Be warned: spoilers for Eternals are ahead! The new Marvel Studios movie Eternals (directed by Chloé Zhao) has been highly-anticipated by both Disney fans and Marvel fans, and while the movie’s overall style means that it may not necessarily be as worthy of a theater ticket as previous movies in the Marvel universe, its storyline about immortal aliens protecting humanity can definitely be entertaining for anyone who enjoys emotional story-weaving with a side of combat. Characters like Thena and Kingo are charismatic and fun (although Thena gets surprisingly little screen time, even though she’s played by Angelina Jolie), and the lead actress Gemma Chan does a predictably impeccable job playing Sersi. However, one character who is crucial to the plot–and to the plot twist–is particularly unexpected! Spoiler alert: the misguided villain who leads everyone astray, murders Ajak, and tries to kill the other Eternals is none other than Ikaris. That’s right–the Eternal who betrays his companions, including his soul mate Sersi, is the handsome aerial superhero played by Cinderella’s very own Prince Charming, the Scottish actor Richard Madden.
Ikaris’s role as the surprise villain has a lot in common with the unexpected villains who have shown up in practically every murder mystery ever written: the character is introduced, then promptly forgotten. Yes, Ikaris has flying abilities like Superman and good looks that make him a delight for audiences to watch (not to mention his Scottish accent, which is one that many viewers might be unfamiliar with and will therefore also be distracted by), and his superpowers make him crucial during fights against the immortal alien predators known as Deviants–but after his initial introduction, he really doesn’t say much and he doesn’t attract much attention to himself. Even though a good-looking superhero lead is typically a fan favorite, Ikaris is on the sidelines a lot, and the biggest factor that guides the audience towards appreciating but largely ignoring Ikaris is definitely his romance with Sersi.
Most movie viewers already knew that Sersi and Ikaris have a sweeping centuries-long romance, that they’re in love, and that they are soulmates whose love could span eons; even though Sersi is dating Dane Whitman (a particularly unique character played by Kit Harington), the return of her long-lost love makes audiences assume that the two of them will be reuniting while she leaves Dane behind. It’s that headlining romance that makes audiences mentally categorize Ikaris as the handsome love interest–and therefore remove him from the suspect list. Because the plot of Eternals is so focused on the emergence of a Celestial that’s been incubating within Earth, and because Ajak’s withheld knowledge of the emergence was already revealed, audiences also don’t even think about the possibility of another Eternal being in on the secret. As the movie progresses, movie viewers are only focused on two things: Sersi and Ikaris’s rekindled romance, and the impending doom that they’re trying to stop.
One of the most emotionally troubling aspects of this betrayal is the ‘fact’ that the Eternals will be reborn and forget their lives on Earth after the emergence. Ikaris does express his sorrow about not being able to remember Sersi, and reveals that it was too difficult to be with her knowing that the emergence was coming without being able to tell her. Before Ikaris kills Ajak (indirectly, by tossing her to the Deviant wolves), she says that she led him down the wrong path, and it’s true that Ikaris finds it difficult to kill the mentor that he idolizes. But Ajak’s tutelage made Ikaris devoted to Arishem, the Celestials’ commander, at the expense of his fellow Eternals and his one true love Sersi. In the end, Ikaris leaves on his own after being defeated, with his last words to Sersi being “I’m sorry” and hers being “I know”. Then, he flies into the sun and presumably dies (although we can’t be certain of that). The similarity to Icarus, the mythological character that flew too close to the sun in Greek mythology, was directly acknowledged and dismissed earlier in the movie–but clearly the filmmakers for Eternals decided to run with the myth’s parallels anyway, by having Ikaris ‘die’ in a similar way that was very on-the-nose. Eternals had enough faults to make it a decent (albeit less than amazing) Marvel movie, but the plot twist that features Ikaris as the unexpected, impressive, and conflicted villain is definitely the high point of the film’s storyline!