What’s Up With The Eternals? A Review of the Reviews

Currently standing at 48%, Marvel’s The Eternals is standing — or rather, cowering — as the lowest critic-rated MCU film to date. It’s difficult to encapsulate all of the film’s strengths and slips within one article, but one thing is clear: these reviews are suffering from some bias, regardless of whether the reviewers (the majority of whom are white, cisgender, heterosexual, and male) are consciously aware of it.

A table put together by @jkevinparker on TikTok revealed that as of November 10, 2021, 108/180 white men, 27/48 white women, 25/54 men of color, and 8/32 women of color rated the film as rotten, which equates to 60%, 56%, 46%, and 25%, respectively (in case you’re wondering, there is a statistically significant difference between the reviews of white men and those of women of color.)

Does this mean that all white men’s voices don’t matter, and that the movie was indeed fresh under any and all circumstances? No — but it does just give a glimpse as to the bias within the MCU and how even one film that dared to push the bounds of the status quo got punished for it. So, let’s start from the beginning.

Since the release of Iron Man in 2008, the MCU’s main audience has always been young-adult to middle-aged white men, and it worked out: Marvel got to release Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Incredible Hulk, and even a second Iron Man film until we finally got The Avengers, which included one female superhero (out of the 6 avengers!) This trend continued until Black Panther, when we finally saw a man of color take on the superhero mantle, a film that was wildly successful.

But there’s a problem with BP — despite the fact that it includes amazing representation, it still caters to white audiences. The film is watered down to the basic Marvel formula, its only divergence point being the addition of Black culture and protagonists. BP remains in my top three MCU films to date, but it doesn’t necessarily represent the MCU breaking free from its attention on their white audience. It just represents the addition of a new audience, comprised mainly of Black people. And as Dr. Alease A. Brown eloquently writes in her article in The Conversation, the Blackness in the film is only accepted because it caters to whiteness. (This same flaw is present in Shang-Chi, by the way — one of my favorite MCU films, but again, the only difference is their Asian cast.)

The first two MCU films which did not disproportionately cater to white male audiences were Black Widow and The Eternals — and it’s interesting to note that these two films got some of the most divisive reviews in the entire MCU. These films openly reveled in their diversity and ability to break free from the male gaze. Not only that, but The Eternals’ villain happens to be a white man, contrasting against their most popular leads: an Asian woman (Sersi, played by Gemma Chan), an Afro-Latina Deaf woman (Makkari, Lauren Ridloff), a Pakistani man (Kingo, Kumail Nanjiani), a gay Black man married to a gay Middle Eastern man (Phastos, Brian Tyree Henry), and a white woman burdened by struggles with her mental health (Thena, Angelina Jolie).

A lineup of the 10 Eternals: 3 white men, 2 white women, 2 women of color, and 3 men of color.

The film isn’t perfect. It struggles with pacing at times, some characters could use a more proper introduction, and parts of it felt rushed and unexplained. But these flaws would be fine to point out when done by those who do not use the flaws as an excuse to perpetuate racism, misogyny, and ableism.

Not all rotten reviews given by white men were done out of malice, but we must recognize that implicit bias is not something that can just “go away”. Whether we would like to admit it or not, we must struggle against the bias programmed into us. The film struggles at times, but ultimately, it is the first that brings a diverse cast, giving equal light to multiple audiences. For evidence, look at the 250% increase in people who wish to learn ASL after viewing the film, a number that will undoubtedly grow due to the recent introduction of Echo (a Deaf indigenous woman played by the fantastic Alaqua Cox) in Hawkeye.

I have loved MCU films since I was young, but I cannot name any other film or TV show made by Marvel that made me feel as accepted within the theater. I felt like a viewer, not an intruder, and for that, The Eternals must be commended.

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