screen gems

How Eternals’ Phastos could save the MCU


Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.

The Landmark: Eternals

Though Spider-Man: No Way Home may have gotten the most buzz amid last year’s entries in the Hollywood superhero genre, we would like to again salute Marvel’s blockbuster factory for actually upping the game for once, and including some beautiful queerness in one of its movies.

Eternals arrived with high expectations given the announcement that the tech wizard Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) would, indeed, be Marvel’s first on-screen, identifiable queer hero. It also had a boost from director Chloe Zhao, who had just nabbed a Best Director Oscar for her work on Nomadland just a few months before.

Eternals follows a group of immortal aliens assigned to defend Earth from alien monsters by an even bigger alien. The group watches the centuries tick by, growing ever closer to humanity. Cut to the present day when said monsters reemerge out of stasis, and the Eternals must reunite to save the world.

If the premise sounds simple, the character dynamics are not. Eternals boasts a big ensemble cast of characters, each played by a compelling actor. Though Gemma Chan and Richard Madden play the ostensible lead characters, each member of the Eternals cast gets a moment to shine. That holds especially true for Henry, burdened with the duties of playing the studio’s first gay hero, and adding to its still-modest list of black heroes as well. In short, Henry delivers the goods, playing his role with a powerful intensity every moment he appears on screen. Zhao also affords him a good deal of range in his scenes, allowing him to play moments of comedy, guilt, and domestic bliss opposite on-screen husband Haaz Sleiman. Tyree’s charisma points to a promising career ahead; though Marvel reportedly has no plans for Eternals 2, we hope Phastos turns up again in some future superhero brawl.

Beyond its blow for representation, Eternals features Zhao’s signature breathtaking visuals. Nobody photographs landscapes or sunsets like this woman, and its telling that in a movie this full of special effects, simple shots of the light hitting Chan’s face or Madden standing in a desert rank as the most memorable. The rest of the cast–which also includes Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, and Barry Keoghan–also gives compelling performances. At 156 minutes, Eternals feels a bit, well, eternal, and the inclusion of an elaborate mythology and special effects climax feels more perfunctory than necessary.

Still, given Brian Tyree Henry’s performance, and the place Eternals holds in superhero movie history, we recommend giving it a look. Zhao’s visuals and a committed cast make the movie fun. What a shame it had to go and ruin it all with the CGI mayhem.

Streams on Disney+.

Note: This article contains portions of previous articles posted on Queerty.