We don’t expect comic book movies to be scientifically accurate, and Ant-Man & the Wasp will play with physics in a big way. Marvel Studios does take the time to root its films in real science, but each film is still calibrated for entertainment, not rigid science. So while the basic science may be accurate, when you dig a little deeper the concepts just don’t always hold up. Marvel is well aware of this; dialogue in Captain America: Civil War saw Spider-Man object that Cap’s shield doesn’t obey the laws of physics.
The first Ant-Man introduced a whole host of new concepts to the MCU, most notably the size-changing Pym Particles. Ant-Man & the Wasp promises to build on these concepts, and will even see the pint-sized heroes explore a mysterious dimension known as the Quantum Realm.
So let’s take a (slightly tongue-in-cheek) look at the science and pseudoscience behind Ant-Man & the Wasp.
The Pym Particles
The Pym Particles have been described as rare, subatomic particles of an extra-dimensional nature. The power of the particles allows users to change size, apparently by manipulating the space between atoms; compressing the atoms effectively means that you shrink. Exposure to the Pym Particles strains a person’s system; after years of using this shrinking technology as Ant-Man, Hank Pym was forced to retire for the benefit of his health. Growing seems to be even harder, with Scott Lang admitting that he was rendered unconscious the first time he turned into Giant-Man.
The size-changing heroes wear specific costumes not just to control their exposure to Pym Particles, but to handle the impact of changing size. The Ant-Man suit presumably includes an oxygen supply, explaining why Scott could survive when he shrank so small he would have been flying between the atoms of oxygen in Ant-Man. It also likely manages a problem with the dissipation of heat. Our bodies generate a tremendous amount of heat; if you reduce the surface area of a human body, it loses the ability to release that heat, and even moderate physical exercise would be fatal. Presumably the Ant-Man and Wasp costumes incorporate sophisticated cooling systems.
What’s unclear, however, is how density is affected by the Pym Particles. This is where Marvel’s pseudo-science falls flat; one minute Scott is breaking a paving stone when he lands on it, the next he’s riding on the back of an ant.
The particles aren’t the only incredible tech used by Ant-Man. He’s also able to communicate with and even control all species of ants! It’s unclear how this technology works, but it appears to be similar to the comics; there, it depends on a combination of psionic, pheromonal, and electrical waves. The Ant-Man suit itself presumably generates the pheromones and electrical aspects. “Psionic” means there’s a mental component – that the wearer of the Ant-Man helmet literally projects their wishes into the mind of the ant. That would explain why it took Scott Lang so long to get the hang of it.
Amusingly enough, in the comics Hank Pym actually discovered the Pym Particle in order to communicate with ants. In the MCU, he didn’t come up with the idea of communicating with ants until years later, perhaps partly inspired by his superhero codename.
The Quantum Realm
The most important part of Ant-Man & the Wasp is a scientific concept that could revolutionize the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In an interview with Nerdist, quantum physicist Spiros Michalakis, one of Marvel’s consultants, explained how the Quantum Realm really works. He said the physical laws we see in the universe – laws of time and space, including gravity and the speed of light – are simply trends in quantum mechanical probabilities. If you shrink all the way down, they all disappear.
If you shrink beyond subatomic level you enter another plane of existence, where all the laws of time and space become irrelevant. As Nerdist noted, “All of time and space will be open to [Ant-Man]. He could literally change the universe around him Dr. Manhattan-style. And he could traverse time at will.”
In Ant-Man & the Wasp, Hank Pym launches an expedition into the Quantum Realm. For decades he believed that entering the Quantum Realm meant instant death, but Scott Lang proved him wrong in Ant-Man. Now, Hank is on a desperate quest to rescue his missing wife from the Quantum Realm. If Pym’s exploration of the Quantum Realm proves successful, he could unlock the unlimited potential of this mysterious plane of existence. The ability to change time may come in awfully helpful in the aftermath of Avengers: Infinity War.
Ant-Man and the Wasp opens on July 6.