Spoilers for Marvel’s Eternals ahead. Consider yourself warned!
Anyone who’s followed me for a while knows that I am a huge Marvel Cinematic Universe fan (particularly of the Thor movies). The way Marvel has built this massive, interconnected universe that still continues to captivate and excite is impressive to me, and much of my own writing over the past decade has been influenced by the MCU. Though the critical reviews of Eternals made me skeptical of the storytelling of Marvel’s newest film, I ended up leaving the theater more satisfied than I anticipated—but with some pressing questions about the worldview woven into the movie.
It is those questions that I will try my best to explore in this different take on a movie review. A couple of disclaimers before I dive in: first, as a Christian, I operate out of a Biblical, Christian worldview, which colors how I approach conversations on theology, cosmology, etc. Second, I don’t expect Marvel movies’ worldview to align with my own, nor do I see any deviation from the Christian worldview as a willfully malicious attack on my own faith. However, with a story like Eternals, which prominently addresses large theological concepts like the divine order of the universe and the role of powerful god-like beings who create life, I think it’s worth being slightly more critical of the worldview it represents. While I certainly don’t think anyone specifically believes that these fictional Celestials actually govern the affairs of the universe as portrayed in the movie, I do believe that the way the Celestials are presented may reflect something about the real worldview of people creating the stories. After all, in my own fictional creations, my own Christian beliefs are reflected in how my story worlds operate. My final caveat is that this post will not address the controversial (for lack of a better word) scenes of the film. I think the theological and worldview implications woven into the story are worth more attention, and that’s what I intend to focus on.
While Eternals may not be the first MCU entry to address larger questions about divine order in the universe, it is the first film that truly focuses on a god-like creator, the purpose of his creation, and the consequences of the created rebelling against said creator. That same plot description could be used to describe the first three chapters of Genesis in the Bible, too. However, the part of the movie that stuck out to me and started all my thoughts on the film’s worldview was the simple fact that Arishem, the Celestial creator of the Eternals, is made out to be a villain, and his plan for Earth portrayed as a necessary evil. This was the first obvious worldview deviation from what I believe. The God I know and follow is Good, and His plans are ultimately for our good, even if we cannot recognize it in the moment of hardships we face.
Arishem’s lack of control and lack of understanding of his own creation struck me as odd, too. The idea that creation, such as the Deviants and the Eternals, would go against Arishem, their creator, is not a new idea for me. God, in His own divine plan, allowed for Man to Fall into sin and rebellion against Him, after all. But the idea that the Deviants and Eternals could thwart their own creator’s designs is a dangerous storyline. I believe in a God whose designs for His creation cannot be thwarted or overthrown. God is sovereign over all. Plus, Arishem using the memories of the Eternals to study his Deviants because he did not know why or how they rebelled is not what I expected either. A central part of Christianity is that God sympathizes with our weaknesses and understands the human experience through Jesus Christ, who became fully Man (while remaining fully God) and lived among us. In short, He understands us and our temptations.
A further contrast comes with the relationship between Creator and human beings. Arishem’s need for a planet full of advanced life in order to bring about the next generation of Celestials makes him a needy god. Humans are merely a means to an end, rather than something to care about. And, what’s more, Arishem kept his true purposes hidden from the Eternals and all humanity. God, however, does not need humans or any created thing to fulfill His purposes, but invites us into his grand design. He sees us as His beloved creation, made in His image, and instead of sacrificing us for the greater good, He sacrificed Himself, His Son, Jesus, to pave the way toward redemption and restoration. And while God has not revealed all things to us about Himself and His Creation, He has revealed what we need to know through His Word. What a gift.
Arishem as a judge of humanity, though, does reflect an aspect of God’s character, for God, too, will judge the Earth at the end of days. The difference here is that God provided Himself as a Mediator and Perfect Sacrifice who covers us with His Righteousness, while the implication at the end of Eternals is that humanity will have to fight for themselves to escape the wrath of Arishem. I’m assuming here that humanity will be judged unworthy by the Celestial, based on the story setups and common tropes.
Which…honestly, is the surprising Truth tucked into Eternals: that human beings are fallen, broken, and made unworthy by our sin. In a culture saturated with messages about our own inherent self-worth, praising our own power to overcome, and claiming that humanity is ultimately good by our own merit, this message of humanity’s ugliness is kind of refreshing, in a heartbreaking way. Yes, while we—as beings created in God’s image—certainly do have inherent worth as a result, our own sin means that we cannot be good or do good on our own volition. To have a film portray that message is a little surprising, though I know it will be short-lived. I expect the resolution of this dangling judgement on mankind plot will reside on an appeal to humanity’s collective ability to love or do good or to become better, or something similar that ultimately points to the self-reliant goodness of mankind.
But I think it would be wise to remain mindful that a core part of this movie is rebellion against the divine order established by a god, and celebrating said rebellion. Most of the Eternals think that saving mankind is best; the few who remain loyal to Arishem are painted as zealous traitors who will stop at nothing—even killing their friends—to ensure that their god’s will comes to pass. While, yes, Eternals is just a story, I think we need to be careful in how those messages color our thinking in the real, nonfictional world. Do we think we know better than God? And why do we answer the way we do? Just something to think about.
Given all this, I suppose it’s worth asking: did I like Marvel’s Eternals? Despite some of my misgivings about the worldview it presents, there were aspects of the film I enjoyed. Some of the characters were fairly well done, and I liked the way the story was told through snapshots of the past interwoven through the present day storyline. It was an interesting movie, and I’m intrigued to see what new plots springboard off of its setups. So, yes, I liked it. Not my favorite Marvel movie or one that I’ll crave watching again, but it’s not in my dislike pile.
Ultimately, my point in making these worldview comparisons is this: let’s think critically about what we believe and what stories are encouraging us to believe. I think we can learn some Truth from stories; it’s why we prefer happy, triumphant, hopeful endings of good conquering evil. I also think we can be tempted to stray from Truth by some stories. Eternals is an easier movie to pick apart worldview because it is a central question, but movies don’t have to deal with cosmic powers and divine plans explicitly to point toward a specific worldview. Watching this movie and wrestling with the worldview challenges it presented reminded me to stay on guard, and I would encourage all of us to do the same.