After seeing Marvel’s The Eternals twice, I feel confident in saying that it was a good movie, reviews be damned. It’s true that it was not your typical MCU popcorn flick. It was an adult movie with adult themes and emotions, and I think that it frankly made a lot of people uncomfortable with its ambition. Personally, I think that’s the mark of a good movie. Its cinematography was lovely and although its run time was a little excessive, I thought the plot was well-paced and came together neatly.
Perhaps most impressively, its characters were all fully realized, with clear motivations and personalities. This is no easy feat when you consider that there are 10 titular Eternals. A cast of 10 could easily feel overstuffed, but this was not the case; walking out of the theater, I felt I knew every character well, and understood their perspective. I would go so far as to argue that the enormous cast of Eternals was better presented than that of Avengers: Endgame, both in terms of individual character motivations, and character interactions with each other.
But I’m not going to waste your time explaining why the movie was good, because this isn’t a review. This is… the Least Extreme Ranking Challenge.
Unlike Most Extreme Ranking Challenge, which has its own YouTube challenge featuring panels of noteworthy quests and videos of high production value, Least Extreme Ranking Challenge is just me telling you how much I liked (or disliked) the characters, and why.
Let’s dive in.
Warning: here be spoilers!
Ajak, the head Eternal, is played by Salma Hayek, whom I absolutely love. But the character just didn’t quite vibe with me. Perhaps this is due, in part, to the fact that she’s found dead halfway through the movie and therefore has very little screen time. We get to know her only through brief flashbacks.
One thing that really ground my gears was her speech explaining how she thought humans were special. She establishes, in dialogue with Ikaris, that she’s millions of years old and has wiped out many species, but that she thinks humans are different because she’s seen us “love and create and dream.” This gag-worthy line felt a little self-congratulatory on the part of the writers, and also doesn’t make sense to me. Wouldn’t she have seen other species “love and create and dream?” Her motivations were underwhelming, and her death felt preventable. Her decision to tell Ikaris and only Ikaris about the Emergence (only a week beforehand!) seemed foolhardy for a being with millions of years of experience.
Power: Healing. Considering the job of the Eternals is to fight Deviants, this power is only useful if there is another Eternal getting injured. It certainly doesn’t help Ajak from getting killed by a Deviant herself; she literally tries to defend herself with a human rifle, which makes me think that Ajak is one of the weaker Eternals.
I know I’m going to catch flak for this, but I found Sprite to be an incredibly annoying character. And I just know Sprite is going to be a fan favorite because of her obnoxious angsty sadness over being in a child’s body (which is also very easily cosplayable).
Sprite’s selfishness was an infuriating motivation. Unlike Ikaris, her motivation for wanting to aid the Emergence is purely about helping Ikaris, not out of any discernible loyalty to Arishem or her intended purpose. Her complaints that she can never age, grow up, or have a family loses a lot of its value when you consider that none of the other Eternals age, either, and only Faustus appears to have a family. The Eternals don’t “grow up” and enjoy life as humans; they have to move periodically to keep people from noticing their immorality. Sure, I guess Sprite has to move more often, but if they’ve been alive for thousands and thousands of years, is a 5-year moving schedule really significantly less than a 20-year moving schedule?
Sprite’s resolution (to become human) was confusing and unsatisfactory to me. I did not understand the mechanism for this and it was one of the only parts of the movie I found to be a deus ex machina without a good in-world explanation.
Power: Illusion. Sprite can cast illusions to confuse, inspire, or misdirect, which is a very cool power but one that feels wasted, considering she claims she can never get to “experience” the human condition. Sprite, just cast an illusion, you nincompoop! We see her do this once in a bar and it seems to work well enough, and even when someone puts a hand through her illusion, she’s able to skillfully dodge their questions about it, which undercuts all of her complaints about being trapped in a child’s body.
Neutral / Conflicted Tier
Ikaris is the movie’s central antagonist and he’s typecast as such from the beginning, so you can understand why he’s low on my list. That being said, I find his arguments for why the Eternals should aid in the Emergence to be reasonable. His fight for his objective, as an Eternal, makes perfect sense to me. What doesn’t make sense to me is his pining for Sersi and his unbelievable cop-out at the end. I’ve never especially liked the “love at first sight” trope, nor the “flying into the sun because your ex-girlfriend didn’t let you commit genocide” one, either. If not for his self-destruction at the end, I probably would have ranked him higher than Sersi, but alas, flying into the sun at the end was really a bit of an over-reaction and I just couldn’t forgive it.
