout wouldn’t suffice. Then I remembered, just in time! A new entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Eternals.
Here they come to save the day! Oh. Wait. That’s not right. The Eternals have been here all along? Or some 7,000-plus years, give or take. And that’s Mighty Mouse’s theme? Which I only think about in reference to the “late” Andy Kaufman now?
But certainly, Eternals would clear my mind of all my Earthly problems, right? Just seeing Kumail Nanjiani as a superhero who uses his real-life powerlifting to get buff and his cinematic powers to become a Bollywood star should do the trick. Nope. And please, don’t call me Certainly.
Especially because the movie only prompted me to ask even bigger questions. Not just about the MCU or superheroes, but also about me and you.
Don’t worry. I’ll write about Eternals here without spoiling plot twists, or at least without divulging any revelations that you couldn’t and likely haven’t already learn by watching any of the trailers for the film. So here’s the trailer in case you haven’t even seen that much.
OK. First things first, as I’m not wont to say. Let’s back up a bit. But not all the way back.
Because I don’t need to retrace any of the ground I tread in this space some two-and-a-half years ago…
But it’s curious to me how much my own personal experiences and my age, or in context, my generational cohort, might play into how much I even care about superheroes, and which ones appeal most to me. If you asked me as a kid for my favorite superhero, I’d probably have told you Spider-Man. Why? Perhaps because he’s your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man as much as he’s mine. That I live in Queens now only biases me more toward the eternally-young Peter Parker. But the true answer, much like my fond memories of shouting “Shazam!”, might be as simple as the fact that in the late 1970s, Spidey proved most accessible to me as a viewer of The Electric Company. Narrated by Easy Reader himself, Morgan Freeman! Is that, in itself, a spoiler?!
My point is, growing up in Generation X and looking to the screen for inspirations, we didn’t have much choice in the matter. Aside from Spidey and Shazam, we had Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. But on the big screen? Superman hogged the scene for nearly a decade before Batman began dominating the conversation throughout the 1990s. Not until Y2K brought unto us the X-Men, and the arrival of Marvel’s other comic book heroes, did our imaginations and eventually the movie business as a whole turn their lonely profit-motive-driven eyes to the MCU.
No wonder a boy of my age might more likely idolize the Jedi or James Bond, or even Indiana Jones?
But that’s not what bugged me most while watching Eternals.
As much as I enjoyed how Eternals plays with humanity’s notions about Gods and superheroes — after all, we see Eternals named Ikaris, Thena and Gilgamesh — I also wondered why they care about us puny Earthlings so much. It’s not just that they’re following orders. And it’s not just them. All of the superheroes, and almost all of their villainous foes, seem hellbent on fighting over Earth. Over us? Why us?
I mean, obviously it MUST be US, because we’re the ones buying the movie tickets and all of the attendant merchandise.
Superman wasn’t just fighting for “Truth, Justice and the American Way” because he lucked into the nicest of all possible adopted parents, Martha and Jonathan Kent, who took him in when Krypton’s orphan baby crash-landed in Smallville. It’s because when the Man of Steel arrived on the comic-book scene in 1938, we had Nazis to worry about! In 2021, we still have too many genocidal fascists to worry about, but as of last month, DC decided to finally go global with Superman, changing his slogan from “the American Way” to “a Better Tomorrow.”
DC’s heroes may care more about protecting and serving humanity than our real-life counterparts, but same goes for Marvel heroes. Whether they’re mutant humans themselves or aliens who visit us, they always stay here to fight for us. Villains see Earthlings as insignificant pawns getting in the way of whatever natural resources the Earth as a planet can provide them. Our superheroes somehow continue to see the best in us. They love us, even. Thor eventually leaves Asgard behind for Jane Foster, human woman. The Guardians of the Galaxy are led by a half-human Starlord, but he’s really only guarding the galaxy because he got kidnapped from Earth, and would much rather be making mixtapes back home. And the Eternals, who could also be called The Guardians of The Earth, fall in love with their human subjects, too. They want to become human, even?! Is this a reverse Stockholm Syndrome? Or is this more like how when people become dog owners, the pets and the people eventually start taking on each other’s personality traits? It doesn’t make any logical sense for the Eternals in the MCU (perhaps makes much more sense in the original comics), but the MCU isn’t going to keep generating conflicts and teases to the next sequels on their own, are they?
If I think too much about Eternals, I begin questioning everything about them.
They claim they didn’t intervene when Thanos showed up because of orders, but the Celestials obviously would have taken issue with Thanos and his Infinity Stone gambit in the first place, and even just cursory digging online led me last night to the knowledge that Thanos would explicitly fall under the Eternals orders to intervene. Gahhhhhh. Anyhow. Why do Eternals even have emotions? It makes no sense. Because it’s not meant to make sense. Only money. And more movies. Which equals more money. The MCU Economy must prevail.
I suppose this is why I realized while watching Eternals that Captain Marvel is the only truly super hero in our cinematic universe.
Carol Denvers — once imbued with her superpowers, and upon returning to Earth to realize her destiny — goes back out into space. Captain Marvel is the only superhero who leaves us. The only one to tell Nick Fury, and later, the rest of the Avengers, that the galaxy and universe have their own problems, thank you very much, so who’s going to save them? She’s the only one of the lot both to recognize that Earth is just one planet, and humanity one species — the only one to realize what Carl Sagan tried to teach us when I was a kid about our relative insignificance among the BILLIONS AND BILLIONS of stars.
At first, when watching Avengers: Endgame, this annoyed me because it only seemed to serve the screenwriters a loophole for why Captain Marvel doesn’t just save the day an hour or so earlier in the plot. Now I see the bigger picture. Now I see what she sees.
Side note: I suppose DCEU fans could argue that Green Lantern also fits as a hero who knows where Earth stands in the universal scheme of things. What with all of the other Green Lanterns and all. Although nobody seemed to care for how the movie turned out, including the star of said movie, so whoopsie daisy? Sorry, Ryan Reynolds? You’re great as Deadpool, by the way, but you know that, and everybody else knows that, too.
The ultimate whoopsie daisy of a question?
If us humans as a collective recognized our relative insignificance in the universe, how would that change how we live our lives? What then? Must we maintain the illusion of significance to succeed?
That’s the #eternal struggle for all of us. Why are we here? What’s our purpose?
As I’ve suggested before, we can all be heroes.
It’s always so much easier, however, to leave the heroic courage, bravery and actions to the Gods and Superheroes, isn’t it?
Over the centuries, we’ve gone from believing in the Sun God to various Gods, from believing the Earth was the center of the universe to the Sun being the center of our solar system. Yet still, we search for “intelligent life” in the universe only looking for signs of intelligence that we can recognize, as if life only could exist based on carbon?
While some seek to terraform or colonize other planets, others seek to save the Earth we’re living on now, while others still bury their heads in delusions. Either there’s nothing to worry about or there’s nothing we can do. Of course, the real answers are found somewhere in the middle, so long as we keep searching for them.