Warning: The following contains spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Although Marvel is keeping its lips sealed about any concrete plans for the Marvel Cinematic Universe post-Avengers 4, director James Gunn confirmed a little while ago that among the entries for whatever form Phase 4 takes will be a third Guardians of the Galaxy directed and written by him. And James Gunn being James Gunn, he’s littered Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 with lots of Easter eggs and references, along with no less than five post-credit scenes, to bits and bobs from throughout Marvel lore to fuel fan speculation for what to expect from Vol. 3.
One post-credits scene, in particular, is raising eyebrows as it heralds the arrival of a major character on the cosmic side of the Marvel universe – Adam Warlock. Vol. 2 villain Ayesha, having to confront the elders of her planet about how she wasted resources and let the Guardians slip through her fingers, states she has created something to destroy the Guardians, revealing an insulation chamber containing what she dubs “Adam”.
The obvious implication is that Adam Warlock will be the main villain of the third Guardians movie, with Star-Lord et al delving into Adam, Ayesha, and the genetic engineering part of the MCU that’s previously been hinted at (Rocket Raccoon is a result of some still unspoken extended experimentation). However, this may not be the case as reports from back before Avengers: Age of Ultron told of Warlock being a major villain in Avengers: Infinity War.
According to a report on the casting process for the third Avengers published in June 2015, Magus, Adam’s “bad side”, will be joining Thanos as a major villain for Avengers 3. Magus will separate himself from Adam to gain the Infinity Gauntlet and create doppelgangers of all Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and a universe of evil. Speculation at the time was that Guardians was the perfect place to introduce Adam, the film only did the bare minimum, making audiences wait until Infinity War to see him in action.
There are a couple of incarnations of Magus in the comics, but the one that’s directly spoken to in that report is most similar to the one in the original Infinity Gauntlet. Adam Warlock and Thanos, the already established main antagonist of Avengers 3 and 4, have a long history together. Not only one of the main enemies of Thanos from the Infinity Gauntlet-trilogy in the early ’90s, Warlock is the one who leads the battle against him after Thanos gets his hands on the Gauntlet and the infinity stones. When it’s all said and done, Warlock gets the Gauntlet, complete with stones, and, in an attempt to remove the evil from his soul, incidentally spawns Magus as a physical embodiment of his bad side. In the book, Magus then tries to steal the gauntlet but is thwarted.
It sounds like Marvel is sticking relatively close to the outline of Jim Starlin, George Perez and Ron Lim’s classic 1991 series when it comes to Magus and Warlock. While this approach makes sense, it also goes against Warlock’s origin as of Guardians Vol. 2. Originally, Warlock was created by human scientists known as the Enclave to become the “perfect human” on earth before joining the Marvel universe space-side. He’s almost always been a protagonist, barring some brushes with other Marvel heroes in crossed-wire scenarios.
The MCU is taking a different tact, painting him as being constructed or made into a weapon by Ayesha. The cocoon Warlock uses to regenerate has been seen before in the Collector’s collection in the first film, and it’s unclear if Ayesha traded for said cocoon from the Collector or if Ayesha has had Adam made from scratch. Even with the Magus storyline, the idea here is that Adam will be an entity whose purpose is primarily to destroy the Guardians of the Galaxy. Assuming Magus is destroyed somewhere between Avengers 3 and 4, and Adam serves his purpose as is written in the Infinity Gauntlet book and proves pivotal to taking Thanos down, then somewhere along the way either Adam chooses to go against Ayesha, or temporarily puts his mission on hold to retrieve and/or kill the Guardians.
Both are interesting prospects since, after that post-credits scene, this Warlock’s MCU origin is already significantly altered. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing if it forces audiences that have read the book to see him with a completely fresh mindset. James Gunn has proven he can come at these characters in ways that help them evolve, like with his version of Ego the Living Planet, and introducing Adam this way opens up some interesting narrative possibilities for Guardians Vol. 3.
The whole genetic modification angle has come up in both Guardians movies without ever being discussed. As mentioned, Rocket Raccoon was an unwilling subject of extensive bodily experimentation. If Adam is the antagonist for at least part of the film, Guardians 3 can use him as a foot-in-the-door to that dark underbelly. The repressed anger of Rocket is pivotal to Vol. 2‘s broader character development, and he and Groot are now the only ones without an extensive back-story. A comparison being drawn between Adam, this perfect being that possibly just saved the known universe in Avengers 4, and Rocket Raccoon, a creature filled with resentment at the life he’s been forced to live, by way of their combined experience as creations unsure of their purpose would be very sentimental stuff. And going by Vol. 2‘s ending scene, Gunn is unafraid of playing on the audience’s emotions.
Until we see Avengers: Infinity War, there will likely be more questions than answers on the nature of the MCU’s Adam Warlock. But if Kevin Feige, James Gunn, and co. are sticking to the comics as much as all of the clues so far indicate they are, Warlock is going to be a game-changer, no matter the result, and a very exciting one at that.