The Quantum Realm of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania was even more bizarre than we could have imagined. That surreal dimension outside space and time featured sentient ooze with no holes, living buildings, broccoli men, and the most bizarre version of M.O.D.O.K. ever. But the movie could have been even weirder. That’s just one of the things Quantumania‘s writer, Jeff Loveness, told Nerdist about when we spoke with him. He also let us know what it was like bringing Kang to the MCU, the many historical figures, both real and fictional, who inspired him, and more.
And that includes—and this is totally true—why his incredible idea for Werner Herzog was too weird even for this strange film.
Nerdist: Now that a lot of people have seen Quantumania, what has surprised you most about the reaction from fans?
Jeff Loveness: Comic book fans are like sports fans, or talk radio. For me it was interesting. I grew up on this stuff. I’m a hardcore X-Men fan, so I’ve known the world. It was just fun to be in the mix. And there’s a variety of responses. But the joyful thing to me was seeing the actual audience response, hearing the laughs in the theater for M.O.D.O.K. And to see people really gravitate towards Kang and Janet. The fact we really got to slow down and get to know Kang the Conqueror before all that apocalyptic Avengers stuff, that was thrilling to me. Then I’m used to the rest. It’s not too bad.
Speaking of the rest, I know you’ve written for Marvel Comics, but Michael Waldron, Jessica Gao, and now you. What is it about writing for Rick and Morty that makes you well-equipped to work for Marvel Studios?
Loveness: I think, obviously, having a shorthand on multiverse storytelling helps. That’s a big part of Rick and Morty and in the [Marvel] phase going forward. However, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s still just storytelling. I think Rick and Morty…myself excluded maybe…they have terrific writers over there. They just know how to hire great people. And Dan Harmon’s story circle, the Joseph Campbell method, it’s really solid structure and it really helps you on macro-level storytelling.
I feel almost any of those writers….I always try to gas up guys like Albro Lundy who co-wrote “The Vat of Acid Episode” with me. And Caitie Delaney, Siobhan Thompson, James Siciliano, they’ve got a deep bench over there. The multiverse stuff helps get you in the door, but I think that room plays pretty hard.
I know a lot of people contribute to an MCU movie and its story. But what’s an aspect you brought to Quantumania you’re especially proud of?
Loveness: I’m really proud of two things, which are both ends of the spectrum. I love that I got to write a classical, tortured, very human super villain in a way that wasn’t undercutting. It wasn’t quippy. We actually got to straight-up write Kang the Conqueror. What I hope the fans would see is a pretty faithful adaptation of who he is in the comics, with a little bit of extra Heathcliff [from Wuthering Heights] energy in there. Chris Claremont’s Magneto is a big inspiration for me, as well.
Kang is just one of those tortured antiheroes. I was really proud we got to introduce him almost at the end of his story in almost this non-linear fashion. I love the way stories like Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, there’s a whole story you don’t know about. You’re coming in on movie four of Star Wars and something’s happened in the past. Or like with Game of Thrones. The Targaryens have been gone for a long time and we’re in the wreckage. I was really happy that I got to write this “Napoleon in exile” Kang the Conqueror. Or this Julius Caesar who got assassinated by 50 other Julius Caesars and sent down there. It was a chance for Jonathan to be vulnerable and human. And for us to really empathize with him, with his relationship with Janet.
Then, on the flip of that, man, I am thrilled I got to get M.O.D.O.K. in a movie. And not only M.O.D.O.K., but a bonkers, funny, sad, Death of a Salesman M.O.D.O.K. that’s just spiraling. Corey Stoll, from day one, absolutely knew what I was doing. Absolutely was on board.
I don’t know if you’re a Simpsons fan, but I based him off of Frank Grimes [from the] “Homer’s Enemy” episode. Or Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda. Just this deeply insecure, loose cannon who is good at killing people, so you have to be nervous about that.
Then, I’m just glad I got to put big swing gags. I missed comedy movies that had gags and they weren’t trying to ironically detach from it. I love Three Amigos, Dumb and Dumber, and movies that actually had hard laughs. And it wasn’t just about someone nodding at something, or a quip to side. I will go to the mat for this movie. I love it.
Did you have any ideas or characters that were just too weird, even for the Quantum Realm?
