‘Eternals’: even with MCU’s first real sex scene, the show is sexless

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Chloe Zhao’s first MCU feature film attempts bold strides in the relationship department, but is it too little, too late?

[Editor’s note: The following post contains spoilers for “Eternals.”]

At the heart of Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals”, there is an epic love story, the kind that spans both time (true millennia) and place (our lovers meet for the first time). on a spaceship bound for their new home on Earth, a cute encounter that could only happen in the MCU). But that ultimately results in a rote review of romance, and yes, sex. Much of the action from “Eternals” – another Marvel entry that at least threatens the fabric of the entire universe; at one point the stakes were so high that they seemingly can never come down again – it apparently depends on the fractured relationship of Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden). But the pair’s unfortunate bond is not rich enough to support such a heavy tale.

Marvel movies aren’t always romance-less. Across nearly 30 films, the franchise has found time to describe love stories involving Captain America and Peggy Carter, Iron Man and Pepper Potts, Spider-Man and MJ, Thor and Dr.Jane Foster, Star-Lord and Gamora, and (to a lesser extent) Black Widow and The Hulk – though few of them have ever shown physical affection beyond a kiss or charged gaze. (And, look, we know these characters are having sex: Iron Man and Pepper Potts are having a child, for the chrissakes.)

This is something Zhao wanted to change. As the filmmaker recently told IndieWire, “So that we can show two people who love each other, not only emotionally and intellectually but also physically, and have a sex scene that will be seen by a lot of people that shows their love and compassion and gentleness – I think that’s a very beautiful thing. She’s not wrong; the scene is lovely and helps bind Sersi and Ikaris together in a way the MCU has never dared to do. It is also strangely chaste.

The sex scene in question is perhaps quite tame – the film is of course rated PG-13 – but still stands out in the franchise. After professing their love for each other, Sersi and Ikaris consume their affection by means of a love scene in the desert, which features the two topless actors (although nothing beyond the back and bare arms be seen), gently rubbing against each other under a well-placed blanket. You’d have to squint to see a lot of movement, and this is the one time we’ve seen the pair do much more than a stray kiss here and there.

Chloé Zhao directs “The Eternals”

© Walt Disney Co./ Courtesy of Everett Collection

All of this is emblematic of a long-standing problem within the MCU: a lack of human desire in the service of tightly sealed “characters”. As IndieWire’s David Ehrlich lamented in 2017, the franchise is filled with superheroes “so monastically exhausted with desire, so perfectly in control, that it often feels like they’re still sealed inside. of their packaging. Lack of sex isn’t a problem for the Marvel Cinematic Universe per se, but it’s symptomatic of a franchise whose need to constantly resell its characters keeps it from smearing them.

Really, it keeps them from being human. Zhao almost turns that around, however, even with the constraints of a franchise that is a) primarily rated PG-13 (and while parts of the series are surely “aimed at kids,” remember that the first MCU movie is released in 2008 and that most of those fans are now very big) and b) perpetually anxious to maintain big limits, if only to be able to reaffirm them in the inevitable sequel.

The scene highlights Zhao’s tendency to present Sersi and Ikaris’ bond as being rooted in love and respect, not just raw desire. (And, again, while sex is mostly absent from this series, what we’re really asking for is a physical expression of these characters as peopleeven the most loaded.) As the couple consumes their affection physically, the film takes care to ground it as an emotional experience as well, with the couple exchanging “I love you” during the act. It’s fun and a little silly and embarrassing, but it’s also intimate in a way the show doesn’t always get portrayed.

“Eternals” also contains the most open portrayal of a gay romance the MCU has ever attempted, dealing with the charming domestic life that Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) has managed to carve out for himself with her husband Ben (Haaz Sleiman). and their very cute son Jack (Esai Daniel Cross) after being disappointed with both humanity and the Eternals’ mission with them.

The couple get away with nothing more than a single kiss, but Zhao’s film delves into the suburban bliss that Phastos embraced, away from the rest of the Eternals and their so-called mission. It’s physically limited, but the privacy is real. Maybe that’s what this series has really been lacking all this time, and we’re lucky Zhao even managed to get away with this relatively short track to begin with.

Eternals Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie Chloe Zhao

“Eternals”

Disney

This is part of the reason why Marvel has mainly avoided gay romances in the movies – despite the winks and nods throughout the series, especially when it comes to Valkyrie of confirmed bisexual Tessa Thompson. , and the romantic desires of fellow “Thor” star Tom Loki of Hiddleston – that’s because they’re typically cut to air in high-income countries, especially China. Zhao hopes that won’t be the case for “Eternals,” telling IndieWire that she’s “fingers crossed” that she won’t be cut.

And Zhao’s desire to keep it actually speaks of something bigger than just this one romance: it’s about showing the possibility of humanity. It’s a lesson the entire MCU can take to heart. As she explained, “The way the Phastos story unfolds in the movie is that he’s someone who only sees humanity as a whole and believes that technology is going to solve the problem. Obviously, he lost confidence in us for some very difficult things that we did. And then he had to stop looking at us as a whole and look at a person he falls in love with, and a child, to find the face of humanity again.

This is what is missing when Marvel skimp on its sex scenes, romance stories, and portrayal of the messy side of human affection. “Eternals” doesn’t fix this long-standing problem – the heat is always down well here – but at least it offers the possibility of a world in which superheroes grope for the kind of human connection that doesn’t always make for. easy to sell and the size of a blockbuster.

“Eternals” is now in theaters.

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