While Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is currently doing better than expected in terms of box office numbers, there’s one aspect of the film that has been dominating the conversation landscape that one could also argue was much better than expected and that aspect was the film’s villain, High Evolutionary. Played by Chikwude Iwuji, High Evolutionary is only referred to by his title rather than the name he has in the comics, and the film is the better for it. James Gunn wanted High Evolutionary to be the “MCU’s cruelest villain” and he wanted to avoid the trap of humanizing him like the Russo’s had done with Thanos or Kang. Well, mission accomplished.
By not giving High Evolutionary a name, it forces us to simply view him in terms of what and who he is to those around him. He’s clearly an intelligent man and he clearly has the ability to do tremendous things, but he’s driven by a narcissism and need for perfection that we only find in the worst of humanity. Much like Adolf Hitler, his singular focus on the creation of a perfect and genetically superior society means that any slight imperfection or flaw must be stamped out with unrepentant zealousness.
We don’t just get Rocket’s account of the story either, Quill and his entire team are able to witness these experiments are their callous disregard for life through the recordings he made to advance perfection. In this vein, High Evolutionary is no different than someone like Josef Mengele, seeking to experiment on beings for the purpose of upgrading or enhancing or even dismantling an individual, resorting to eugenics and extermination once the specimens had served their purpose to him. There’s no form of twisted altruism present in High Evolutionary like there was Thanos. No, he’s not concerned with balance in any way. He seeks to tip the scales toward perfection.
One might try to argue that he was trying to create a perfect world, but that argument is destroyed by the fact that he was completely willing to blow it and everyone inside it to pieces because he wanted to destroy the Guardians and Rocket more than he even cared about his experiments. When faced with the choice of himself or his “work,” High Evolutionary chose himself. Thanos was at least willing to destroy the stones to prevent their further use. Kang has variants seeking to stop some of his more authoritarian shelves. High Evolutionary quite literally destroyed everyone and everything he’d created just because it opposed him.
When we talk about comic book villains and the impact they had on films, I genuinely hope this performance is given its flowers. Iwuje played a character so completely unlikable that I heard moviegoers scream “f%#k yeah” at the top of their lungs when he met his end. Nobody wanted this dude to last for more than a second longer than he had to in the film. If that’s not the definition of a well-played villain, I’m not sure I could provide one at all. This was a performance for the record books.
High Evolutionary became the great villain performance in the entire MCU. Thanos remains my favorite villain, but this simply must go down as the greatest true-villain performance in the history of the MCU. I’m reasonably sure Thanos would have killed High Evolutionary, that’s how awful he was. That’s why High Evolutionary never needed a name in the film and I would be willing to bet that’s why James Gunn opted not to have him referred to as anything other than High Evolutionary, as well. Chikwude Iwuji just made comic movie history and he did it all without even being given a name.