Power: Ikaris can fly and shoot lasers from his eyes, which leads to a Superman reference that I found surprisingly enjoyable. There’s a broad implication that the powers and adventures of the Eternals throughout human history has influenced our mythos and helped shape some of our legends, even recently, and I was pleased by this little tip of the hat to D.C. in a Marvel movie.
Sersi is the central protagonist, and so while she’s likeable enough, she’s also probably the flattest character other than Ajak. She has to be, because she’s an audience proxy; she’s figuring out the mystery of Ajak’s death and the return of the Deviants and the Emergence event at the same time we are. Her ultimate decision to try to stop the Emergence (and go against her intended purpose) is a great theme; the conflict of “But this is what I was made for!” is an evergreen one, and her rejection of her “destiny” felt very empowering. Seeing Sersi’s integration to human culture and her active interaction with individuals really demonstrates her motivations well, far moreso than we ever got with Ajak.
Power: Molecular manipulation. Sersi is arguably a little OP, but this was necessary for the resolution of the movie in which she stops the birth of an Eternal by turning him into a glacier (and, presumably, fixing global warming in the process by cooling the planet a few degrees. Great job, Sersi!)
Makkari is the last of the Eternals to join the crew so, sadly, like Ajak, we don’t see much of her. Because she doesn’t get much screen time, we don’t get to know her quite as well as, say, Phastos. However, for what we do get, she offers some fabulous points, jumps right in to the conflict, and does so with insight and expressiveness. Her “Miss Havisham” isolation and dedication to self-improvement through books makes the most sense to me for an Eternal (as opposed to others who try to live among and as humans). If Makkari had had more time with us I think she easily could have achieved the “liked” tier.
Power: Super-speed. Seeing her absolutely kick Ikaris’s ass in the climax was so deeply satisfying. I’ve always loved speedsters and felt that Makkari’s talents were really used in all of the best possible ways: to save people, to discover things, to beat up enemies who can’t react fast enough, and, of course, the iconic “run around in a circle to make a dust devil.”
Thena, goddess of war, has “mad-weary,” a condition that makes her programming a little wonky and causes her to fly into a berserker rage periodically while experiencing amnesia. This is important for the plot but, at times, comes across as a little too contrived for me. Like, yes, I understand the burden of a million years of genocide is weighing down upon you, but do you have to be so dramatic about it? Isn’t wearing a white dress in the middle of Australia and drawing red-and-black portents of doom with Crayolas just a touch histrionic? That being said, Thena’s defeat of the Deviant and her whisper of “I remember” was a goosebump-inducing scene (even though we all knew she was going to say it).
Power: Projection of energy weapons (swords, spears, shield) for close combat. Thena’s fighting sequences were lovingly choreographed and fun to watch. I look forward to seeing some great cosplays of Thena in the future.
Deciding whether to put Gilgamesh as fourth or third on this list was no easy task. His loyalty to Thena is touching, his fight sequences are epic in their proportion, and the actor, Ma Dong-seok, really nails his performance. Gilgamesh is a total badass and he neatly sums up the conflict of the movie: “I thought we were heroes, but it turns out we’re the bad guys.” His loyalty, however, lies more with the protection of his fellow Eternals than with saving the planet. Saving the planet and humanity along with it, that’s just gravy. What Gilgamesh cares about most is his fellow Eternals, in a non-romantic way that’s a breath of fresh air when you consider the ongoing Sersi/Ikaris nonsense.
Every time he powers up a punch and the bass of the theater reverberated with the “fwoom” of a Deviant getting slammed to the ground, I was delighted. Gilgamesh is a badass who doesn’t need to prove his own badassery, and his intricately written and acted character is sure to be a fan favorite.
Power: Super-strength and projection of super energy gauntlets for hand-to-hand combat. Gilgamesh stops Deviants in their tracks; he’s obviously the strongest of the Eternals and the major nerf on his strength is actually his attention to protecting the others. It’s consistent with his character and relatable to the audience, and I loved seeing Gilgamesh in action. The only time I actually liked Spite was when she was telling the story of Gilgamesh to a captive human audience, because Gilgamesh really does deserve credit for being the most “heroic” of the team.
