- Disney+ series set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have become required viewing for fans of the long-running franchise.
- That's why the streaming service would have been the perfect place to introduce the characters of Marvel's latest film "Eternals" prior to their on-screen debut.
- While this move would have required incredible foresight on the part of Marvel's executive team, it could have solved many of the issues that led "Eternals" to become the worst-reviewed Marvel film.
In just two years, Disney+ has become more than just the home of Disney's vast library of content, it's now a launch pad for the company's most prominent franchises.
Series released on the platform have become required viewing for fans of Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as these new entrants not only build on existing lore established in theatrical releases, but expand the mythology to new heights.
That's why Disney+ would have been the perfect place to introduce the characters of Marvel's latest film "Eternals." This move would have required incredible foresight on the part of Marvel's executive team. However, it could have solved many of the issues that led the film to become the worst-reviewed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
* Note: Spoilers for "Eternals" to follow *
"Eternals" is the first major team-up film in the MCU since 2019's "Avengers: Endgame" and it has faced harsh comparisons to what many saw as Marvel's piece de resistance. The film introduces nearly a dozen new major characters into the canon while trying to explain why these individuals, who have been on the planet for centuries, have not been seen before.
While there's no doubt that the film has broken boundaries in its casting, its attempts to build lore, flesh out its main heroes and connect back to previous MCU films in the series, left it feeling overstuffed, critics said.
A new era for Marvel
In the wake of "Endgame," Marvel has used its theatrical films and Disney+ series to pave the way for the future.
"WandaVision" explored Wanda Maximoff's grief over the loss of Vision in "Avengers: Infinity War" and how she embraced her chaos magic and role as the Scarlet Witch. It also showed the origin of Monica Rambeau's powers and set-up the villain Agatha Harkness for future installments.
"The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" showed Sam Wilson's transition from The Falcon to the next Captain America with the help of The Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes. It also established Valentina Allegra de Fontaine as an incoming antagonist.
"Loki" saw the destruction of the "Sacred Timeline," one singular branch of reality, into a fracturing multiverse. This is a clear set-up for "Spider-Man: No Way Home" and "Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness."
Theatrically, "Black Widow" brought Yelena Belova into the fold and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" set up the hero Shang-Chi. And, of course, "Spider-Man: Far From Home," which debuted prior to the pandemic, followed Peter Parker as he and the rest of the world dealt with the fallout of Thanos' snap and Tony Stark's sacrifice. It also ended with Peter's identity being leaked to the public, setting the stage for the upcoming "No Way Home."
"Eternals" was, perhaps, Marvel's most ambitious project, however. In less than three hours, the studio needed to establish 10 new superheroes, all with varying powers and personalities, and cover around 7,000 years' worth of lore.
Where 'Eternals' faltered
Many had hoped that "Eternals" would learn from the success of "Guardians of the Galaxy," a Marvel film that was able to quickly establish its new quirky band of heroes. While both films had large casts, "Guardians" doesn't focus on the past. There are a few glimpses into the characters' backstories, but it's not whole chunks of the film.
"'Guardians' is the only example where it's all new, all in one sitting, but it wasn't covering thousands of years of history," said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. "Many viewers felt 'Eternals' was two hours and 20 minutes of worldbuilding and about 20 minutes of actually moving forward."
Critics complained that too much of the "Eternals" movie was spent exploring the past and not enough time was focused on how these immortal beings factored into the future of the MCU. For many, the post credit scenes did more to set up subsequent movies and series than the film itself.
"'Eternals' was too long for a movie, but way too short for what [Marvel] wanted to do," said Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and a pop culture expert. "That would have all been solved by introducing a whole new dramaturgical territory with the leisure of a series."
"Eight episodes, 10 episodes, it's a really good way to launch this new segment of the universe," he said.
Marvel is no stranger to delving into the past to tell stories about its superheroes. "Ant-Man and the Wasp," although released after "Infinity War," actually takes place before the events of that film. "Captain Marvel" was set in the '90s and "Black Widow," released after "Endgame," took place during the span of time between "Captain America: Civil War" and "Infinity War."
However, these films not only featured characters that audiences were familiar with, but spent much of their runtime pushing the overall franchise story forward. "Ant-Man and the Wasp" explained where Scott Lang was during the events of "Infinity War" and featured the quantum technology that would ultimately be utilized in "Endgame."
"Black Widow," while focused on Natasha Rominoff, was how Marvel introduced Yelena, a character that is set to face off against Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, who she was told caused Natasha's death.
And "Captain Marvel" established Carol Danvers as a force to be reckoned with. Audiences needed to see why Nick Fury chose to page her during the post credit scene in "Infinity War" and set-up Carol as one of the new leaders of the Avengers.
Introducing the Eternals in a limited series on Disney+ would have given Marvel the chance to delve deeper into each individual hero and introduce the mythology of these beings over a longer period of time. Then, "Eternals," the film, could have been more centered on how the Eternals characters factor into the future of the MCU.
An "Eternals" series could have started with the Eternals landing on Earth thousands years ago in Mesopotamia, just as they did in the film. The first two episodes could have centered on the team's interaction with the Natives after protecting them from the Deviants and lead into their time in Babylon.
