Since the 2008 release of Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded at the speed of money: Twenty-five blockbuster films in just 13 years, comprising three phases and the beginning of a fourth, with a total box office gross of roughly $23 billion. Those numbers speak of a massive fandom heavily invested in the MCU’s interwoven storylines, and taken with the sheer breadth of the franchise. For the comic book enthusiast, it holds an unlimited bounty of beloved characters, Easter eggs, crossovers, teases and mythological lore. Truly, a theme park of the mind.
The bigger this fantasy land becomes, the easier it is to get lost in there — and then forget what lies outside. Marvel isn’t just a brand but a self-contained genre, with definite rules and aesthetics; the various directors, actors and production teams work under studio bosses who exert consistent control. Their upcoming feature, Eternals, promises one of the more fascinating test cases of this arrangement. It’s directed by Chloé Zhao, an acclaimed auteur of spare cinema set in the American West, whose third indie film, Nomadland, won the Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. How will her muted style suit the parameters of a superhero opus?
If you’re an MCU head, you don’t have to wait to find out. You know Eternals is a slam dunk.
To be clear, @EternaIsNews is not an authentic source “for latest news and updates” on Eternals. That “l” in the handle is an upper-case letter “i,” and the pivot to a display name which includes the phrase “I HATE THE ETERNALS NOW” should also be a dead giveaway. Yet for the past couple of weeks, the account’s owner has so closely parodied the style of a Marvel zealot that you could be forgiven, in that period, for taking their posts at face value. The passionate tone can be simulated with a few key convictions.
Firstly, anyone criticizing or dismissing the MCU is a hater and a snob who won’t “let people enjoy things.” Secondly, the MCU is art, not formulaic in its narratives or visuals, and always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible — especially where it comes to representation. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, individual consumers are responsible for ensuring each film is well-promoted and a major financial success, because without this support, the very foundation of the Marvel juggernaut is at risk. Especially in Phase Four, which is introducing lesser-known figures and enfolds a greater diversity of talent than we saw in the saga leading up to Avengers: Endgame, loyalists see it as critical to defend the product as valid, progressive and original while smearing detractors as elitists trying to quash a populist phenomenon.
Synthesizing a unique hybrid of neediness and defensiveness, the Marvel stan rides a high horse while insisting their monstrously lucrative mainstream entertainment has the status of cultural underdog. Profit, along with a robust ecosystem of memes and references, is proof of social value — but none of this means the MCU is held in serious regard. Thus, the continual overreaching, lampooned by @EternaIsNews with a forced comparison to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, often called one of the best films ever made, and the fake quote from Zhao appendended to a screenshot where the search phrase “chinese woman director” isn’t quite cropped out. (The picture actually shows Xu Jinglei, director of My Father and I and Letter From an Unknown Woman.)
The satirist doesn’t always have to write their own material, either, not when they can retweet people who really think that, for example, the family of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko should abandon all claim to the rights of the Disney-licensed webslinger.
Whatever praise the Marvel-poster has for the studio’s output, their angle usually comes down to this corporate fealty, because only an institution like Disney has the resources to make a cohesive fabulist world spanning two dozen films and costing billions. Any dissent or disruption within this project is taken as a betrayal far more severe than it is, while the free labor voluntarily donated by the fans is supposed to be a somehow noble undertaking — the @EternaIsNews author occasionally references their shaky mental health and how they aren’t paid for Eternals tweets. It seems like an exaggeration until you notice that a genuine Eternals hype account has tried to get them booted off Twitter, while some diehards have gone to the DMs to lecture them for being an “idiot coward” with “no emotion or empathy.”
It’s the trap that every Marvel persona finds themselves in when they go hard: the more extreme your reaction to the mockery, and the more grandiose your sales pitch, the more you cement your reputation as a beserk bootlicker.
The fact is, casual trolling and negative comments can do nothing to impede the Disney/Marvel agenda, nor the satisfaction of the audience it serves. In their commitment to a specific narrative, the superfans have honed in on a problem that doesn’t exist and elevated antagonists who, in Hollywood’s grand scheme, don’t matter. The best this crowd can do for themselves is watch and celebrate whatever they like without worrying they’re being judged for it. But as long as they keep letting stuff like @EternaIsNews rile them up, there will always be someone to exploit their insecurity for laughs.
Just let it go, friends, and you might end up laughing along.