Guardians of the Galaxy 3’s High Evolutionary Is Already a Better Villain Than Kang
Kang the Conqueror is the new big bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the High Evolutionary in Guardians of the Galaxy 3 is already the more intriguing villain.
This articles contains spoilers for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
“You may hate the dictator, but something far worse is gonna fill that void if you depose of him.” Of course, this warning from He Who Remains from the finale of Loki season one referred to Kang the Conqueror, who we met in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. He Who Remain’s ominous words were intended to foreshadow the level of devastation his Variant could wreak, building the anticipation for Kang’s true debut as the big bad for Marvel Phases Four, Five, and Six, a trio dubbed “the Multiverse Saga.”
Meanwhile, the vile High Evolutionary arrived in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 with little build-up. Fans flocked to the theater to see how James Gunn would end his Guardians trilogy, with the marketing relegating High Evolutionary to a footnote for the real draw to the film, the long-awaited origin story of fan-favorite Rocket Raccoon.
And yet, Chukwudi Iwuji’s High Evolutionary steals the show in his first outing and has quickly become a key topic of conversation among the fandom despite (or because of) his pure, unbridled cruelty and megalomaniacal goals. Even with only one movie to go on, some fans are starting to wonder whether Marvel pinned its hopes on the wrong madman to carry its second film saga.
Why Marvel Chose Kang Over High Evolutionary as the Villain of the Multiverse Saga
Comic book readers understand why Kevin Feige chose Kang as the next big bad, especially over the lesser-known High Evolutionary. With Thanos already spent, and the film rights to the greatest Marvel villains Dr. Doom, Galactus, and Magneto only recently re-acquired by Disney, Kang was the next biggest bad guy in the company’s stable. For decades, Kang and his Variants Rama-Tut, Immortus, and Scarlet Centurion have terrorized the heroes of Marvel Comics, posing a threat that only the biggest Avengers lineup can thwart.
Conversely, High Evolutionary has relatively idiosyncratic goals on the page and on screen. Although he starred as the chief bad guy in the 1988 company-wide crossover The Evolutionary War (and even then got out-monologued by Apocalypse in X-Factor), High Evolutionary largely likes to keep to himself, conducting his weird experiments on other planets or hidden mountains. The result is a lower profile than Kang, a larger-than-life bad guy who’s always seemed ready-made for the big screen. Simply put, before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, it would have been difficult to argue that High Evolutionary could ever be as big of a draw for Marvel fans.
High Evolutionary’s Powers vs. Kang’s Powers
That said, at first glance, the High Evolutionary and Kang have comparable power sets. Although we’re told that High Evolutionary is alien, unlike his human comic book counterpart Herbert Wyndham, his abilities seem to come from his gadgets and armor, just like Kang. And for both men, those powers seem largely energy-based, shooting laser blasts, emitting pulses that destroy everything within a certain radius, and holding enemies in stasis.
High Evolutionary uses that last ability to push Adam Warlock into a ship’s bulkhead, threatening to crush the Superman-esque being. When Kang uses his stasis powers, he directs them at Scott Lang, who may be charmless and never-aging but is hardly a physical threat.
Even worse, Kang’s biggest acts of destruction are all talk. During Janet’s monologue, we briefly see images of explosions on a timeline branch, illustrating her point that Kang has destroyed both planets and realities. But we don’t have a full understanding of what he’s done.
Conversely, we watch New Men die and towns explode when High Evolutionary destroys Counter-Earth (a planet he created, by the way). We see the deaths of animal hybrid New Men (which High Evolutionary also created), but also Ayesha of the Sovereign (which High Evolutionary ALSO created).
Finally, High Evolutionary fell only at the hands of the combined Guardians of the Galaxy, while Kang was defeated by ants. Yes, evolved super ants. But still, ants.
The Malevolent Motivations of High Evolutionary and Kang
This “show don’t tell” approach makes High Evolutionary the more compelling villain on a far less grand scale. We get to see him at the height of his power, with motivations that feel far more unique than Kang’s more standard “conquer the multiverse” plans.
When we meet Kang in Quantumania, he’s at a low point, having been exiled to the Quantum Realm by his other selves. He forms a friendship with Janet, but she also abandons him (at least, that’s how he puts it). Thus, Jonathan Majors plays Kang as someone lonely and a little depressed, angry about the old wounds reopened by Janet’s return. Despite the CGI world in which he lives, there’s something relatable about Kang and his plight.
Hopefully, none of us relate to High Evolutionary. Throughout the movie, High Evolutionary tortures and irradicates animals, even when they gain human sentience. He repeatedly describes himself as a creator, going so far as to bellow, “There is no God” when a subordinate invokes divinity. “That’s why I had to step in,” he sneers. Even when High Evolutionary does show a relatable emotion like frustration, it’s because reality fails to live up to his ideals of perfection. Everything is lesser to him. High Evolutionary forgoes almost all humanity otherwise, making him more of a force of nature.
In the past, Marvel has shied away from portraying villains as truly irredeemable. For example, Thanos thinks he’s saving a resource-hungry universe from itself by wiping half the population; Killmonger believes he is righting injustices against his people; Loki eventually becomes an anti-hero; Guardians of the Galaxy‘s own Ronan the Accuser is largely played for laughs. But with High Evolutionary, Marvel has delivered a baddie so inhumane, so deeply evil, that we cannot help but be mesmerized by him, even if it’s only to find new ways to hate him. It’s refreshing for a cinematic universe now 15 years into its run.
Could High Evolutionary Replace Kang as the Villain of the Multiverse Saga?
When Rocket lets High Evolutionary live at the end of Guardians Vol. 3, he does so out of personal development, not studio planning. But should Marvel decide to move High Evolutionary onto a bigger stage, potentially making him the real big bad of Phases 5 and 6, they’ll find plenty of storytelling material in the comics.
Beyond the already-teased rivalry with Adam Warlock, High Evolutionary has connections to several established and upcoming characters in the MCU that he could easily set up. Herbert Wyndham was a student of Nathaniel Essex, aka Mr. Sinister, and has gone to battle with Apocalypse many times because of his interest in mutants, including the X-Men. Furthermore, when he’s not on Counter-Earth, High Evolutionary sets up shop on Mount Wundagore — seen in WandaVision and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness — where his New Men not only formed the Knights of Wundagore, but his bovine creation Bova served as caretaker for young Wanda and Pietro Maximoff in the comics.
At the time of this writing, rumors suggest that Marvel is weighing replacing Majors due to his current legal troubles, with another actor stepping into the Kang role and otherwise hold to their plans. Some fans have already floated the idea online that Marvel should rewrite High Evolutionary as another one of Kang’s variants so that Iwuji can step in for Majors in future movies. But even if Marvel were looking for a completely different baddie to take center stage, High Evolutionary has made a convincing case as the worst dude in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.