How Eternals Director Chloé Zhao Got Superman Into The MCU

Given how each and every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe these days can't seem to escape receiving an intense level of scrutiny, it has become readily apparent that there's simply no such thing as a throwaway gag anymore. Filmmaker Chloé Zhao just might be discovering this the hard way, after a certain "Eternals" clip released during the film's marketing push happened to include a seemingly innocuous Superman reference. 

The internet being the internet, of course, everyone immediately latched onto this and ran with it. In absolutely no time whatsoever, fans spun themselves into knots in their attempt to wrap their minds around the fact that the MCU could contain another famously fictional group of superheroes. What's the MCU equivalent of "Marvel vs. DC" fanboy wars? Did "Zack Snyder's Justice League" ever release in-universe, or did Thanos' snap complicate matters? If Christian Bale's Gorr the God Butcher ever makes it to Earth in "Thor: Love and Thunder," will everyday citizens wonder why he resembles Bruce Wayne from Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" trilogy?

These are just a few of the existential questions currently consuming the minds of superhero fans everywhere, all as a result of opening up the Pandora's Box of (gasp) acknowledging a DC superhero in a Marvel movie. Check out what Zhao had to say about sneaking this fun little gag into "Eternals" and unleashing total chaos.

Myth and Legend

After the Superman Reference Heard 'Round the World, "Eternals" director Chloé Zhao is opening up about how she managed to get away with this status quo-shattering revelation fun and meaningless joke in a scene between Ikaris (Richard Madden), Sersi (Gemma Chan), and the family of Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry). After Ikaris appeared on TV, the powerful Eternal has become a superhero celebrity of sorts, naturally eliciting comparisons from Phastos' kids to Superman.

Speaking to Variety, Zhao playfully admits that "I take responsibility for that" and that there wasn't even all that much discussion needed in order to bring that moment from the script to the big screen: 

"You write it on the page, show it to Kevin [Feige], if he doesn't say anything, that's a go. I don't think there was a conversation. Not really, except, he goes, 'Oh, that's cool.'" 

More seriously, Zhao explains that "Eternals" takes its cues from myths and legend. Since some consider superheroes to be the closest thing we have to a modern shared language, it was a perfect fit to include such a reference in this specific movie.

"We're playing on a genre that draws so much from mythology, and Superman, for example, was created in the comics and also by these brilliant filmmakers along the way — they're modern reinterpretations of mythical characters that exist in different cultures. Ikaris is our interpretation of it. It doesn't mean we can't pay tribute to the really iconic version that we've all grown to love and has influenced us."

As unstoppable a juggernaut as the MCU appears to be right now, it's clear that none of these movies would be happening without the cinematic superhero that started it all — Superman. So rather than get caught up in the "canon" concerns of it all, think of this as more of a long-overdue homage to the famous and beloved Man of Steel. As Zhao adds, "Everything that's referenced in this film, whether it's in words or visually, is a tribute. It's out of love and our admiration for these characters."

"Eternals" is due in theaters on November 5, 2021.