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How the Female Characters of Marvel’s ‘Eternals’ Remind Us to be Our Most Powerful Selves

Spoilers for Marvel’s Eternals ahead!

On January 12th, 2022, Marvel Studios’ Eternals arrived on Disney+, and the internet went crazy with even more fan cams, analysis, and commentary videos. The film follows “a race of immortal beings with superhuman powers who have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years as they reunite to battle the evil Deviants,” after the events of Avengers: Endgame (2019). Because they’ve lived for thousands of years, the Eternals are based on mythological stories, Greek and Roman gods/goddesses, and Babylonian tales. As an avid Marvel fan who had initially seen the film in theaters back in November 2021, I was so ready for a resurgence of Marvel content on my Tik Tok FYP. As an Entertainment and Media Studies major, I’ve been in numerous conversations about Eternals and whether or not people like the film, and I seem to be the odd one out because most of my peers in EMST dislike it. Eternals is the lowest-ranked Marvel Studios movie according to Rotten Tomatoes. Granted, I am not a testament to my major because I just enjoy films and television shows for the sake of them entertaining me, but fundamentally, I could see some pros AND cons of Eternals. While I love the diverse cast and the relationships between the characters, the storytelling itself was lacking in several departments, and it stayed true to its “Marvel-esque” roots. 

From Marvel HQ on YouTube

AJAK, THE LEADER

  • Played by: Salma Hayek
  • Defining power: Cosmic Healing
  • Based on: Ajax, legendary hero of the Trojan War, from Homer’s The Iliad

The leader and mother figure of the Eternals, I was pleasantly surprised at Salma Hayek’s version of Ajak, who in the comics is male. Ajak is caring and strong, and her loyalty is unyielding…that is, until she starts questioning Arishem and the Eternals’ true purpose for being on Earth. Spoiler — her death was heartbreaking, and while I hate Ikaris for basically aiding in her being killed, it led the way for Sersi to take her place as Prime Eternal. For eons, Ajak remained faithful to Arishem and the Celestials but started questioning the Eternals’ place after Thanos wiped out half of the universe’s population, thus halting the plans of destruction by Tiamut. Being the leader she was, Ajak’s character is representative of the very human experience of deciding what’s right, even if you make that decision alone, and trusting your gut and intuition.

From Marvel HQ on YouTube

SERSI, THE HEART

  • Played by: Gemma Chan
  • Defining power: Matter Transmutation
  • Based on: Circe, a witch in Homer’s The Odyssey, in which she uses her magical powers to turn those who wrong her into animals.

My favorite character, Sersi, played by Gemma Chan, is the Eternal most connected to the human race. Throughout the film, she is shown to be extremely compassionate, kind, and resourceful, though she starts off rather unsure of herself. Her ability to manipulate matter into other types of matter is quite interesting since she is the only Eternal to really deal with materials of the earth. When Ajak dies, Sersi is given the role of Prime Eternal, and it’s enjoyable and rewarding to see her find her footing as the next leader of the Eternals. What I love the most about Sersi is what she teaches us about the human experience and our connections to one another — our flaws, our laughter, our love, our pain, etc. are what make us so unique and she inspires us to take hold of both the challenges and the beauty of it all.

From Marvel HQ on YouTube

THENA, THE WARRIOR

  • Played by: Angelina Jolie
  • Defining power: Weapon Manifestation
  • Based on: Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, war, and the crafts

The intellectual, fearless, and relentless Thena is a force to be reckoned with. Played by the very talented Angelina Jolie, Thena’s usual personality is calm and collected, reflective of her role as the Eternals’ warrior. Yet, she is plagued by the disease Mahd Wy’ry, which reminds her of all the thousands and thousands of years’ worth of memories from being an Eternal. I think Angelina Jolie puts on an incredible performance as Thena, who is both an extremely strong warrior and also a victim to her own mind. Thena embodies the question of how you move on when you are burdened by your past, and her relationship with Gilgamesh is sweet and heartbreaking all at the same time. Thena was not alone in her suffering; she had Gilgamesh and others in her circle who cared for her. She reminds us that we are not defined by our pasts, but rather, who we are at the current time, (and who we may grow to be in the future), is a culmination of growth and learning. It’s okay to lean on your network for support, too.

