Like us mere mortals, superheroes also have bodily urges and desires. Several comic book writers have referenced and portrayed them graphically, then why do MCU movies refrain from addressing sexuality?
Bodily urges are a trait shared by all humans across the world. Procreation is an activity practiced by most of us sexual beings. It can also be said that sex is a more prominent activity endorsed by a wider population than the urge for violence. However, it’s a pity that mainstream movies and entertainment, which appeal to all audiences, are fine promoting violence and careful about keeping a clean image when it comes to sexuality. This somewhat portrays the narrative that sex is dirty, while violence can be empowering and even liberating. An when it comes to having overtly repressive sexual movies, Marvel, with all its exploits, ranks at the top.
Violence Good, Sex Bad: Marvel’s message for its universal audience?
Just like all us mortals, sex, intimacy, and love are powerful forces that even drive the actions of superheroes. Comic canons have many times shed light on the sexuality of their characters. From Iron Man, Captain Marvel, and Hulk, to Ant-Man, Wasp, Wolverine, and Mystique, several storylines had iconic sexual scenes (unapologetically graphic too). But that’s not common knowledge, certainly not for superhero movie fans with no prior knowledge of comic book history of the characters. So, this raises a profound question that we can’t shy away from: Is the world’s biggest superhero cinematic studio Marvel consciously keeping sex out of its blockbuster movies?
Lack of sexual activity but high on violence
Unfortunately, superhero movies in the last couple of decades have hardly seen any action. The most that we’ve seen is a sex scene in The Dark Knight with Bruce Wayne and Talia Al Ghul, and a similar short-lived make-out session between Logan aka Wolverine and Mystique (having shape-shifter into Jean Grey) in X-Men II. The more careful Disney and Marvel shy away from such portrayals much more. Apart from a few kisses here and there, and a certain scene with Tony Stark and Pepper Potts on the same bed (Iron Man 3), it’s safe to say that MCU strictly refrains from sexuality in its movies.
The MCU depicts exemplary toned human figures, sometimes in tight, body-hugging spandex and sometimes bare. But that’s as far as the movies go in the supposed ‘explicit content’. While Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios do a lot to ensure their characters have strong background stories and individuality, a crucial personality trait is seemingly ignored, unlike what we’ve come to see in the comic canons.
The sexuality of Superheroes in Comic Canons
Comic books have seen several such storylines involving sexual urges and superheroes acting on it. Comics show enhanced sexual pleasure using superpowers, fantasies, and v()yeurism explicitly. When Ant-Man goes down on The Wasp, he uses his superpower of restriction and goes tiny to get inside her. When Spider-Man is inside his wife, he talks to her about his weird dream. Tony Stark is shown viewing a sex tape of his intimate moments with Natasha aka Black Widow after her ‘betrayal and death’. Hulk indulges in some very public intimacy with the Red She-Hulk. Even Spider-Man’s Aunt May has a sex scene with John Jonah Jameson Sr., where Peter walks in on them lying naked in bed.
Furthermore, a number of comic books even took on issues related to the sexuality of human beings like domestic violence, sexual assaults, exploitation, and adultery. Enchantress’s Sister enslaved Thor through magic and then r*ped and sexually abused. She-Hulk slept with supervillain Juggernaut. Magneto’s wife indulges in infidelity with Wolverine. Sabretooth has savage sex with Mystique and then gorges on raw meat. Peter Parker suffered sexual abuse by an adult man as a child. Luke Cage goes rough and takes the painful an*l route with Jessica Jones. Most of all, Spider-Man accidentally kills Mary-Jane after his radioactive semen gives her cancer.
The problem with Censorship Laws
The writers did not shy away from addressing the sexual desires of superheroes. They have historically experimented with the subject even with a fanbase of young readers. On the other hand, Marvel Studios and Disney have ensured a reserved approach limiting sexuality and focusing on violence which is apparently easily justified with good motives in the world we live in. Comic book publishers were also adequately careful of spreading a message of debauchery. But censorship laws in cinema and tv entertainment today create an environment unfit for intimacy and bodily urges for superheroes.
Recently, filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar cited the movie in MCU are ‘devoid of actual sexuality’. He speculated a kind of ‘self-censorship’. In an interview with Vulture, Almodovar said, “There are many, many movies about superheroes. And sexuality doesn’t exist for superheroes. They are neutered. There is an unidentified gender, the adventure is what’s important.” But we humans are sexual beings and these imagined universes stem from the very traits that make us up. So, why are superhero movies adding to the global taboo regarding sex on the screen?
The bigger problem of the societies we live in
In fact, the only Marvel movie series that has somewhat ‘Rated-R’ sexual content is Deadpool. Consequently, the showrunners at Disney and Marvel have ensured Deadpool is a different storyline. MCU has kept Deadpool’s explicit sexuality separate from the ‘clean sexual slate’ of the Avengers storyline.
We can’t really put a finger on Marvel for continuing a norm and not trying to crusade against it.
Superhero movies aim to appeal to the audience of all ages. The more open entertainment in streaming services like Netflix allows MCU some display of sexuality. However, they are still far from a brave portrayal of human-like urges in superheroes.
Hell, we’re not urging non-violent storylines here. Violence is and will mainstay in all superhero stories. But sex comes more naturally to us humans compared to violence. In the 21st century, it’s no more a hush-hush personal activity. Today, we openly endorse sexuality. The effects of viewing it on-screen aren’t worse than violence. Perhaps its time we redefine out censorship laws and make our superheroes more human on screen.