SPOILER WARNING: Do not read this story until you’ve seen Marvel Studios’ “Eternals,” currently playing in theaters worldwide. Major spoilers are ahead.
The day after the red carpet premiere of Marvel Studios “Eternals,” director Chloé Zhao looked relaxed, almost serene, as she sat in a hotel suite awaiting her next interview. Her face lit up when she was asked about how her film features the first genuine sex scene in a Marvel Studios movie, and she happily talked at length about how she slipped in mentions of DC Comics icons Superman and Batman.
But when questions about the film’s two post-credits scenes came up, Zhao’s eyes nervously darted to her publicist sitting nearby.
“I will try my best — I’ve been advised…” she said, before trailing off.
Zhao’s trepidation is understandable. The news that Harry Styles appears in one of the post-credits scenes as Thanos’ brother Eros, a.k.a. Starfox — broken on Twitter the night of the premiere by, yes, Variety — had already caused the internet to collapse in on itself with shock and excitement. When she’s first asked about Styles, Zhao just smiled and responded, “Harry Styles is in the movie?! Wow!”
After Zhao was assured that any story about the post-credit scenes would publish after “Eternals” debuted in theaters, she loosened up.
“I still can’t believe it happened,” she said.
The first post-credits scene follows the movie’s cliffhanger ending. After Sersi (Gemma Chan) successfully leads the Eternals to stop the emergence of a Celestial from inside the Earth — which would have obliterated the planet — the lead Celestial, Arishem (David Kaye), arrives on Earth and yanks Sersi, Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) and Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani) into space. As he looms over the Earth, Arishem announces he’s putting them on trial for the death of a Celestial, and their experiences with humanity will decide whether the planet will ultimately survive. End of movie!
The mid-credits scene opens on the Eternals’ spaceship, where Thena (Angelina Jolie), Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Druig (Barry Keoghan) are traveling to find other Eternals to tell them of the Celestial’s deception. Unaware of Arishem’s wrath, they’re worried that they haven’t heard from their compatriots on Earth in weeks.
Suddenly, a small, swirling vortex appears in their ship, and out pops Pip the Troll (voiced by Patton Oswalt), who, with a rhetorical flourish, heralds the impending appearance of Eternal — and brother to Thanos — Eros, a.k.a. Starfox.
Wearing a similar uniform to his fellow Eternals, out steps Eros, as played by music superstar and budding actor Styles, who warns Thena, Makkari and Druig that their friends are in danger — and he knows how to help them.
According to Zhao, when she pitched introducing Pip and Eros to Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige as a mid-credits scene, she already knew she wanted Styles to play the role.
“The idea of Eros and Harry came to me at the same time,” she said. “It wasn’t like I created this character and I think about different people [to cast].”
Zhao says she’s been following Styles’ nascent acting career ever since he made his feature debut in Christopher Nolan’s 2017 World War II epic “Dunkirk,” playing a morally questionable British soldier desperate to escape the invading Nazi army. Given Styles’ willingness to explore less-than-honorable behavior on screen — and his gender-bending music persona as an omnisexual object of desire — Zhao thought the 27-year-old was a perfect fit for Eros, whose ability to stimulate and control the emotions of others makes him the ultimate galactic Lothario.
“Seeing his career, where he’s going, what he’s representing, him as an individual — he’s very interesting, unique,” Zhao said of Styles. “And I thought that is Eros. That’s that character. He just happened to be Thanos’s brother. I had this whole thing made up in my head, what their backstory is. I just was very, very excited when Kevin [went], ‘Let’s do it.'”
According to the filmmaker, it did not take much convincing to get Styles to sign on to the play the role. “I think everyone loves working with Marvel,” she said. “He was game, yeah.”
Zhao shot the scene in one day, with Styles hiding his face in hoodie when he was walking to and from set. “And then to see him come on set and just bring Eros to life, it was great,” she said.
