lessons in chemistry

Eternals’ Hottest Romance Made Me Feel Pleasantly Unwell

Photo: Marvel Studios/Courtesy of Marvel Studios

With Oscar winner Chloé Zhao at the helm and a new cosmic mythos for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, along with grand practical effects and a cast of diverse superheroes, Eternals should have been unlike any MCU story before it. And so should have the centuries-spanning romance at its heart between Ikaris (Richard Madden) and Sersi (Gemma Chan). But as the rest of the film turned out to be mostly pretty on the surface but emotionally inert, these two immortal beings’ supposedly sweeping romance did, too.

The MCU is no stranger to couplings that range from “aw” to “ehh” to completely forgettable. (I still cringe at whatever Marvel was trying to do with Sharon Carter and Steve Rogers’s short-lived fling.) But Ikaris and Sersi’s relationship achieves a new level of sexless, doll-like faux intimacy for the franchise — truly something, considering the pair star in the MCU’s first-ever sex scene.

Out of Eternals’ ten heroes, the plot most closely follows Chan’s Sersi, a manipulator of matter who loves Earth, iPhones, and her fellow Eternal Ikaris. Sersi and Ikaris’s special moments together across time play out in a highlight reel — professing their love, marrying, breaking up (inexplicably, Ikaris just sort of leaves), then reuniting. In the present day, after her breakup from Ikaris, Sersi dates Kit Harington’s Dane Whitman, a (not so) seemingly ordinary human with whom she shares some cute moments. But the film clearly wants us to invest in Sersi and Ikaris, especially once he reenters her life, creating a tensionless love triangle of sorts. Chan and Madden are fine actors, but they seem bored by each other’s presence. And what’s the point of pairing two beautiful romantic leads when they’re as emotive as chiseled stone?

All the while, Barry Keoghan’s character Druig and Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari spend Eternals endlessly flirting in the fringes of the plot, igniting the hottest chemistry ever seen in the MCU. After thousands of years apart, Druig and Makkari melt into each other with such envious ease that Ikaris and Sersi’s reunion feels all the more stifled by comparison. The latter couple may get a ten-second missionary-sex scene on the beach, but when Keoghan’s Druig says, “My beautiful, beautiful Makkari”? That’s when I began to feel unwell.

Who knew Keoghan was this smooth? He’s always played such weirdos — the creepy, pasta-eating teen in The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the little thief who drives Dev Patel to tears in The Green Knight — that I guess I never noticed. So thank you, Chloé Zhao, for opening my eyes and for personally ensuring that his bangs never budged from his forehead. Keoghan’s energy paired with Ridloff’s kinetic charm is just so thrilling. Their stolen glances, their little shoulder punches and smiles; the matching leather jackets they wear in a mid-credits scene; even the way they rest their foreheads together is so emotionally charged, they don’t need to say a word. Their eyes just spill affection.

Imagine if Eternals had centered their relationship, or literally anyone’s apart from Sersi and Ikaris’s. Gilgamesh (Don Lee) and Thena (Angelina Jolie) share an intimacy more intense than theirs, and they never even kiss. Hell, even the hilarious rapport between Kumail Nanjiani as Kingo and Harish Patel as Karun is more magnetic.

So much of Eternals hinges on Sersi and her competing feelings for earthlings and for Ikaris. Yet when a devastated Ikaris flings himself into the sun at the end of the movie, the moment feels empty enough that not even Sersi seems to care much. But I’m relieved that their dim romance sorted itself out, to be honest. All one can hope is that it paves the way for a more passionate relationship between Chan and Harington’s Dane Whitman — and more importantly, more time for Druig and Makkari.

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Eternals’ Hottest Romance Made Me Feel Pleasantly Unwell