James Gunn may be starting a big new job as the joint CEO of DC Studios, but the writer/director still has unfinished business in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3" brings his space opera trilogy to a close, and he's embraced the opportunity to introduce Adam Warlock (one of the mainstays of Marvel Comics' interstellar adventures) to the MCU.
Played by Will Poulter, this version of Adam is engineered by the Sovereigns to take the Guardians down, but this is just the latest evolution of a character who's been both a hero and a villain over the course of his 50-year career. Here's everything you need to know about Adam Warlock's comic-book history and how he fits into the movie continuity.
"Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3" spoilers ahead!
If you haven't seen it yet and you're on the fence, go check out our Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3 review - it's light on spoilers and well worth a read.
Who is Adam Warlock?
The character now known as Adam Warlock made his Marvel Comics debut in "Fantastic Four #66-67" back in 1967. Like so many of the superhero superstars of the era, he was the creation of writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby, though back then he was known simply as Him.
While his Marvel Cinematic Universe self was born in outer space, the comic-book version of Adam Warlock was genetically engineered on Earth by the Enclave, a group of scientists who thought they could create a perfect individual. It wasn't long before Him rebelled against his masters, however – in fact, he became so disillusioned with the human race that he soon left for outer space, where he crossed paths with Thor and Sif.
When did Him become Adam Warlock?
Him's initial run in Marvel Comics was comparatively short-lived, and it was during Roy Thomas's tenure as editor-in-chief during the 1970s – most notably while Jim Starlin was writing for the character – that the superhuman we now know as Adam Warlock was born.
The being formerly known as Him made his comeback in April 1972's "Marvel Premiere #1", gracing the cover alongside Thor and the Hulk, under the title "The Power of Warlock".
This new-and-improved Him was given additional powers when super-intelligent being the High Evolutionary embedded the Soul Gem (one of the Infinity Gems/Stones) in his forehead (much like Vision has the Mind Stone in his head). The High Evolutionary also named him Warlock and asked him to protect Counter-Earth (a new, supposedly improved version of Earth) from Man-Beast. It was kids on Counter-Earth who dubbed him Adam.
What abilities does Adam Warlock have?
As befits a character built to be the best a man can be, Adam Warlock has quite the skill set. He can fly, absorb and shoot energy, and even rearrange matter on a molecular level.
He's also effectively immortal, thanks to his ability to build himself a regenerative cocoon when his power levels run low.
What are the notable moments on Adam Warlock's resumé?
It's impossible to sum up more than half a century of adventures here, but it's safe to say that Mr Warlock has crossed paths with some of the biggest names in Marvel. Over the years he's encountered several incarnations of the multiverse-hopping Kang, been both an ally and an enemy of Thanos, and even fought an evil, future version of himself known as Magus. He's also worked extensively with Gamora and Pip the Troll (seen briefly at the end of "Eternals"), and been a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
He also showed up in 2021's Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy video game, which was heavily inspired by the Magus storyline from the comics.
How does Adam Warlock fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
"The apogee of his people" to some, a "super douche with raygun hands" to others, the MCU version of Adam Warlock wasn't spawned by the Enclave. Instead he was created by Ayesha (played by Elizabeth Debicki), Golden High Priestess of the Sovereign, at the end of "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2".
Still smarting from defeat at the hands of Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot, Drax and Mantis – and eager to regain favor with the Sovereign council – she constructs a new type of birthing pod. She describes its contents as "the next step in our evolution. More powerful, more beautiful, more capable of destroying the Guardians of the Galaxy. I think I shall call him… Adam."
By the time "Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3" comes around, Adam has emerged from his cocoon – slightly earlier than originally planned – to carry out the orders of the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji). (The High Evolutionary created the Sovereigns, which presumably makes him Adam's grandad.)
Ayesha describes Adam (Will Poulter) as the "warlock", and he has the same golden appearance as the other Sovereigns, though – like Vision – he has a crystal embedded in his forehead. (It's unconfirmed whether this rock is one of the Infinity Stones.) This Adam can fly, survive in the vacuum of space, and fire powerful energy blasts from his hands.
Writer/director James Gunn first teased Adam's cocoon in the post-credits Collector scene from "Thor: The Dark World", though that exhibit looks very different to the birthing pod that later appears in "Guardians 3".
What happens to Adam Warlock in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3?
Seriously, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 spoilers ahead. If you want our spoiler-free take on the movie, check out our Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 review.
Although Adam isn't the antagonist of the movie – that honor falls to the Grand Evolutionary – he's the catalyst who sets the plot in motion. Tasked with recovering Rocket (aka test subject 89P13), he causes chaos on Knowhere, leaving Nebula, Drax and Mantis looking the worse for wear, and Groot without a body – luckily it doesn't take long to grow back. Although Adam's mission is unsuccessful, Rocket is so badly injured that the Guardians set out to save his life by recovering a code that will override the kill switch embedded in his body.
Adam is a massive disappointment to the High Evolutionary, who has little time for his failures. Adam continues the hunt for Rocket, however, and reveals himself to be a whiny teenager in superhero form. "I'm the warlock, mum, and I am done with being ordered around," he moans to Ayesha, before going a little bit far while interrogating a Ravager captured on the Orgosphere. As well as incinerating the prisoner's body, he fails to realize that a pet F'saki won't be a great source of intel.
Adam does have a redemption arc, however, albeit a very slow one. Having dispatched one of the High Evolutionary's hench-animals – they're on the same team but Adam would like to take credit for nabbing Rocket – he's left severely weakened by the explosion that kills Ayesha on Counter-Earth.
But, after escaping the High Evolutionary's ship with the Guardians, hundreds of captured children and a menagerie of cute animals, Adam gets a full-on hero moment when he rescues Star-Lord from the vacuum of space. By the end of the film, he's been recruited to Rocket's new-look Guardians line-up, where he reveals an unexpected interest in prog-rock legends King Crimson. Who knew?