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In a year jam-packed with new Marvel Cinematic shows and movies, it's hard to know where to start geeking out — even if your favourite superhero isn't named Peter Parker. But even as Shang-Chi sets off on his next adventure, and and the multiverse threatens to take over in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, there's the matter of what's happening off-world, with one of the other newest additions to the MCU: the Eternals.
Or maybe, in this case, what almost didn't happen.
According to director Chloé Zhao, the original ending that was written for the film was a lot bleaker than it ultimately ended up being. The current ending sees the Eternals split up, Thena, Makari, and Druig set off into space in search of other Eternals like them, only to learn that Kingo, Phastos, and Sersi — all of whom had chosen to remain on Earth — have since been taken by Arishem to be judged for their recent actions. However, that's not what was originally written.
"It used to end with everybody back on the ship, minds erased and just going on to another planet, like The Twilight Zone," explains the Academy Award-winning director in an interview with Empire Online. "I remember when it goes to black, everyone was like, 'I don't know what to do.' And also, it's the MCU, and you want to be excited for what's next."
She went on to add, "I didn't hate it, because I'm used to films that are more melancho[lic]. But I don't think that went down well with audiences."
Luckily, there were a few changes along the way, largely thanks to the process of making the film.
"I have never made a film where the ending is what I wrote," says Zhao. "You find it in the edit. Editing is a third of the filmmaking process, and when you show it to people, that's when you find the ending."
She continues, "I don't think I've made a single film where the opening and ending stay the same as the script, just because the scenes are fluid as we shoot."
The film's actual ending also features the introduction of one of the MCU's latest additions, which fans have been particularly excited for: Harry Styles as the Titan Eros, who comic book readers might remember is the brother of Thanos, AKA the being responsible for Avengers: Infinity War and the eventual events of Avengers: Endgame.
Zhao had initially intended to introduce Styles as Eros earlier in the movie, something she'd been pitching to Marvel Studios President (and MCU mastermind) Kevin Feige as much as she could, as she herself is intrigued by the character and his relationship with Thanos, and had been wanting to bring him into the MCU.
"[A]t some point [Eros] was going to be one of the Eternals on that ship. And that didn't quite work out," says Zhao. "I love the idea of Eros being another Eternal, another Ajak. He's an Eternal, and he was stationed on Titan – 10 of them were, just like the 10 Eternals on Earth, assuming Titan is also a host planet at some point. Now, if you think about that, what influence could Eros have had on the inhabitants of Titan, the way Ajak has influenced people on Earth? And how that has affected Thanos?"
The Nomadland director goes on to add, "If you go to the comics, there's some quite beautiful, heartbreaking influence Eros has had on Thanos. And how much does Thanos know? I love him as a character. It makes my imagination go crazy thinking, 'Why does Thanos think this way? Why is he worried about overpopulation and destroying his planet?' Think about the emergence – does Eros know about it? Maybe if he's an advisor, the way Ajak advised kings and queens on Earth? For me, the backstory of Eros is that he deserted, he said, 'I'm not doing this anymore.' So he somehow got that sphere, which you saw in his hand, and he ran off and made Pip the troll. They're like Han Solo and Chewie. Arishem's been looking for him, and he's just been a space outlaw."
But what about Styles casting? Well, for Zhao, Eros couldn't be played by anyone else.
"I never said once to Kevin, 'Here's the character. Let's find an actor.' For me, it was a package deal. It's got to be Harry. That's how I pitched it to Kevin."
Eternals will be available for streaming on Disney+ on Jan. 12.