I’ll admit I’m very, very deeply biased as someone with an Irish background, because Druig is such a great representation of the Irish archetype. He’s cynical and complex. He’s the first of the Eternals to question their orders not to interfere with humanity, showing a deep streak of independence; his abdication of his role during a genocide shows not only his morals but a willingness to act on them, even when he’s going against the grain.
Power: Mind control. Druig’s mind control is a chilling power and the ways in which he uses it, even when it’s played for a laugh, is creepy to watch. Breaking up a fight to have the brawlers slap themselves and then hug it out was funny but the implications terrifying, and when we see the enchanted Amazon villagers all firing their muskets in sync at a Deviant as it kills them, unable to run away or even express their fear, we get the dark and dangerous sense of how easy it would be for Druig to have become evil. That being said, his release of the villagers at Sersi’s request shows he does have compassion for them. Druig, as an Eternal, is a superior being to humans and he treats humans as pawns, with a degree of sympathy but still with the knowledge that his power elevates him above us. I think this nuance is great to watch and I wish the other Eternals demonstrated more of it. (Looking at you, Sersi.)
Phastos is well-acted, his motivations rock-solid, his humorous lines trailer-worthy (“Ikea. Fall collection.”), his tragedies heartbreaking, his human relationships significant. While Sersi’s relationships feel just a touch flat to me, Phastos’s ties to his husband and son are shown with finesse, so that in a very short amount of time, we care very, very deeply about the protection of these two particular humans. When “The End of the World” plays over a montage of Phastos putting his child to bed and kissing his husband good-bye, possibly for the last time ever, I got a little choked up. When Phastos sobs in the aftermath of Hiroshima after helping humans weaponize nuclear energy, I got choked up all over again. This was certainly one of the most emotive characters and his range was broad; for every Hiroshima scene, we got a deadpan introduction of the plow that was chuckle-inducing. Phastos was the second Eternal, after Druig, to reject the mission to help humanity “advance” and leave it behind, and he seems to be the most well-integrated of the Eternals to human society.
Power: Energy projection and manipulation (for the purpose of inventing and engineering). Phastos’s power makes him the undisputed greatest influencer the world has ever seen. Phastos’s primary conflict, to the save the world because his family is part of it, is easily understood, but there’s a secondary conflict that spoke to me as a former scientist, which is the fear of inventions and advancements being used for evil as opposed to good, and the worry that knowledge can “get away from you.” I thought this subtle theme was well-worth exploring and surprisingly mature for a Marvel film, without any real resolution ever being offered due to the difficulty of the question.
Kingo’s introduction to the story, in a Bollywood dance scene, instantly endeared him to me. He’s got some of the funniest lines and his optimism makes him as likeable as Ikaris’s self-seriousness makes him unlikeable. While the rest of the Eternals took sides for the final combat, I really appreciated Kingo’s reluctance. He ultimately chooses Ikaris’s side, but when push comes to shove (literally), Kingo states: “I refuse to hurt any of you for my beliefs.” This subtle refinement of conflict was refreshing; in a movie where everyone quickly hurries to punching the snot out of each other, seeing a comic relief character offer abstention as a valid response showed surprising depth. Kingo is loyal to Arishem’s mission but also unwilling to enter personal conflict with the others or do harm to them. He also brings us his valet, Karun, who brings a bit of humanity to the team. Karun’s funeral prayer and his heartfelt good-bye to the Eternals right before they go to the war to stop the emergence were both deeply emotional scenes. On a final note, I laughed out loud when Kingo says, simply, “Druig sucks,” and Karun replies, “He does, sir.” For comic relief characters, Kingo and Karun are able to elegantly side-step becoming the butt of all the jokes by demonstrating nuance and complexity in the film’s finale.
Power: Energy projection for long-distance combat. As with Gilgamesh, I found something specifically pleasing about the sound Kingo’s fired balls of energy made. Maybe they reminded me of the little power-up whine of Iron Man’s arc reactor, I don’t know. But there was a distinct sound that was made whenever Kingo shot at Deviants, and, as with Phastos, I really enjoyed the hand movements associated with the use of his power. Kingo’s power feels a little redundant when you consider that Ikaris can shoot lasers and fly, but I would argue that Kingo also has the power of dance, making him far more powerful than any of us can truly comprehend. When one considers Karun’s unflagging loyalty, it goes without saying that, for Kingo, the sky is the limit.