Audiences would get to see how these beings integrated into early society and got a glimpse into why they are on the planet in the first place. While the film had to dump information in quick bursts about the history of the Celestials and the Eternals' mission on Earth, a series would have allowed Marvel to take more time to explain this rich, and complicated, mythos.
The second episode could end with the Spaniards conquering the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan in 1521, which is the last known sighting of the Deviants and the point in time when the team fractures.
Then, the subsequent episodes could focus on the 500-year period between the team splitting up and the events of the film. Marvel could dive into Ikaris and Sersi's love story more fully and meaningfully over the course of a full episode and show viewers how the relationship unfolded over centuries.
Their pairing did result in the first on-screen sex scene in a Marvel film, but there wasn't enough time in the film to explore what it's like to be immortal lovers. It also would have made Ikaris' absence from Sersi's life in the early part of the "Eternals" film more noteworthy and emotional.
An episode could be devoted to Kingo establishing himself in early Bollywood cinema and passing the torch to his "descendants" over the course of several decades.
With Thena suffering from the dementia-like condition called Mahd Wy'ry, which causes her to suddenly lash out and attack her fellow Eternals, an episode could have been centered on Gilgamesh finding a safe place for the pair to live in Australia. Audiences could have gotten more insight into their strong friendship and the hardship of dealing with Thena's illness.
A series would also have given Marvel a chance to explore Sprite's anguish over never aging beyond the form of a teenaged girl and Druig's time running his own compound of mind-controlled villagers in the middle of the jungle.
We could have also seen Phastos' loss of faith in humanity after the events of World War II and the atom bomb and then how his relationship with Ben renewed that faith. It could have also given us insight into what Ajak did over the course of five centuries on Earth.
In addition, Marvel could have found unique ways to follow Makkari's adventures across the centuries. Paramount's "A Quiet Place" and "A Quiet Place Part II" are prime examples of how sound, or the lack thereof, could be used in an episode to showcase Makkari's experience. The Syfy show "The Magicians" did a powerful segment in its season three episode "Six Short Stories About Magic" in which the audio is nearly silent and the audience gets to experience how a deaf character in the show experiences the world.
We know in the film that Makkari can feel vibrations, which allows her to detect movements and even speech. Marvel could have found a unique way of integrating that into a full episode.
Once these characters and their lore was established, then the "Eternals" film could have focused solely on Sersi's attempt to get the team back together and the fallout of Ikaris' betrayal. This would have lent more weight to Ajak's death, which happens very early in the film, as well as Gilgamesh's at the midway point.
Why Marvel didn't do this
Of course, developing an "Eternals" television series for Disney+ would have been a big risk for Disney and Marvel. While the company announced it would launch its own streaming service back in 2017, there was no guarantee that proposed series like Star Wars' "The Mandalorian" and its slate of Marvel content would resonate with audiences.
"I think logistically there is no way they could have done it," said Doug Creutz, analyst at Cowen. "That doesn't mean that it wouldn't be a good idea for the future."
Not only that, but Marvel's production pipeline and release schedule was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, which caused it to push the timing of many of its theatrical and streaming releases and reconfigure some of its slate.
"Eternals," which was first announced in 2018, went through principle photography between July 2019 and February 2020, just before the pandemic shut down the entire entertainment industry. The film was set for release on Nov. 6, 2020, but ultimately was pushed to Feb. 2021 and then Nov. 5, 2021.
So, the first MCU-connected show didn't release on Disney+ until last January and it ended up being "WandaVision" even though "The Falcon and Winter Solider" was initially expected to arrive first.
Of course, financially, adding an "Eternals" series to the production docket would have been an expensive venture. These shows have very similar budgets to that of the $200 million dollar feature films. Add on top of that the top-tier talent that Marvel recruited for the cast, including Salma Hayek and Angelina Jolie, as well as rising stars like Gemma Chan, Kit Harington and Richard Madden, and you've got a pricy production budget.
While theatrical releases can easily make these budgets back from movie ticket sales, the success of a Disney+ series is measured by subscriber gain and retention. This adds even more risk to the project.
"It's not a missed opportunity," Creutz said. "It might have been a great way to set up a movie that was always going to be a little more challenging to land. But, it's a risk. Let's say you do [a series] and it winds up not being good. It might cut the legs out from under the movie."
And it's not out of the question that Marvel could revisit the Eternals in a prequel show. Screenwriters Ryan and Kaz Firpo told the Hollywood Reporter that they would love to go back and tell different stories about these characters.
"Go back and do a Kingo episode in 1890s Mumbai where he is juggling his life as a movie star, dealing with Gandhi's peaceful dissolution of the British empire in India," Kaz Firpo said. "And there's an episode with Thena where she's in Greece. I would love to make that show. There are a lot of opportunities."
"There's going to be a story to tell in the Cosmos with the Eternals confronting Arishem and all the Celestials who are these incredible metaphors for creation," he said. "I think there's a lot of stories in the Eternals universe."
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Syfy.