Loveness: Oh yes, many. The one that comes to mind is that Probability Storm sequence. It was a little longer, originally. More psychological, too. I was going to have an almost Stan Winston Studio, Cronenberg man-sized ant voiced by Werner Herzog that was inside Scott’s mind.
That would’ve killed.
Loveness: Like Herzog tormenting him. What was the line? It was like, “All men are ants but these ants are not men.” Just sh*tting on his soul, how weak he is. And calling him father, like a creature in The Island of Dr. Moreau. There was very weird stuff. Broccoli guy and Holes guy [Veb] are pretty tame compared to what got cut.
On the complete opposite side, Quantumania raises a lot of significant questions about Kang. He’s as an unimaginable threat. But he’s really also sad and human. And yet, we don’t know all of his past. We only got hints of it. How much of his official backstory were you given by Marvel, and how much of it did you get to develop yourself?
Loveness: It’s a mix of both. We all play from the comics. I think we wanted to potentially downplay a little bit of the time travel stuff, at least in this first movie, because that’s literally the whole plot of Endgame. I thought it was a smart move. I’m sure the Internet has thoughts, but I think sometimes, with an omnipotent villain like that, it’s hard to get inside their head. That’s where the pitch of Kang being exiled and cut off from time came from. And like I said, Napoleon in exile on his island, or Vladimir Lenin exiled in Switzerland, there’s that moment in a great man of history’s life when they could turn back. Or when they’ve lost. Like Alexander [the Great] after he had just gotten beaten at the gates of India. The conquerors are known more for their defeats, I think, than their victories.
When you think of Napoleon, you think of, “Ah, Russia. Oh, Waterloo.” No one’s really talking about his strategic genius at the Battle of Austerlitz . You think about the great falls of these great men. I thought, “That’s it. That’s the way to really get into this guy and give Jonathan Majors a chance just to be so passionate, and empathetic, and broken and vulnerable.”
Then, once he’s finally unleashed, you see what this guy is capable of. But you’ve only gotten a taste. Now the wheels are going to come off. I think people are going to like what they see.
We get Kang and a lot of his important Variants. We also get hints about their timeline. But we still don’t know a lot about them or it. Do you already know all the answers to these big questions, or is that still a work in progress as you write Avengers: The Kang Dynasty?
Loveness: We have a plan. Then, also every plan or military campaign or whatever, there’s always going to be things that pop up. Organic things that change or move along. I think we have a pretty solid plan. Waldron, who’s writing Secret Wars and all that, we’re old pals. Which is great, out of the sheer luck of actually having a buddy write the one after you. I think we all have a pretty cool plan. We got a story we want to tell with Kang. Obviously, with how many movies are coming out between now and then, I’m sure things will change. You just got to roll with the punches.
I think we get to tell a very complex, nonlinear, multi layered story with this guy/guys. And if I do my job right, Jonathan just has the opportunity to really swing for the fences here. I think that’s the big difference between him and Thanos. Thanos is terrific, obviously, but he is this monolith. He is this figure of granite, and a big purple space alien, a CGI guy. Kang is a human being with a human face. Luckily, that face is connected to the best actor of this generation.
We have a remarkable opportunity to put in a real empathetic, tragic, vicious, scary performance. He’s a Russian nesting doll, so it’s nice to see all the sides to him.
If you have the answers, can you tell us if this movie takes place before or after Loki season one?
Loveness: It takes place right alongside X-Men Origins: Wolverine. That’s basically around the time he was stealing that bike and the barn blew up.
Alright. Alright. You’re prepped for this, you’re prepped.
Loveness: When he’s with Gambit in New Orleans. That’s basically what I’m thinking.
I guess it’s probably not even worth asking if Janet only saw his past memories.
Loveness: Oooh, well, no. I think that’s the thing about Kang. If you’re in the movie, it’s like, “I don’t live in a straight line.” That’s part of the shock, is that it’s like you’re touching almost the mind of God. And it’s unfathomable the pain and the suffering he’s caused there.
There’s more story to tell with Janet and Kang in particular. I was a huge X-Men guy growing up, and still am, and I think that’s just why X-Men works so well, that deep friendship with Xavier and Magneto. And to do our own spin on that with Janet van Dyne and Kang the Conqueror, I think there’s more story to tell there. We’ll see.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings. (Or anywhere someone is bemoaning that we didn’t get to hear Werner Herzog voice a giant ant.)