Eternals: Bringing Back Sex to MCU

‘Eternals’ Brings Sex to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Discreet Way

Eternals Ikaris Sersi Richard Madden Gemma
Sophie Mutevelian / Courtesy of Marvel Studios

Eternals marks some milestones for Marvel Studios.

It’s the first title in the MCU to be directed by an Oscar winner and a woman of color, Chloé Zhao.

It’s the first feature film for the studio with title superheroes who are South Asian (Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo), Latina (Salma Hayek’s Ajak), deaf (Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari) and LGBTQ (Brian Tyree Henry’s Phastos).

It’s the first to feature a same-sex kiss, between Phastos and his husband, Ben (Haaz Sleiman).And it’s the first Marvel Studios movie to feature two characters having sex on screen

Eternals is an ensemble film, its story is built around a central couple: Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden), two ageless superheroes who fall in love over 3,000 years ago during the Babylonian Empire — and then consummate that love on screen in a sun-dappled rocky landscape.

Zhao said that the scene was “in the treatment” for Eternals that she read before she committed to direct the movie.

“You can’t tell a mature love story if you’re not gonna do some kind of…” she said, trailing off. “It’s lovely to see two people show physical affection for each other — a kiss, make love.”

Zhao filmed the scene between Chan and Madden on location, at the end of the day of production.

“Gemma and Richard did such a great job with the last bit of light we have,” Zhao said. “It’s very tasteful. You can feel the genuine love they have for each other.”

Is It an Exception? Anomaly?

Sex in studio feature filmmaking has become rare, if not totally absent, over the past two decades or so.

One reason: the PG and PG-13 ratings, which are dominating as storytelling, appeal family friendly franchises, especially children and kids.

You may recall the controversy caused by the sexually suggestive scenes between Batman (Michael Keaton) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) in 1992’s Batman Returns.

Sex has been absent in superhero cinema. In the MCU, there’s been an (unseen) one-night stand between Tony and journalist Christine Everhart (Leslie Bibb) in 2008’s “Iron Man,

There was a scene set at an interstellar brothel in 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Some sitcom-like innuendos on the 2021 Disney Plus series WandaVision.

Most MCU couples either remain, or have fear of sexuality written into their character arcs to keep them apart, like Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanoff.

Aside from the pegging scene in 2016’s Deadpool, even R-rated superhero movies have earned their rating from graphic violence, coarse language and occasional nudity, rather than scenes of sex.

Marvel Studios is owned by Disney, which has protected its  family-friendly brand for decades.

Yet Chloe Zhao says she got no pushback from the studio about the sex scene between Sersi and Ikaris in Eternals.

“When we put it together, we showed people at Disney, and they really loved it,” she said. “It was beautiful. And there was no discussion of taking it out.”

With superheroes continuing to dominate mass culture for the foreseeable future, it’s unclear whether the sex scene in “Eternals” is the exception to the genre’s vow of chastity, or a harbinger of a more liberated approach to sexuality on screen. One possible hint at what’s to come: In 2022, Marvel will release the fourth “Thor” movie with this eyebrow-raising subtitle: “Love and Thunder.”