Why Marvel’s Eternals Features Multiple DC References, According To Chloé Zhao

At this point in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the various movies and television shows in the canon have become very self-referential. Different projects feature a variety of callbacks to different stories and plot points, sometimes for drama, sometimes for comedy, and it typically serves to drive home the history of the franchise and add a kind of verisimilitude to the world. This in mind, it isn’t at all surprising that Chloé Zhao’s new MCU movie Eternals features varieties of references to key figures like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thanos – but what’s additionally noteworthy about the film is that it also features references to characters from the universe of DC Comics.

It should go without saying that Superman and Batman are definitely not heroes in the MCU, but there is a key reason why they are mentioned in Eternals, and it all ties into the director’s perspective on mythology. Speaking with Chloé Zhao last week during the virtual press day for the new Marvel blockbuster, I specifically asked about the movie namedropping DC characters, and she explained that it was her way of pointing at the special universality of the material. Said the filmmaker,

I take responsibility for that, because comic books and superhero films, we're exploring mythology that has existed in human history from all cultures. And you have a character like Superman, for example, and the comics and also the brilliant filmmakers that have brought Superman to life in different movies, they are basically doing a modern interpretation of mythology. And Ikaris, in a way, is our interpretation of that mythology, but it doesn't mean we can't pay tribute and have a good time with some of these iconic creations that we all love so much.

Richard Madden’s Ikaris and the rest of the Eternals in the blockbuster are based on the specific characters created by Jack Kirby for Marvel Comics, but their origins go far deeper than that, as each of them was specifically inspired by a hero from ancient mythology. Ikaris, for example, is based on the Greek protagonist Icarus, who is famous for having constructed wings made of wax, but dying after flying too close to the sun. Thena, played by Angelina Jolie in the film, is a character inspired by Athena, the Olympian goddess of wisdom and war; and Bryan Tyree Henry’s Phastos has origins embedded in the legend of Hephaestus, the Greek god of blacksmiths and carpentry.

Eternals is more on the nose with its references than most comic books, but it’s good material to illustrate the spectacular connection between ancient and modern myths. Chloé Zhao expanded upon that thought in the making of her blockbuster with references to heroes of the DC universe alongside the shout outs to various Avengers.

Featuring Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Don Lee, Kit Harington, and Salma Hayek, in addition to the aforementioned Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie and Brian Tyree Henry, Eternals is set to arrive exclusively in theaters in less than two weeks – specifically on November 5. Look for more from my interviews with the cast and filmmakers behind the new film here on CinemaBlend between now and then; read my review of the film; and to discover everything that is being cooked up behind the scenes at Marvel Studios, be sure to check out our Upcoming Marvel Movies and Upcoming Marvel TV guides.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.