Eros wasn’t the only major new character Zhao introduces in “Eternals” through a post-credits scene, either. When looking for a contemporary love interest for Sersi in the film, Zhao says she gravitated to one of the character’s historic boyfriends in the comics: Dane Whitman, a.k.a. the Black Knight.
“I go, ‘Who’s that? Black Knight? Oh, there’s an actor who’d be great to play that!'” she said.
The actor was Kit Harington, who at the time was just concluding his eight-season run as the sword-wielding warrior Jon Snow on the HBO behemoth “Game of Thrones.” Similarly, Dane Whitman has a rich and complicated history in the Marvel Comics, with a lineage that dates back to the medieval legend of King Arthur and a legacy as the superhuman warrior the Black Knight — whose abilities come from a cursed sword called the Ebony Blade.
None of that, however, is in “Eternals” until the end credits scene. When Harington was approached by producer Nate Moore for the role, he was told upfront that Dane would not play a sizable role in “Eternals” beyond a stand-in for Sersi’s connection to humanity.
“I was a big fan of that character,” Zhao said. “I thought he would be very interesting to have a human character also with his own complicated [history]. You can sense he doesn’t know what’s going on [with the Eternals], but there’s something special about him. It’s fun.”
It’s not until the very end of the film that Dane begins to hint to Sersi about that “something special” — but he’s cut off when Arishem appears and snatches Sersi from the face of the Earth.
Cut to the “Eternals” end credits scene, with Dane warily regarding an ancient looking box that holds an even more ancient looking sword with metal that undulates and whispers as if it’s alive: the Ebony Blade. Dane paces back and forth, trying to psych himself up to pick up the sword — which Marvel comics fans know will bestow him with great power and long life, but at the cost of Dane’s eroding sanity and innate goodness. (Hence the ominous carving on the inside of the box, which Dane reads out as “Death is my reward.”)
Just as Dane is about to touch the Ebony Blade, however, Dane hears someone else in the room, who we hear but never see, say “Sure you’re ready for that, Mr. Whitman?”
As some fans have already surmised, that voice belongs to Mahershala Ali, who Feige announced in 2019 will play Marvel’s favorite half-vampire, Blade, in a reboot of the franchise originally headlined by Wesley Snipes.
“I knew the line that was being said, because it was said out loud and it was in the bit of script that I got,” Harington told Variety the day after the “Eternals” premiere. “I only knew that was Mahershala’s voice just about three weeks ago. Chloé texted me saying that’s what they were doing. It really excited me, hearing that. He’s one of my favorite actors out there at the moment.”
Harington said that he hoped to allude to Dane’s fate as the Black Knight in the scene with how he regarded the Ebony Blade. “Up until that point, all we’ve seen is a really good guy that we hopefully like,” he said. “I like the idea that this thing is not good for him. With that sword, and what I’ve read about it, what I wanted to capture in that moment was this idea of addiction.”
But the actor is loathe to make any pronouncements about the future of the character. Dane and Blade do have a history in the Marvel comics, something Harington said was broached when he was first talking with Marvel about the role.
“I had some inkling that there was going to be a kind of crossover there, from early conversations,” he said.
But if it seems like this scene means Harington will costar with Ali in a “Blade” movie, or that Ali will appear in a “Black Knight” movie, that is going much further than Harington is willing to say out loud.
“I don’t know what the future is, and I have no idea,” he said. “There’s nothing written. Nothing I’ve been told. I haven’t got a clue. Honestly, genuinely. It’s funny, isn’t it? You say these things, and people are like, ‘You do! You know!’ And I have no idea. I’m assuming that that would be the case. But who knows?”
For her part, Zhao is also tight-lipped about her knowledge of where the cliffhanger ending and post-credits scenes in “Eternals” are leading.
“All I can say is it does have a very big repercussion on the future of the MCU,” she said. And what about her future with Marvel Studios?
She smiled. “I would be back working for Marvel if they want me any day.”