Spoilers ahead for Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Marvel Studios has done a remarkable job bringing decades’ worth of Marvel Comics’ stories to the big screen in the MCU. They’ve also done solid work at encouraging their young, science-minded fans to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, better known as S.T.E.M., in the real world thanks to their movie tie-in challenges. Unfortunately, there has been little cross-over in the MCU between real-world science and that of the mad science found in comic book lore. Ant-Man and the Wasp is but the latest Marvel movie to miss out on this unique opportunity.
The MCU started in earnest with the scientist to beat all scientists: Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. (He held that title until Shuri showed up, with Peter Parker making a strong play for it, as well.) Iron Man dabbled in fusion power and militarized exo-suits; The Incredible Hulk and Captain America explored the transformative power of genetic engineering and mutation; and Black Panther pushed the limits of scientific imagination by experimenting with the powerful and versatile (and fictional) material, vibranium. But it was 2015’s Ant-Man that introduced size-changing science (and scientists) as seen through the lens of everyman Scott Lang who got to explore one extreme of our physical existence in an up-close-and-personal way. Unfortunately, this summer’s sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp opts to do away with any scrap of real-world science in favor of slapping a “quantum” label on everything and relying on magical hand-waving instead of practical solutions. That’s a missed opportunity that future Marvel movies could and should address.
Let’s revisit Ant-Man. Written in part by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, and Adam McKay and Paul Rudd, the MCU adaptation had two basic focuses when it came to science: Hank Pym’s shrinking technology and the exploration of the subatomic quantum realm. Unless the government is hiding something, we don’t yet have shrinking technology; Shrinky Dinks is the best we’ve got. Granted, advances in technology, manufacturing, and materials sciences have allowed supercomputers and their components to get smaller and smaller (you probably have one in your pocket, purse, or hand right now), which in turn allows the things that rely on them to get smaller still, but we’re still in the realm of fiction when it comes to taking a Fantastic Voyage.
The Quantum Realm, however, is a bit more interesting when it comes to the nexus of real-world quantum mechanics and Marvel’s microverses. The latter is a clever storytelling device in the pages of Marvel Comics that allowed writers to explore imaginative worlds accessed through microscopic or subatomic entry points; one of these is the Quantum Realm. (We’ll see how Hasbro handles that idea in their Micronauts project.) The former is a head-scratching fundamental theory in physics that seeks to explore and explain nature at its tiniest scales and energy levels, on the order of the subatomic. That’s much, much smaller than even the half-a-millimeter long tardigrades that appear in both films, much to my delight.