The premise of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania is pretty straightforward: It’s Star Wars meets Rick and Morty meets Marvel’s least-interesting superhero franchise. Aliens that look all weird! Spaceships! Gigantic ants! Horndog old dudes! The personification of evil facing off against the personification of good!
But all of that goofy, standard sci-fi stuff actually makes for one of the more interesting Marvel movies in a minute—aesthetically, at least. This is a Marvel movie that isn’t afraid to get ugly, but on purpose for once. So ugly, in fact, that it even introduces by far the most disgusting-looking Marvel character in the cinematic universe canon.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)
MODOK is one of Marvel’s most memorable characters, thanks to his uniquely unsettling visage. I seriously question what drugs Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were on that inspired his creation, because MODOK looks like the brainchild of some heavily psychedelic dream. (I do not speak from experience.) He has the limbs of a child and the body of an oversized, overweight jellybean. Introduced while encased in a metal super-suit, MODOK eventually unmasks himself to reveal that he has no neck, toros, or pelvis: He is 100-percent face.
He’s galling! He’s creepy! He’s a character that no one has dared to touch in the live-action realm—until Quantumania, that is. And bless Quantumania for taking one for the team and daring to bring this heinous creature to live-action. MODOK’s appearance is by far, the most exciting thing the movie has going for it: He represents a willingness to get really, really, really freaky with it. Like, nightmarishly freaky.
In comic book canon, MODOK—Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing, for long—began life as George Tartelon, who underwent an experimental surgery to boost his smarts. It backfired, turning him into this big-faced creature with compromised mobility and a thirst for blood. At least he’s really smart though!
In Quantumania, MODOK is Scott Lang’s (Paul Rudd) old coworker/frenemy Darren (Corey Stoll), whom he defeated in the first Ant-Man. For reasons that are typically convoluted, Darren has been reborn as MODOK. The big reveal of who’s behind the mask leads Scott and his daughter Cassie (whom Darren, in supervillain form, nearly killed) to cringe—both because it’s Darren and because he looks horrific. Instead of going full-CGI, director Peyton Reed decided to take Corey Stoll’s real face and edit it in Photoshop-like fashion, zooming in and stretching it to several times its regular size.
As MODOK, Darren’s role is to help Conqueror Kang (Jonathan Majors) break out of the quantum realm and go back to destroying timelines. But really, he’s here for comic relief. His attempts at convincing Scott and Cassie that he’s a threat are constantly undercut by his goofy social awkwardness and gangly limbs; even Kang can barely take him seriously.
Good thing Darren is funny, because he would otherwise be purely unbearable to look at. Worse, his MODOK would be a lazy way of introducing a fan-favorite comic character into the MCU, only to dispose of him quickly. Instead, Darren offers some of the film’s best lines, including his post-defeat words that, thanks to his decision to help Scott, he’s “dying as an Avenger.” (He’s not, but let the man die with dignity.)
Yes, he is gross, as MODOK is meant to be. (Perhaps this is why his Hulu series, in which Patton Oswalt voiced an animated version of the character, was canceled.) Yet between his comic stylings and daringly bizarre design, he brings something interesting, even fun, to a movie greatly lacking in either trait.
It reminds me of last year’s Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, a similarly awful movie that did little but force exposition down viewers’ throats. Thanks to director Sam Raimi, however, the movie dabbled in body horror that was shocking for how grotesque it was. Marvel movies are generically animated, often ugly unintentionally; when Doctor Strange emerges as a reanimated corpse in the third act, it’s a surprising turn into off-putting, anti-mainstream territory.
I don’t want more movies like Quantumania or Multiverse of Madness, both story explainers spread thinly over two hours. But if Marvel movies could continue to dive into their odd back catalog of curiosities, I welcome it—and the uglier, the better.
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