Kang the Conqueror and MODOK make their debut in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and these two weird Marvel villains look pretty comics accurate.
Marvel Comics fans got a glimpse of both MODOK and Kang in the trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, and the studio is still leaning hard into comic-book-accurate looks. The two new villains are unlikely characters to be adapted so closely, yet that's part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe magic trick.
In the early 2000s, before Marvel Studios took over pop culture, the idea of bringing either Kang the Conqueror or MODOK to live action was preposterous. There was only a glimpse of an unmasked MODOK, looking passably like a visual effects-enhanced Corey Stoll. The star of the trailer was neither Ant-Man nor the Wasp, but rather Kang. Watch the trailer to get the story elements, but watch it again to marvel at how accurate Kang looks. Jonathan Majors is decked out in purple and green attire, but it's his blue helmet that really sells it. In the brief action moments fans see, Kang looks like his 1984 Secret Wars action figure come to life. There is no doubt that these characters are only realized in full Jack Kirby "Krackle" color because of advancements in visual effects. Only the limits of VFX technology would've had nothing to do with the reluctance to bring either of these characters to screen.
The first proper modern superhero movie is Richard Donner's 1978 Superman, in which Christopher Reeve is a remarkably comics-accurate version of Kal-El. A decade later, Tim Burton eschewed the blue and gray spandex of Adam West when he brought Batman to the screen. His all-black, armored Batsuit defined the character for cinema and, later, the comics. Donner and Burton represent two different philosophies, both equally valid and useful. Marvel Studios' goal, from the beginning, was to blend the two.
Blade and X-Men especially adhere to Burton's philosophy, trading in the flashy costumes for black-leather realism. Blade was so successful that 15 years later, fans are still surprised to find out it's a comic book movie. X-Men addressed this with Cyclops' infamous line, "What would you prefer, yellow spandex?" Yet, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, around the same time, had to follow the Donner philosophy. For Spidey especially, the costume is the character. Similarly, Fantastic Four also kept it closer to their comics look — decision proved correct by the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot film. From Iron Man and through to Avengers, Marvel Studios tried to blend the two sensibilities.
Of Phase One's heroes, only Thor truly differed from his comics look, though he did have a winged helmet. Yet, Captain America is perhaps the best example of the blend of comics with the films. Cap never wore the scaly shirt with the cuffed boots, but he came close. Each successive appearance modified the costume, keeping it practical, though his Avengers suit did kind of look like pajamas. Yet it works, because the suit was designed by a comic book fan. The current peak of these blended philosophies seems to be Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
The details of the Ant-Man suit in the movies and the comics do not align perfectly. Yet, the costume designers figured out how to make the suit seem both practical and immediately recognizable to fans of any number of comic iterations. Wasp is also much different from the books, though she had more costumes than any other Avenger. Yet, her most common style is the black and yellow of her namesake. Her suit seems more like Iron Man armor than the others. Yet, the high points of the trailer are the new looks at MODOK and Kang.
The film version of Kang appears to be more armored than his comic counterpart, yet the look is still stunningly close. It also appears as if Kang will have costume variations, however all of them evoke the original, iconic design. MODOK has gone through many different iterations, most recently interpreted for the Marvel's Avengers game. It's too short a glimpse to catch fine detail, but the most important detail looks right. MODOK looks like a big, old head. Even if studios had been willing to adapt these two in the early 2000s, they only look as good as they do because modern VFX artists are miracle workers.
This commitment to the designs of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others is the reason the MCU is branded as the "bright, warm and fuzzy" comic book universe. Yet, even in comparison to the darker-in-every-way DC Extended Universe of old, the MCU gets emotionally heavy. This doesn't seem to be changing with Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Still, even as horrific things happen to the heroes, the villains are just so delightful to look at.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will debut in theaters Feb. 17.
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