Phastos… Marvel’s First LGBTQ Superhero … and family
Marvel Studios’ upcoming film “Eternals” hits American theaters broadly today, but the latest MCU installment has already drawn ire, trolling and praise for its focus on characters and the diversity of the group: three are asian, two black, and a Latina. Of them, one is gay, one non binary and another is deaf.
Phastos, portrayed by “Atlanta” star Brian Tyree Henry, is the first out LGBTQ superhero in the Marvel Comics Universe’s (MCU) decade-plus lineage. The character arrives on the big screen as one of comics-icon Jack Kirby’s somewhat niche collection of celestial immortals.
But wait, there’s more. He lands with husband Ben, portrayed by Haaz Sleiman, and child, notching another first for the series with a portrayal of an LGBTQ family.
Excitement from LGBTQ fans when announced earlier in the year was initially muted in light of of how Disney companies have delivered on previous promises of out characters. Targeted announcements touting ‘firsts’ ended up tangential, morsel-sized moments, easily removed for audiences in nations skittish about LGBTQ people and identities.
So far, indication are that “Eternals” depiction of LGBTQ relationships carry through the film, delivering a lot more, with a character essential to the progression of the story, while going so far as to include a passionate kiss between Phastos and Ben. Disney seems in step with the film’s director, Oscar Winner Chloé Zhao who told Variety she addressed the issues with Marvel Studios executives about not altering the film, including producing cuts that diminished Phastos’ identity while describing the character as “an integral part of Marvel Studios’ conception of the character” from the very beginning of development.
Disney/Marvel Support Integrity of Storyline, Film Zhao’s
Not only is the character difficult to take out while preserving the story, but according to sources consulted by The Hollywood Reporter, “Eternals” has been banned in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar because Disney refused to make requested edits, likely including the depiction of same-sex relationships. The company itself has been mum on the topic and hasn’t claimed credit for defending the film as created in public.
If all true, the media conglomerate’s refusal to meet the demands of these governments, all three of which criminalize homosexuality, punishing same-sex acts with death, physical punishments or imprisonment, represents one of the few times (if not the first) the company has taken a stance to preserve LGBTQ-inclusive content in international cuts of its films when asked to edit or eliminate them..
It was only a few years back that the company drew heavy criticism for promoting LGBTQ inclusion in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” and “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” that in the end were seconds-long bits that could be easily edited and, in fact, were for viewers in a number of countries.
Other nations in the region appear to be screening the film in spite of similar laws. Theaters in the United Arab Emirates still list the film as “Coming Soon.” The region’s top theater chain, Vox Theaters, confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the film was banned in the three nations but didn’t offer an exact reason for it.
Angelina Jolie, arguably the biggest star among the many familiar faces in Eternals, is warrior Thena, addressed the topic directly yesterday, telling news.com.au, “I’m sad for [those audiences]. And I’m proud of Marvel for refusing to cut those scenes out.
“I still don’t understand how we live in a world today where there’s still [people who] would not see the family Phastos has and the beauty of that relationship and that love.
“How anybody is angry about it, threatened by it, doesn’t approve or appreciate it is ignorant.”
Trolls “Review Bomb”, Talking down the “Wokeness”
But one doesn’t need state sanctioned censorship all the time, if you have enough insecure and angry young men whipping each other into a tizzy about race and various conspiracy theories such that they feel sufficient threat and pressure to protect us all from that real danger of a comic book story empowering citizens to demand representation and quality of life.
A group of users on IMDb took on the task in recent days — as have others on Rotten Tomatoes, Reddit, and elsewhere– review bombing with accusations that the ‘Eternals’ is “too woke” in spite of the fact that most haven’t even been able to see it yet.
“Review bombing” is internet talk for trolling review sites, overwhelming a targeted film, or game or even the Yelp page of say a Minneapolis dentist who shot a Lion for sport. with negative reviews. Often the motive has little to do with the quality of the film, the reviews frequently without merit, many of them authored by reviewers who haven’t actually engaged with the thing they’re reviewing. Why? Valiant efforts to hi-jack the internet’s ability to divine frequently accurate and powerful opinions of the “crowd” for quality recommendations in order to unfairly skew the perception of the subject.
IMDb is one of the few major media sites that still allow user reviews to be posted prior to a film’s release, and it seems a crowd that opposes the full depiction of LGBTQ identities in the film took to the platform to air their grievances in the last week.
According to now-deleted reviews compiled by The Direct, much of the criticism centered on the perceived “wokeness” of the film, bashing the film for ticking “all the Hollywood woke boxes” with little critique of the story and film. The wave of negative comments got so large that IMDB removed a collection of reviews from the film’s page. It will not surprise that most reviews posted prior to the purge were authored by young men 18-44 years old (IMDb’s user review data). The film currently shows a 6.5/10 stars aggregated rating.
It’s often hard to divine where ratings are coming form, but with reviews now mostly in it seems Eternals has a much bigger problem with professional reviewers that with trolls posing as regular users, now that the film is getting seen and no doubt, these systems have their own measures against review bombing.
