Marvel Explained is our ongoing series where we delve into the latest Marvel shows, movies, trailers, and news stories to divine the franchise’s future. This entry looks to Will Poulter’s casting as Adam Warlock and examines why it represents a cosmic shift in the MCU. Yes, prepare for comic book SPOILERS.
Ever since Marvel Studios went to space, we’ve heard whispers of Adam Warlock‘s arrival. In Guardians of the Galaxy, an enormous cocoon can be seen popping from the shadows of The Collector’s collection. Its appearance stirred whispers from certain members in the audience: “Is that Him?” Turns out, no, not so much. But in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, during its many end-credits scenes, Elizabeth Debicki’s golden Ayesha stares longingly at a technologically enhanced cocoon and declares the occupant inside as “Adam.” Finally, there was confirmation. A crucial component to the comic book Infinity War was on his way.
Then writer-director James Gunn got booted and rehired, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 drifted further down the timeline.
Now, years later, Adam Warlock has his cinematic avatar: Will Poulter. The exemplar of the geeky (We Are The Millers), the treacherous (Detroit), and the geekily treacherous (Midsommar) will slap on a golden sheen as the cosmic crusader who originally retired Thanos to his farm. If treated with the same reverence as his comic book counterpart, Poulter’s Warlock will be crucial in weaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe through its next annihilation wave.
As you guys know I often strike down false rumors, so… um…
Welcome to the Guardians family, Will Poulter. He’s an amazing actor and wonderful guy. See you in a couple weeks. #AdamWarlock #GotGVol3 https://t.co/RaNeGDIC0E
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) October 11, 2021
Adam Warlock’s Utterly Bonkers Comic Book Origin
Adam Warlock is another Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creation. He’s been around for a while — four decades. He first appeared minus a name in Fantastic Four #66. Referred to only as “Him,” Warlock was an artificial being created by a scientific organization called, The Enclave. He rebelled against his creators, bringing him into conflict with Reed Richards’ family, as well as the mighty Thor. After their skirmish, Warlock fled Earth for space, where he acquired the Soul Stone.
When Warlock encounters his future self, a religious zealot known as The Magus, he learns that his intense relationship with the Soul Stone is poisoning his mind. To defeat his double, Warlock aligns himself with Gamora, Thanos, and Pip the Troll. Together, they defeat the devil by jumping ahead in time, stealing that Warlock’s soul, and imprisoning it inside the gem. Uh, how does that all work, exactly? It’s best not to trouble yourself and just roll with it. Cosmic stuff, man.
Through his explorations of the Soul Stone, Warlock discovers the existence of the other five Infinity Stones. As does Thanos. Whatever mutual understanding they had is obliterated as the Mad Titan races to claim the other gems. During their first battle, another version of Warlock appears, this time, it’s his younger self, and now he traps the Prime Warlock inside the Soul Stone.
Within the gem is Soul World, an extradimensional realm where the dead thrive without their corporal bodies. Warlock is reunited with friends thought long lost, and he’s let out only momentarily so that he can transform Thanos into a hunk of stone. Of course, such obstacles can’t halt the bumpy-chinned dictator, and he violently frees himself from his granite prison.
It’s at this point where the comic book version of the Infinity Gauntlet storyline begins. The Silver Surfer (cinematically attempted in 20th Century Studios’ second Fantastic Four movie) enters Soul World and convinces Warlock, once more, to join the fight against Thanos. When the dust settles on their battle, featuring basically every hero in the Marvel Universe going up against the Titan, Warlock controls the Gauntlet. He uses its power to purge good and evil from his being and ascends into a God-like state.
From this moment forward in the Marvel comics universe, if the Infinity Gauntlet or its Stones are ever mentioned, Warlock can’t be too far behind. He’s as critical to its narrative as Thanos. They are entwined, and it’s why comic readers have been buzzing for the character’s emergence ever since Thanos cracked his smile in 2012’s The Avengers.
Before I start work today wanted to try #willpoulter Adam Warlock! @JamesGunn has not failed us yet so I am excited to see where this goes!, congrats Will pic.twitter.com/BniO3w4gpV
— BossLogic (@Bosslogic) October 12, 2021
Plunging into the Deep End of Marvel’s Cosmic Pool
Obviously, the Marvel movies went another way. They always do. There’s no single MCU film that walks the same path as its comic book cousin. From reading the books, you can gain insight into what might be coming and how these characters might interact with each other.
Kevin Feige and his crew did not require Adam Warlock for their Infinity Saga. But we do know that James Gunn has a particular affection for this character, and at one point, Warlock was heavily involved with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2‘s plot. Gunn eventually excised Him from the sequel because he needed more space for the franchise characters we already loved. And Gunn cared too much for Adam Warlock to sideline him into a minor role.
What’s abundantly clear when examining Warlock’s fictional history is that Marvel comics are damn weird. A character like Warlock is not something you throw at your audience while you’re getting to know them. Warlock requires a slow build, a dip into the sci-fi strange with Thor, then Guardians of the Galaxy, then Eternals.
Chloe Zhou’s upcoming film promises to acquaint its audience with the Celestials, the gargantuan space gods who tower over everything and everyone in the trailer. These deities are responsible for all life on our planet, and our existence resides in their will. The Eternals are our go-betweens; they speak for us to these unknowable intellects — imagine Dave Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey crossing the Stargate and transcending into the Star Child. They’ve graduated into supreme entities, a glimpse at our potential and possibly our future.
Let Your Soul Glow, Adam
Adam Warlock snuggles nicely next to these weirdos. He, too, is a new stage in sentient evolution. Granted, the MCU version won’t come from Earth, but via Ayesha’s rage. She wants vengeance against the Guardians of the Galaxy for their role in her battlefield humiliation. Warlock springs from her peoples’ science, but once he’s out in the universe, the decisions he makes will be his own.
It would be fascinating to see him connect with the Soul Stone in some fashion. Loki revealed that the Infinity Stones are not the all-mighty objects they once were, but the What If…? finale also suggested that we can’t think of them as relics either. The MCU audience sure would take notice if Will Poulter’s Adam Warlock suddenly appeared with the Soul Stone planted firmly in his foreheard like Vision and his Mind Stone.
We caught a brief glimpse of Soul World when Thanos snapped his fingers in Infinity War and awoke in a mystical plain where he spoke with his dead daughter. “What did it cost?” asked the child. “Everything,” answered the father.
Soul World offers tremendous dramatic potential. There, we could reconnect with the fallen: Tony Stark, Gamora, Killmonger, Natasha Romanoff, etc. Inside we could have one last goodbye, or we could simply pull them back into the action. Some of these characters we want to remain dead, but a few got a raw deal, and the MCU as it exists could sure use them.
Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill is an emotional wreck post-Endgame. He failed to save Gamora, and his rage over her death is one of several triggers that allowed Thanos to obliterate half the cosmos. An opportunity to speak with his beloved once more would be grand. And do we, as the audience, really want a Guardians of the Galaxy where they’re not together? Yes, there’s a Gamorra variant walking around out there, but that’s not the same. She’s not the same.
Adam Warlock is a get-out-of-jail card. He’s a gateway to Soul World and a method for many characters to confront and maybe even accept their failings. He offers an alien, outsider perspective. Like Spock, or better yet, Data from Star Trek, he can comment on our beauty and our horror and deliver forgiveness from an emotional, logical distance.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is due in theaters on May 3, 2023.
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