SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses major plot points in “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” currently playing in theaters.
Over the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there have been several characters pulled from the comic books that have pushed the boundaries of verisimilitude and just common sense, including Rocket and Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Korg and Miek from “Thor: Ragnarok,” Goose from “Captain Marvel” and Morris from “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
None of them, however, hold a candle to M.O.D.O.K.
One of Marvel’s earliest characters, created in 1967 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, M.O.D.O.K. — which stands for Mental (or Mobile or Mechanized) Organism Designed Only for Killing — is the nom-de-guerre of a human whose physique was horrifically contorted to give him a giant head and a tiny body. In order to be able to move, M.O.D.O.K. is placed inside a hover-chair that doubles as a mechanical suit, and equips him with all the tools he needs for the aforementioned killing.
Needless to say, M.O.D.O.K. has been a long-standing favorite for Marvel fans, but his whole thing is so out there that he never quite fit inside the confines of the MCU.
That is, until “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” In the film, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his family — including his daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton), girlfriend Hope (Evangeline Lilly) and Hope’s parents Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Hank (Michael Douglas) — are sucked into the subatomic Quantum Realm, which is ruled by the megalomaniacal Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). M.O.D.O.K., Kang’s most lethal underling, captures Scott and Cassie, who are shocked to discover that M.O.D.O.K. is actually Scott’s old nemesis, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). In 2015’s “Ant-Man,” Darren took over Hank’s company and tried to reverse engineer Hank’s shrinking technology, creating his own Yellowjacket suit. In the end, however, Scott defeated him, causing Darren’s suit to malfunction and, seemingly, obliterating him from existence.
Instead, it turns out that Darren’s suit warped his body and sent him to the Quantum Realm, where Kang rebuilt him into M.O.D.O.K.
When director Peyton Reed first approached Stoll about playing the role, the actor only had a vague sense of who M.O.D.O.K. was, but that was enough to convince him to do it.
“I knew that he had the craziest name,” Stoll tells Variety. “When Peyton first told me about it, he said, ‘Do you know a character named M.O.D.O.K.?’ And I said, ‘Yes, the guy with the big head.’ I don’t know if I’d actually ever read a comic book with him in it, but I had seen that image before. And I think once you see that image, you don’t forget it. He is one of a kind. It’s just so over the top, both frightening and hilarious. So Peyton didn’t have to sell me on the role at all. It was a done deal.”
In the comics, M.O.D.O.K. has a much different origin story through A.I.M., the weapons manufacturer introduced to the MCU in 2013’s “Iron Man 3.” But as has been the case with many Marvel characters, the MCU contorted M.O.D.O.K. to make him fit within its larger storyline.
Below, Stoll talks about how he filmed the role, whether he would want to play M.O.D.O.K. again and how making “Quantumania” compared with his experience working on another massive sci-fi movie due this year, Zack Snyder’s “Rebel Moon” (set to premiere on Netflix in December).
So how did filming as M.O.D.O.K. work? Were you on the set?
I wasn’t there while they were actually doing principal photography, but I was there right before they started. We just had some tables and chairs set up with scripts. I had the dots on my face for the performance capture camera. We just went through the scene and then after we got to a place where we thought the scene was good, we’d get up on our feet and we just filmed the scenes. It was all really organic. It felt closer to a workshop of a new play than a $200 million movie.
So all in, how much time did you work on it?
I was there at the very beginning for two days. And then they shot for, I don’t know, six months. And then I came back — in L.A., we did reshoots, and that was just one day. And then I did a lot of ADR. But yeah, it was very time efficient for me.
What did you think when you first saw how your version of the character was going to look?
I thought it was awesome. It being one’s own face is a particular challenge. I mean, we’ve all had that experience of hearing one’s voice on an answering machine, or seeing a photo from an angle that’s unfamiliar. Multiply that oddness by, like, a trillion. To see your face distorted and superimposed on this little baby body floating on a rocket wheelchair, on a screen 30 feet high — it’s an odd experience.
The reaction on social media has been interesting to follow — some people love M.O.D.O.K., others can’t get past how silly he looks. What do you make of those reactions?
Well, I’m not online at all. I think these characters are very close to a lot of people’s hearts. Everybody’s trying to make this jump from a two-dimensional, static image on page to live action, and some things have to change. Jeff Loveness, who wrote the script, and Peyton and Paul made a very strong choice to retcon — is that the word? — this new reason for M.O.D.O.K. to be. I think it really works. It certainly works in the context of Darren’s arc.
You know, the thing I always loved as a comic book fan was that there would be these radically different versions of the same characters. I was a big Batman fan growing up. Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” was this completely different character from “Year One” or whatever. You don’t have to like everyone equally. There is no definitive any of these characters.
In that vein, I was heartbroken when M.O.D.O.K. died, because I loved that little scamp, but since we’re now in the multiverse, would you perhaps expect to be playing him again? Or do you think you’re done now?
I have no expectations, but I am game to play. If there is a great way to bring him back and he can continue to grow and bring smiles to people’s faces, I’d love to do it again.
At the same time “Quantumania” was filming, Hulu released an animated M.O.D.O.K. series starring Patton Oswalt, which wasn’t produced by Marvel Studios. Did you watch any of it?
I did. I remember when I heard it was announced, I was like, “Oh no! I’ve got to go up against Patton Oswalt?! He’s amazing!” I watched it and I loved it. They’re obviously just doing a very different thing. I was sad that they didn’t get picked up for another season — I think that show is really smart and funny and weird. That’s the essence of that character. You don’t name a character, you know, Mental or Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing if you’re taking yourself seriously. That’s what I really love about it.
Finally, what can you tell me about “Rebel Moon,” Zack Snyder’s next film?
I had a lot of fun doing it. It was like the opposite of the way I shot M.O.D.O.K., which was totally pared down. There was no movie magic happening on set. We were just people. And then [“Rebel Moon”] was by far the biggest scale practical set I’ve ever been on. They built this entire village. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say that. It was a really impressively sized set. Beautiful.
What was it like working with Zack?
Zack was super hands on. You got the sense that a lot of the crew had been with him for a lot of projects, and they would go to the ends of the Earth for him. He asked a lot of everybody. It was a really tough shoot. But he was right there with everybody and I think inspired people to push themselves harder. And I got to sort of go in and out and in a pretty short period.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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