Both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are showing similar rolled up scores for their panels of professional reviewers as well as a similar, quite large separating them from the much higher ratings iof the User/Audience scores to the tune of 25-30 points higher.
Rotten Tomatoes Top Critics at 51% while their Audience Reviews are up at 86%. So while it’s the first Marvel film to get a “Rotten” rating , it would seem like the audience isn’t having such a bad time at all.
IMDB is holding at 6.5 stars;
Metacritic tells effectively the same story as the Rotten Tomatoes with their roll up of pro reviewers averaging in at 53% but users rating it 7.7 out of 10.
Google reviewers are similar to the User scores and as of now are at 74%
Reviewers Amazed By Marvel’s Changes On Return from Semester Abroad
Overall, the professional reviewers are not saying that it’s a failure of liberal brainwashed “wokeness”. Not at all. In fact many more credit to the film for its light touch in radically remaking the diversity mix on screen, with many saying some version of the matter-of-fact portrayal is how things should be in the world.
Sadly, most of the pros just don’t love Eternals. The movie’s structure , including tons of flashbacks and the length of two hours are both mentioned many times as the reasons viewers lost in interest, lost the thread of the story, lost track of why they should care. But there’s not a good way to get around. some layers of introduction and exposition when introducing 10 new main characters and ton of others. …not to mention the origins of their crew, why they didn’t lift a finger during the big Avenger fight to save the world and much more.
Almost every reviewer credits Zhao for building complex characters, a plot that isn’t two dimensional, and for an attention to detail that makes the film a great beauty. Most say she’s done an OK . But most have a hard time going beyond the realm of “OK” to “Pretty good”. It is interesting to see the big reviewers of the Entertainment industrial Complex wrestling with Eternals after basically ignoring the whole universe of 25 or so films over the last decade +. But this is clearly something different. They need to acknowledge it now and most are not quite comfortable with it yet.
NPR Takes on the Elephant in the Room
Among those gate keepers taking notice, NPR goes straight at film and jilted bros who didn’t see it coming. They go for the jugular devoting most of a review to the easily navigated listicle: “How Eternals engages with the top 10 go-to MCU complaints. ” unpacking why these guys feel so threatened by a new cast that operates differently. The list will be familiar whether you’ve seen all or none of the films.
You will have either argued, argued against or presumed to address the ramifications of these films taking over and that they are — or are not — ugly, formulaic, childish, and both predictable and unintelligible by boring story. If only to weigh in on these questions we should see it. The reviewer presents Zhao’s take and worthy execution. Read it yourself, Bottom line, no Avengers movie could ever be described with this loving complexity.
“Eternals‘ squabbling-family dynamic means that the film foregrounds the kind of emotional stakes that will be familiar to anyone whose ever sat through a Thanksgiving dinner. These characters hold grudges and nurse simmering resentments over centuries, they argue and entreat with each other, they goad and snipe and reconcile.”Glen Weldon, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour
And the NYTimes? WSJ, Variety?
Meanwhile, the New York Times says “A pleasing cast and the director Chloé Zhao, who won a best picture Oscar for “Nomadland,” give Marvel’s latest a steady heartbeat…works as a war movie, a romance, a family comedy and a family drama…It’s best categorized, though, as a getting-the-band-back-together flick.”
The Wall Street Journal acknowledges “Eternals” is a terrible mess structurally, and hasn’t reconciled its conventional sci-fi action with its philosophical speculations about life on Earth and the gods who govern the universe.” But the review is not a pan, telling viewers “Ms. Zhao and her writer colleagues— Patrick Burleigh, Ryan Firpo and Kaz Firpo —draw strength for their production from excellent actors playing an assortment of intriguing eccentrics with widely varying commitments to Homo sapiens, or to themselves.”
USA Today lays out the challenge problem
But when you factor in the heap of characters, the various twists and turns, a murder mystery and all the bouncing between present day and ancient history, “Eternals” becomes a head-spinning, multicar pileup of stuff. An intriguing theme like the ethical conundrum of the greater good is just touched on instead of satisfyingly explored.Brian Truitt, USA Today
Variety devoted an entire post to “How ‘Eternals’ Brought Sex to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: ‘It’s Very Tasteful’” When it was pointed out to Zhao that ‘Eternals’ is the “first Marvel Studios movie to feature two characters having sex on screen,” she showed some pride, “the director broke into a wide grin. “We win!” she said.”
Variety’s regular review directly responds to the aforementioned trolls:
Their free-flowing, all-for-one unity extends, in spirit, to the diversity of the characters, which is something the film presents with a no-big-deal effrontery that makes them a winning prototype of a more dynamically inclusive superhero world. Four of the Eternals are white, three are Asian, two are Black, and one is Latina. One is gay, one is deaf, and one is an androgynous tween who never grows up. Any troll who surveys this lively medley of backgrounds and temperaments only to gripe that the movie is too “woke” might have lodged the same complaint about “Star Trek” 55 years ago.Owne Glieberman, Variety
Audiences will be able to make up their own minds about the film when it releases in theaters on Friday, Nov. 5
Eternals: Previously on Towleroad
Screenshot via YouTube