Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania's MODOK Looks Unsettlingly Strange, And It's Terrible

The following post contains spoilers for "Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania."

M.O.D.O.K., which stands for Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing (one of several versions of his name), is one of the weirder Marvel Comics characters out there. For instance, one of the origin stories is that he was an employee of an arms-dealing organization who underwent experiments to increase his intelligence that made his head big and his body stunted. He's a goofy-looking little dude that flies around in a hover chair, yelling a lot. M.O.D.O.K. is one of those characters that works better on the page of a comic book than on a screen. I won't go into his backstory in the comics here because M.O.D.O.K. has a different one in "Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania," but let's simply say that it isn't any less weird. 

The idea of taking him from ink to animation in Marvel's recent Hulu series "M.O.D.O.K." made total sense. Animation isn't limited by realism, physics, or anatomy in the same way live-action is. The idea of seeing a giant head on a tiny body doing silly things in animation doesn't jar the senses. Plus, the role was voiced by the inimitable Patton Oswalt, who could make a list of silverware sound funny. No one is tuning into a series like that expecting anything to be grounded in reality. Perhaps that is where he should have stayed. Unfortunately, he didn't, and M.O.D.O.K. is now a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 

M.O.D.O.K. isn't dealing with a troubled marriage like he is in the animated series. He isn't selling arms. He's a henchman for Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors), and the reveal of his face and identity is upsetting at best and nightmare-inducing at worst.

Please Darren, just keep the mask on

First off, I do want to say that, outside of the Taika Waititi "Thor" films, the Ant-Man titles do seem like they would have been the best fit for M.O.D.O.K. The first two had a much lighter tone, and they largely stayed that way throughout. If you asked anyone where he might show up, this would likely be the movie people named. My initial quibble isn't with which film he showed up in, despite the fact that "Quantumania" can't seem to get a handle on whether it's light or dark and can't find a balance between them. It's that he showed up in the live-action MCU at all. 

Look, some things work on camera, and some do not. If you're going the comedy route (and why bother when Oswalt already mastered that in Hulu's stop-motion animated comedy series, pictured above), you have to ground the look in some sort of reality so you can get extra goofy with the character himself. If you're going for drama, which would make sense for Kang's henchman (Kang isn't a funny guy), you've got to make this tragic and explain it more. Why did this physical transformation happen? Was his intelligence supposed to go up? If so, why hasn't it? If I'm accepting the Kang this film is presenting, then he's too smart to create something as inelegant as this monstrosity.

Nightmare fuel

As you likely know, M.O.D.O.K. is a transformed version of Corey Stoll's Darren Cross, aka Yellowjacket, who was shrunk down to a tiny size in the Quantum Realm. Cross was the big villain from the first film, and it's a reference to that where we see that "Quantumania" is going to be playing M.O.D.O.K. for laughs. Cassie (Kathryn Newton) makes a comment about how a guy dressed as a bee attacked her when she was little. The reveal and subsequent fights and death are played for laughs. When you have someone in a film like Stoll, who is an incredible actor, this seems like a wasted opportunity, but in the end, it's the look that really destroys any threat from M.O.D.O.K., and it's the stupidity of the photorealistic face that makes this a terrible addition to the film (catch a glimpse starting at the 55-second mark in the theatrical trailer).

When the faceplate of the giant M.O.D.O.K. helmet opens, it's not just Stoll's normal face we see. It's a stretched-out face that reminds one of nothing more than the "Teletubbies" sun baby visage. There is some serious uncanny valley going on here, with the oddly elongated grin and silly expression. What I'm struggling to understand is how a studio can spend so much money on an entire CGI environment and let what looks like the result of a broken video game cheat code stand as the live-action premiere of a character that's been around since 1967. Frankly, this entire plotline could have been scrapped, and no one would have noticed. 

"Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania" is currently in theaters.