Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania Doesn't Do Justice To The Marvel Comics MODOK

This post contains spoilers for "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania."

In both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel movies produced by other studios like Sony and Fox, there's a long history of bungling if not outright butchering great comic book villains. The Marvel Comics version of M.O.D.O.K. isn't in the same league as classic Fantastic Four baddies like Doctor Doom and Galactus, or top-tier X-Men villains like Apocalypse and Sabretooth. However, M.O.D.O.K. has been floating around in his Doomsday Chair — the hoverchair that supports the weight of his head — since 1967, and he's at least enough of a power player to have spawned his own stop-motion animated series, where he was voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt.

M.O.D.O.K. now joins the ranks of all the other poorly realized Marvel movie villains of the 2000s courtesy "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania," which has made a live-action mess of him.

In "Quantumania," we're told that M.O.D.O.K. stands for "Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing," and when he makes his first entrance, it inspires fear, the way he cuts through living buildings and quantum people on the battlefield. The first reveal of M.O.D.O.K. without his mask is a joke, obviously, but the joke wears thin as the shock value wears off and the cold reality of a CG character who is one huge eyesore sets in.

Corey Stoll's giant M.O.D.O.K. face is stretched as thin as the overworked VFX artists that Marvel Studios employs to make movies like "Quantumania." Either it's awesomely bad, just plain bad, or some new category of quantum performance art that's off the map entirely. One thing it definitely isn't, though, is true to the evil-genius spirit of the comics' M.O.D.O.K.

'At least I died an Avenger'

It seems like the filmmakers decided to just throw caution to the wind in "Quantumania" and go full-tilt M.O.D.O.K. without really nailing how to adapt his inherently ridiculous design (the way "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" did with Arnim Zola's digitized head). He's got two basic modes in this movie: one where he looks tolerable but sounds iffy, and one where he looks unsettingly strange but sounds tolerable.

Some comic book illustrations of M.O.D.O.K., like Eric Powell's cover art for "Super-Villain Team-Up: MODOK's 11" #1, have depicted him as sinister and red-eyed, almost prune-faced like Thanos. MODOK does look sinister in his armored "Quantumania" form, but they do a metallic effect with his voice, and it just doesn't work.

The character of M.O.D.O.K., created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, made his first full appearance in "Tales of the Suspense" #94, where his face was likewise wrinkly and sucked in on itself below an oversized forehead with a mutated brain inside. That's the thing about M.O.D.O.K.: he's super smart, not just someone whose defining trait is "being a dick." Historically, M.O.D.O.K. served not as Kang's disposable henchman, but as the leader of A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics). But "Iron Man 3" already showed Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian leading A.I.M.

Bringing "Darren" from the first "Ant-Man" movie back in "Quantumania" does bring this unlikely superhero trilogy full circle, but it also means M.O.D.O.K. and the unpopular Yellowjacket are the same villain, who's now reformed and dead. That has the effect of shrinking, Ant Man-style, what is already a tenuous rogues gallery in the MCU.

About the only thing that feels right about Yellowjacket/M.O.D.O.K. in "Quantumania" is his line, "At least I died an Avenger." In the comics, the Hank Pym version of Yellowjacket actually was an Avenger.

Not enough leg work

Some people might find M.O.D.O.K. funny. The person next to me in the theater kept laughing every time he appeared onscreen, and I was happy M.O.D.O.K. made them happy. I even chuckled along with them nervously, but the rest of our packed theater was mostly quiet during M.O.D.O.K.'s scenes, and you have to wonder: what were they — both the audience and the filmmakers — thinking? It's clear no one really took the character seriously, and it's a little sad to see yet another villain with a rich comic book history reduced to a lame punchline.

At times, I was just rendered speechless by the aggressively over-the-top spectacle of M.O.D.O.K., who refused to fade into the background or be ignored. Put that in a "Quantumania" blurb somewhere: "Rendered speechless." That's the only phrase that gets anywhere near the complex mixture of emotions brought on by the sight of the wobbliest MCU villain this side of the (still-abominable-looking) Abomination.

There have been enough good MCU antagonists now, like Killmonger in "Black Panther" or even Kang himself in "Quantumania," that we know Marvel Studios is capable of coming up with one when they set their mind to it. The problem is, by Kevin Feige's own admission, they're often more focused on the heroes, disinclined to do the real leg work of translating a good villain to the screen the way they did with Thanos (who dominated "The Infinity Gauntlet" comic book miniseries and got his own antihero's journey in the "Avengers: Infinity War" movie).

With M.O.D.O.K., this problem is exacerbated by his short legs, which they'd rather poke fun at than engage with in an honest manner. Yes, Hollywood, M.O.D.O.K. has baby legs, but so did all of us at one time in our lives. Show some empathy for a supervillain!

Bring back Patton Oswalt

In the MCU, villains are often mere afterthoughts. They're a plot device to be killed off after one movie, rehabilitated like Loki or Spider-Man's rogues in "No Way Home," or maybe later brought back for a cameo like the Red Skull in "Avengers: Infinity War" or Crossbones in "Captain America: Civil War." "Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania" continues the losing streak of Marvel Comics villains in live-action, but M.O.D.O.K. takes things to a desperate new level. It's as if there's a world before M.O.D.O.K., and a world after M.O.D.O.K.

Forget Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is Year Zero of the Post-M.O.D.O.K. Era. Right now, moviegoers and Marvel Comics readers can only gaze up at Corey Stoll's living Funko Pop head in "Quantumania" and react as the X-Man Beast would: "Oh, my stars and garters. That's M.O.D.O.K.?!"

After cringing through M.O.D.O.K. scenes in "Ant-Man and the Wasp and Quantumania," I have a suggestion: bring back Patton Oswalt. Throw a suit on him and do a retcon like they did with another great comics villain they botched the first time around: the Mandarin. Either that, or you could put a different, more comics-faithful interpretation of M.O.D.O.K. in a future episode of the animated "What If...?" series. Make him hyper-intelligent, a mastermind with a face as malevolent as Warwick Davis's title slasher villain in "Leprechaun" (who, lest we forget, was a pot of box office gold). He might be better suited to animation, anyway.

In conclusion, yes, M.O.D.O.K. is a ginormous face, but did he have to be so, well, in your face in "Quantumania?" Here's looking forward to the live-action Patton Oswalt version of M.O.D.O.K. in "Ant-Man and the Wasp 6" in 2031.