From Marvel HQ on YouTube

MAKKARI, THE SPEEDSTER

  • Played by: Lauren Ridloff
  • Defining power: Super speed
  • Based on: Mercury, Roman god of shopkeepers and merchants, travelers and transporters of goods, and thieves and tricksters, and also messenger to the gods

Alright, will all the #Drukkari fans please stand up? While she is not in the film as much as the other Eternals, Makkari is an amazing character, and Lauren Ridloff gives a stand-out performance. Not only did Marvel cast someone who is actually deaf to play a deaf character, but we as an audience definitely lucked out on seeing more of such an interesting character. Makkari didn’t have a chance to show the full extent of her power until the final showdown in the third act with Ikaris, yet her bright personality and curious nature is something we need more of. Makkari spent thousands of years staying in the Eternals home ship, the Domo, collecting historical artifacts and treasures, and when they arrive back at the ship to start tackling how to bring down the destruction of Earth, she suddenly has another purpose/task to do. While this is definitely representative of the god Mercury himself, (as he is a messenger to the gods), Makkari begs the question of free will and what you do with yourself once you no longer seem to have a spoken or given purpose. Overall, I think her character reminds us that we have the choice to do what we want and that we shouldn’t be afraid to go after it.

From Marvel HQ on YouTube

SPRITE, THE STORYTELLER

  • Played by: Lia McHugh
  • Defining power: Illusions
  • Based on: Spriggins, a race of tree spirits in Celtic lore, nature guardians who sometimes take the shape of female humanoids; or Sprites, mythical, fairy-like creatures who live by the water, from Western European folklore

Though Sprite is my least favorite female Eternal, she is still a somewhat compelling character to me. Spoiler — Sprite’s betrayal was a major disappointment. Did she really love Ikaris that much to abandon Sersi, whom she spent years living with because they both felt lonely? However, her reasoning for being upset and jealous of the other Eternals, especially Sersi, made sense, not because she was jealous that Ikaris loved Sersi, but because they all were adults. Why did Arishem make her have a child’s body, whilst the rest of her friends were grown? Sprite’s character asks the question, “Why were we made the way that we were?” While not my favorite character, Sprite herself has a very creative gift in the shape of creating illusions, and I think that overall she reminds us not only is okay to feel your emotions, but it’s also okay to make mistakes and learn from them. Human beings are far from perfect, but we are trying our best, and that’s what matters. We only have so much time, so we should make it count and enjoy the little things that make us, well, human.

And so, with the arrival of Eternals to Disney+ this month, and a recent rewatch with my roommate and all my convincing to my family back home to watch it, (my mom said she enjoyed it, BTW), I wanted to highlight why I love the female characters of Eternals so much and what they represent to me as genuine strong characters. Period. Not just strong female characters, but strong characters overall. It’s even better because they are female characters who many fans can look up to!

Okay, and side note, it’s not that I don’t like the male characters from Eternals either. I just thought it’d be nice to highlight the female characters because female characters, as it stands, usually get so much flack in the comic and superhero genre anyways. I love this movie because of how complex all the characters are, and I hope that you find some of them, at least the aforementioned female characters, as powerful as I do. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

References:

Eternals | Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki | Fandom

Eternals: How Each Character Compares To Their Mythological Origin

MCU: The Real-World Inspirations For Each Of Marvel’s Eternals

Kayla is a Communication Studies and Entertainment & Media Studies (EMST) double-major, with a Women's Studies minor. She enjoys good music, Marvel movies, and Tik Toks. In the rare moments where she's not writing, watching, or listening to something, you can catch her hiking outdoors, eating good food, and spending time with family and friends.
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