The second trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania revealed a lot about the forthcoming film. Yet, a brief glimpse of the villain MODOK, full giant human face and all, shows once again knee-jerk Marvel Studios critics overreacted. The villain in question is, in a word, ridiculous. The Mechanized (or Mental or Mobile) Organism Designed Only for Killing is a Jack Kirby and Stan Lee original. Ostensibly, he is a giant head and face with tiny arms and legs that shoot lasers.
A perfect B-List villain for Marvel Comics, MODOK, in theory, should never be a contender for a live-action adaptation in any kind of “grounded” comic book film universe. Yet, not only are the madcap mayhem makers at Marvel giving him to fans — they are providing the full MODOK. An earlier leak of his design sent some critics into a reactionary outrage because the character looked, well, mechanized. Specifically, he sported a full-face mask, which the trailer revealed is a kind of battle mode. But now that fans know the truth about MODOK, the question becomes how much does Marvel Studios have to get right before fans trust them?
Phase Four Tonal Shift Aside, Marvel Studios Always Pulls Off the Impossible
From making Thor and Iron Man pop culture movie icons to how it finagled Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Marvel Studios achieved near-countless unlikely successes. Even the shared-universe nature of the MCU bucked the conventional wisdom of Hollywood at the time. Yet, Marvel Studios pulled it off. Even the rare misses are rectified. When Helmut Zemo showed up in Captain America: Civil War, fans lamented that he was just a guy. When the character popped up in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he had a comics-accurate look, complete with an impractical purple mask.
Marvel tried to get Namor into a film for the better part of the 21st Century. While the character was in film development hell, fans and media speculators knew two things for certain. First, Namor would not be half-naked like in the comics. Second, he would not have those goofy little feet wings. Yet, when the character finally appeared in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, he had both unlikely characteristics. That he actually still managed to look like a badass is to the credit of Tenoch Huerta as much as the Marvel Studios character design magicians.
The glimpse of MODOK in the Quantumania trailer seems like a message from Marvel to fans to chill out. In 2022, the Marvel Studios Assembled for She-Hulk: Attorney at Law described in painstaking detail how difficult these full-CGI characters are to realize. Thankfully, some fans recognized the first peek at MODOK was merely a glimpse.
The MCU Gets Much More ‘Right’ Than It Gets ‘Wrong’
The portion of the MCU audience who already knows who MODOK is, arguably, should merely thank Kevin Feige for sneaking such a ludicrous character past Disney executives. That’s good for him because comic book stories and low-budget horror movies are the only cinematic spaces where silly can also be scary. Even if MODOK was a “miss,” those Marvel stories have a way of aging well. Thor: The Dark World plays a lot differently with the character’s four successive movies in mind. Even Kang, being green, purple and sporting a blue face, could be peak camp. Yet, the snippets of Jonathan Majors’ performance seen thus far suggest this version of the Conqueror is anything but.
The Guardians of the Galaxy long proved how silly yet serious tones could blend into a Marvel story, but the inclusion of MODOK is more like what James Gunn did at DC. At the end of The Suicide Squad, another mish-mash of humor and heart, Starro the Conqueror made his live-action debut. He’s just a starfish with an eyeball at the center. MODOK is a big, weird head. Yet, both of these utterly stupid antagonists are able to convey emotional experiences to the characters and audience. Audiences have to work hard not to be moved when Starro says with its dying breath, “I was happy, floating, staring at the stars.” And director Peyton Reed and writer Jeff Loveness will find a way to tug viewers’ heartstrings with MODOK.
Marvel Studios is hamstrung in various ways when weaving narratives. For example, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver couldn’t be Magneto’s children. Yet, where it lacks one-to-one accuracy in the details, the stories still feel like the books. At the very least, from Iron Man to MODOK, characters will look like they were grabbed right off the page.
To see if MODOK’s design works, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania debuts in theaters Feb. 17.