Eternals: How the franchise's biggest problem could lead to a great MCU twist thanks to Neil Gaiman – GamesRadar+

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By 20 October 2021
Marvel’s 12-year-old Eternal Sprite is played by an actor who won’t be eternally 12
As video and images from Monday’s Eternals red carpet premiere/event show, actor Lia McHugh who plays Sprite has done some growing up, from the 12-year-old she was during the film’s late 2019-early 2020 principal production, to the near-14-year-old she is today.

As this father of a 14-year old daughter can attest, kids her age tend to grow quickly. And by the time an Eternals sequel is ready to go into production, McHugh will likely be an even more mature 15 or 16 or even older.
That could likely present something of a problem to Marvel Studios considering Sprite is a character whose entire reason for being is to be eternally locked into the body of an 11-12-year-old as a contemporary of teammates who all reached physical adulthood before they stopped aging.
But Marvel Studios, being as astute as they are, almost certainly already anticipated that obvious issue from the beginning when they wrote Sprite into the film and cast the then real-life 12-year-old McHugh to begin with. And the studio almost certainly has a solution already in mind.
One possible workaround is Marvel’s famous digital de-aging technology, which, let’s face it, in this context seems a little icky and likely would be a challenge considering the actor’s entire physical profile could significantly change in the next few years.
But two other possible solutions actually could come straight from the Marvel comic books that inspired the movie, and that’s where Newsarama comes in.
The first possibility comes directly from the most recent incarnation of the comic book Eternals which would have a significant impact on the team’s profile in the MCU moving forward. The other comes from writer Neil Gaiman and artist John Romita Jr.’s well-regarded limited series from 2006, which could have a significant impact on Marvel Studios’ first Eternals film and it might be something of a spoiler if it wasn’t pure speculation on our part.
So proceed with whatever caution you deem necessary.
In 2021’s Eternals by writer Kieron Gillen and artists Esad Ribić and Matthew Wilson, Gillen fiddles with the Eternals mythology a little bit; rebooting them not as beings that never age or die as they were depicted since their creation in the ’70s by comic book legend Jack Kirby, but as beings that can live long lives but can also die and be reborn/regenerated to serve their purpose on Earth when the need arises.
The tweak was something of a practical necessity for Marvel Comics given a couple of years back in an Avengers story (collected as The Avengers: The Final Host), writer Jason Aaron had the entire team die by mass suicide when they learned their existence and purpose was not what they always believed it to be.
We’re not going to get too deep in the woods of that Avengers story, but it clearly left Marvel with a dilemma when the Eternals film went into production. Their comic book counterparts were all dead by suicide, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to your standard comic book marketing blitz when a film adaptation puts a global spotlight on the property.
Hence, Gillen’s new series, which resurrected two birds with one healing stone. It returned the team to life so Marvel could put new comic book titles on the shelves to coincide with the team’s movie debut and it gave the publisher a means to have some of the comics’ character’s gender and race match their movie counterparts, whereas previously they did not.
For example, Makkari, played by Lauren Ridloff, a Black, female actor, was depicted as a white male for the majority of the character’s comic book history. The character was resurrected as a black female.
Sprite 2021
And more contextually, in the new comic book series Sprite was also reborn as a female ala McHugh in the film, whereas previously the character was also male in the comic books.
And again, without getting too far deep into that storyline, the MCU implications are obvious.
If faithful to the most recent incarnation of the characters, which Marvel Studios often is, that means any Eternal can die and be reborn later in a new form, which is a pretty easy-peasy solution to a new actor being cast as Sprite when and if the character next appears … or it might even give Marvel Studios the option to bring back McHugh as Sprite in a reborn/evolved form.
But that would require Sprite dying in Eternals … which brings us to the second, perhaps more intriguing possibility.
In Gaiman and John Romita Jr.’s 2006 comic book series, the traditionally mischievous Sprite turns out to be something of a genuine villain of the story, whose manipulative machinations were motivated by his anger and resentment for being stuck in the body of an 11-year-old boy forever.
We again won’t fully go into the finer details of that storyline, other than to say it appears to differ substantially from the plot of the Eternals movie, while at the same time serving as an inspiration to the film – particularly in the specific cast of characters it focuses on.

But what stands out for us when considering that story arc is the lack so far of an identified villain in the film. Sure, we see and hear Kro, the monstrous leader of Deviants, in the second trailer very briefly, but it’d be unusual for a Marvel Studios film to feature such an obvious, heavy-CGI villain without any star power behind it.
Even, generic, under-developed MCU villains like Malekith and Whiplash had name actors in the roles and were promoted along with the main stars during the marketing of the film.
And we can’t help but consider the studios’ brand has become about surprising audiences and offering more nuanced villains that display twisted and even debatable versions of noble aspirations. Thanos and Killmonger, two of the MCU’s better-received villains of the last few years, come immediately to mind.
It would be very on-brand for Eternals to feature a surprise villain the movie’s marketing isn’t giving away and that MCU fans won’t see coming, and unless you’ve read the Gaiman-Romita series, Sprite, played by 12-year old McHugh, might be the last character MCU fans will see coming.
In the final pages of the limited series, an unrepentant Sprite is killed by the leader of the Eternals Zuras (remember, Sprite is really millions of years old) in what’s depicted as something act of punishment he agrees to, which in turn led to his resurrection as a young woman in Gillen’s new 2021 series.
Sprite in 2006's Eternals
If Marvel Studios borrows from that 2006 storyline, it would check a lot of boxes, including giving the film a multi-layered, less-than-obvious villain, it would likely shock many moviegoers who don’t know the character’s history, and it would give Marvel Studios the means to either replace McHugh in a sequel or to bring her back in an older, more mature form having died/been reborn. It even gives them the option of not bringing McHugh/Sprite back at all.
Either which way, the character, and the issues McHugh’s casting raises are worth keeping an eye on when Eternals opens in North America November 3.
Newsarama digs into the comic book history and MCU future of maybe another overlooked Eternals character – Kitt Harrington’s Dane Whitman AKA the Black Knight
I’m not just the Newsarama founder and editor-in-chief, I’m also a reader. And that reference is just a little bit older than the beginning of my Newsarama journey. I founded what would become the comic book news site in 1996, and except for a brief sojourn at Marvel Comics as its marketing and communications manager in 2003, I’ve been writing about new comic book titles, creative changes, and occasionally offering my perspective on important industry events and developments for the 25 years since. Despite many changes to Newsarama, my passion for the medium of comic books and the characters makes the last quarter-century (it’s crazy to see that in writing) time spent doing what I love most.
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