Despite being part of the MCU Eternals is generally considered a critical and commercial failure. Heres why other projects like XMen succeed.
In a postEndgame world 2021s Eternals was viewed by many as the next potentially recordbreaking Marvel team franchise yet the movie failed to deliver a cohesive and engaging origin story in the manner of Bryan Singers classic 2000 superhero movie XMen. Undoubtedly given the years of dominance enjoyed by the superhero genre since Singers project the circumstances around both XMen and Eternals were very different. Yet by looking at how XMen succeeded its clear that – for all the enthusiasm around the MCU – Eternals may always have been doomed to failure.
Today Bryan Singers XMen is credited with launching the first universally loved Marvel cinematic franchise. Along with Sam Raimis SpiderMan movies the XMen series laid the groundwork for the MCU without drawing on many of the elements that make up Marvel lore. By contrast Eternals is the 26th film in the interconnected MCU a vast cinematic tapestry that features multiple shared narrative threads that cross genres characters and decades. While both projects share a rich backstory the MCUs revolutionary approach to storybuilding makes it far more complicated than Foxs contemporaneously boundarypushing XMen movies.
Given that both XMen and Eternals introduced previously unseen teams to the moviegoing public their relative successes and failures might seem strange. Especially in the case of Eternals the established popularity of the MCU and modern obsession with superheroes sounds like the perfect platform. However despite these perceived advantages there are several reasons why Eternals was never going to be as successful an origin story as XMen.
While some of these have to do with the various strengths and weaknesses of the two stories its also true that many of Eternals perceived advantages were actually to its detriment. Heres why XMen worked as an origin story when Eternals didnt.
On the surface drawing on the massive appeal of the MCU would seem like a huge advantage for any project especially one reliant on new characters. The history of moviemaking reveals that building on an established legacy instead of having to take a punt on new faces is normally a sensible approach. Yet in the case of Eternals the huge weight of the MCU was actually a burden rather than a blessing.
Coming out two years after Avengers Endgame Eternals was tasked with following one of the most tumultuous events in cinematic history. After the universealtering battle with Thanos in which many established characters were irrevocably changed and in some cases totally lost the MCU as a whole has struggled to establish a new identity.
This is not a problem unique to Eternals. Yet as a superpowered ensemble piece comparisons to the MCUs last teamup movie were inevitable. Understandably it proved impossible to recreate the stakes of Endgame with a new cast of characters that audiences were yet to invest in with the absence of an alreadyestablished threat.
XMen clearly didnt have this problem. By beginning with a blank slate setting up the stakes of its own universe the movie was able to forge its own path free from whatever superhero movies had gone before. As part of the MCU Eternals couldnt simply pretend Endgame was irrelevant instead it had to attempt to juggle the introduction of a raft of new characters while honoring what happened previously in the overarching MCU story. As a result the movie had to spin too many plates to succeed on every front.
It wasnt just Endgame that posed a problem for Eternals. What makes the MCU such a unique project is the way in which every single film is on some level interconnected. Theoretically this allows characters from across the series to interact in a variety of inventive and entertaining ways. By necessity this requires every film to have an awareness of both whats come before in the overall story and whats to come.
These places huge constraints on the approach each film can take. While individual directors can put their stamp on a project they all have to adhere to the rules of the MCU. Balancing these obligations with the inherent difficulties in setting up a new group of characters with their own powers and backstories all in the space of twoandahalf hours would be a tough ask for anyone. So it proved for Chloe Zhao and Eternals.
By contrast the only movies XMen had to worry about were its own hypothetical sequels. Although it faced similar problems in introducing a whole host of new characters completely unfamiliar to many audiences XMen was free to do this without worrying about how the key players would have to factor in to other concurrent storylines. This simplicity when trying to establish a new group and franchise is essential. Its telling that when it came to the Avengers movies them