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Eternals’ awful sex scene is kind of clever the second time around

Marvel’s Eternals from director Chloé Zhao was a film of many firsts for the studio, but it would be a bit inaccurate to say that it featured the MCU’s first sex scene, as a lot of people seem to think it did. Daredevil and the rest of the Netflix / Marvel gang spent seasons getting it in over in their neck of the cinematic universe, and those shows very much laid some groundwork for Eternals’ much-tamer take on superpowered sex. Eternals’ sex scene might not technically be Marvel’s first, or particularly “fun” to watch, but it’s one of the movie’s more clever ways of stating the obvious about how its story is going to end.

This essay contains spoilers for Marvel’s Eternals.

Throughout Eternals, an emotionally-inert foray into the cosmic origins of Marvel’s cinematic universe, there are multiple moments meant to show you how the Eternals themselves grew to love and identify with humanity during the thousands of years they spent living on Earth in varying degrees of secrecy. With there only being but so many Deviants — cosmically-empowered monsters — around for the Eternals to hunt down over the millennia, it doesn’t long in the grand scheme of Earth’s history for the Eternals to find themselves with enough downtime to develop interests in… other things like reading, farming, picking up new languages. You know, human stuff.

In addition to those kinds of activities, though, a few of Eternals’ heroes also find themselves gravitating toward and wanting to know one another in the biblical sense, an idea the film explores in particular with Sersi (Gemma Chan) and Ikaris (Richard Madden). While Eternals doesn’t explicitly say that romance and physical intimacy were things the Eternals learned about by watching humans, Sersi and Ikaris’ much-buzzed-about sex scene more than makes that seem like it might have been the case given how awkward the moment is.

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Soon after the Eternals are first led to believe that they’re finally being given the freedom to pursue their own dreams, Ikaris, the team’s flying brick with laser vision, musters up to courage to tell Sersi, a soft-spoken mediator with transmutation powers, that he’s deeply in love with her, always has been, and always will be. Though the Eternals are alien beings with their own ways of life, Seri and Ikaris consummate their love in the most human of ways as the pair venture off together in early the film and end up naked on a sandy dune locked in what’s best described as perfunctory sexual congress.

Even though Ikaris and Sersi’s relationship plays a major role in how Eternals’ story unfolds, Madden and Chan’s lack of on-screen chemistry makes the characters’ interpersonal dynamics one of the least compelling aspects of the film, which is a wonder considering how important the scene was to Zhao and how much genuine on-screen chemistry there is between other Eternals like Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Druig (Barry Keoghan), and Thena (Angelina Jolie) and Gilgamesh (Don Lee).

By the time that Eternals’ shifts its focus to the present day, when the Eternals are brought back out of hiding by the Deviants’ sudden reappearance, the world’s a drastically different place, and most of the Eternals have become different people. Where Sersi and the others all manage to find happiness in their new lives and letting their past selves go, Ikaris remains steadfast in his commitment to their true mission, which only he and Prime Eternal Ajak (Salma Hayek) are privy to at first.

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Because Eternals is such a busy film, some of its ideas, like how power and authority are balanced on the actual team, get a bit muddled, but when a dying Ajak chooses Sersi to become the new Prime Eternal, the story’s brushing up against the broadside of something interesting.

Though neither Sersi nor Ikaris can initially understand why Ajak would choose her to be the next Prime Eternal, her reasoning’s pretty easy to grasp just from watching any of Eternals’ trailers. He’s a superstrong living weapon whose gaze literally burns holes through things, whereas she’s a creator who expresses reverence and love for the material world while showing off her superhuman mastery over its constituent elements. It’s in moments where Sersi begins to piece together how and why she’s the new Prime Eternal that Eternals feels as if it’s the most confident in its ability to bring something slightly new to the pantheon of Marvel’s big-screen spectacles: a feature about a woman getting a promotion.

Much like Zack Snyder’s Justice League before it, Eternals’ family drama briefly turns brutal as everyone comes together to fight one of their own. But unlike the amnesiac Superman, Ikaris emerges from his battle with the other Eternals definitively marked as the villain of the movie who’s willing to put the entire Earth in danger in order to complete their mission. As the world teeters on the brink of destruction in Eternals final act, Sersi and Ikaris are left seeming as if they’re about to tearfully fight to the death, and the movie cuts to a montage in an attempt to make you feel what they’re feeling.

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In Eternals’ defense, flashbacks to a sex scene during a big superhero fight might not play all that well with audiences, which is likely why it doesn’t pop up again on screen as Ikaris and Sersi reflect on all the history they share. It does feel telling, though, that the two come across more as Very Good Friends rather than people who’ve seen each other naked as they fight over the fate of the Earth. By the time Eternals gets to this part of its story, the movie’s already so mired in barely explained cosmic lore and aggressive special effects that none of its emotional beats really work.

What does work, especially when you go back and watch Eternals more closely, is the idea that Sersi knew on some level that her Ikaris’ romantic entanglement with Ikaris wouldn’t last. In a movie with so many moving parts, that sort of detail’s something you really have to look for, but with Eternals now streaming on Disney Plus for everyone, going back to pinpoint the moment when Sersi knew just got much easier.

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