Mainstream pop culture-oriented movies have been obsessed with portraying antagonists with sympathetic backstories for almost a few decades now, and while that provides a chance for compelling storytelling by making the audience root for the adversary, it has become too repetitive at this point. In the MCU, this trend is particularly perceivable where any mention-worthy antagonistic performance like the mad Titan Thanos or the justifiable terrorist Eric Killmonger falls under the same trope, and even the maniacal Green Goblin was excused by his split personality disorder. Every once in a while, viewers need adversaries whom they can truly loathe, whose moral compass is so askew, and whose calculative actions and motivations are so vile that the binary between opposing forces seems really prominent. Thankfully, James Gunn introduced one such antagonist through the character Herbert Wyndham, aka High Evolutionary, in his latest release, Guardians of the Galaxy 3, a character irredeemably deplorable and pathetic to his very core.
With the concluding installment of the Guardians trilogy, James Gunn manages to break the curse of the series plagued by forgettable villains, as actor Chukwudi Iwuji owns the role of the megalomaniac despot with a layered allusion to real-world oppressors. We will briefly discuss the comic-book origin of the character and the way he has been utilized in the MCU to better appreciate the role.
Comic-Book Origin Of High Evolutionary
Unlike the MCU, where the character is portrayed as belonging to a non-human species, High Evolutionary in comics was a brilliant human scientist named Herbert Wyndham, who was inspired by Mister Sinister’s works to uncover the mysteries of evolution. A young Herbert was helped by an inhuman geneticist named Phaeder, who supplied him with the genetic information he needed to make a breakthrough in his research as he synthesized a serum that enabled genetic alteration. Herbert was joined by scientist Jonathan Drew (father of Spider-Woman Jessica Drew) as the duo created a base of operations in the seclusion of Mount Wundagore, and Herbert would play a key role in the origin of characters like Spider-Woman, Maximoff twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, and Adam Warlock, but his most cherished creation was New-Men, the genetically modified animals turned into sentient humanoids, whom he wanted to station on a corruption-less world, which he created and named “Counter-Earth’.
In the course of his experiments, he also created a power armor suit for himself, evolved his own brain to its maximum potential, and gained immense psionic powers as well. Having the powers to evolve or devolve life forms at his whim, High Evolutionary naturally turned into an apathetic researcher, and one of his New-Men, named Man-Beast, revolted against him. Later, Herbert’s maniacal drive to create evolved life forms led him to square off with the likes of Galactus and even the Beyonders, and surprisingly, he bested the former as well.
The Motivations And Actions Of High Evolutionary In The MCU
In the MCU version of the character, not much of an origin story or background information has been provided, except at the get-go, we learn about his zeal for creating a ‘perfect’ society by creating sentient, humanoid life forms by experimenting on what he considers “lesser species” having lower intellect, from across the galaxy. The character has existed through centuries and has created the highly advanced alien race known as Sovereigns, but even they could not satisfy his desire to reach the pinnacle of created life forms. The motto of his experiments is to transform creations into the way they ‘should’ be instead of letting them remain the way they are. At some point in time, High Evolutionary visits Earth and gets amused by the art, culture, and every other fine pursuit, and decides to create a planet of his own to mimic all these, barring the crime and bigotry part, which ironically evokes revulsion in him considering his own discriminatory nature against life forms as one of the major seeds of bigotry. High Evolutionary created this world of his and named it ‘Counter-Earth,’ with the intention of populating it with the best ‘specimens’ of his creation.
His visit to every corner of the galaxy led to him coming across various species, which he imprisoned, tortured, and mutilated through centuries in his mad quest to attain perfection, and on one such occasion, he created a sentient raccoon who named himself Rocket. The creature became exceptionally gifted in intellectual attributes and helped High Evolutionary create his desired life form of sentient humanoid animals who can live in harmony in the form that the scientist envisioned. However, for the oppressive Evolutionary, anything less than what he deems perfect is disposable and redundant, and hence he seeks to purge his ‘failed’ creations, much to the dismay of Rocket, as his friends (fellow experimented creatures) end up in the crosshairs. Rocket tries to break his friends free, but the megalomaniac kills them, and as an appropriate response, an anguished Rocket brutally mutilates his face.
A connoisseur of art, the High Evolutionary likes to pretend to be a savior, and by creating the bioengineering company named Orgocorp, he likes to uphold the image of a benefactor striving for the betterment of intergalactic healthcare. But behind this façade, the likeness to real-world dictators is unmistakable, as he keeps referring to his oppressed creations in codes, a horrific reminder of the suffering of people in real life who were brutalized in concentration camps. Evolutionary is also afflicted by the God complex, as he considers himself fit enough to dictate the fate and lives of the beings he created as he wishes to. But this version of God is the vengeful, unchanging, furiously controlling God of the Old Testament, who purges his creations through a ‘cleansing’ process for the fault of having ‘flaws’ in their design as he bombards Counter-Earth to annihilate all the creations. This is evident from the very first scene in which he appears, extending his hand to a trembling Rocket, which only follows with negative connotations. After his creation, Rocket Racoon bests him in the very trait he envisions himself to be supreme in: intelligence; Evolutionary gets maniacally obsessed with gaining hold of his brain in order to make a vain attempt to replicate something that is natural.
What this eugenics-spouting maniac fails to understand despite his apparently heightened intellect is that accepting unique differences is the key to harmony. His detachment from emotions blinded him so much that he failed to understand the brilliance of individuality; instead, he became hell-bent on shaping the world into a form that made sense only to him. In the face of utter humiliation and imminent defeat, his obsessed demeanor alienates his underlings, and he ends up decimating them as well, proving once again that the concept of honor or common traits that he projects himself to have never applied to him. Very aptly, his attached face is peeled off at the end, revealing the grotesque appearance underneath, a good indicator of his true self.