Allow me to ruin superhero movies for you

By Jake DiPaola

Elm Staff Writer

Every superhero has a super-power exception. We are asked to suspend our disbelief and accept that the world works the same when a man gets spider powers, or that any other law of physics suddenly doesn’t apply.

I’d like to give a closer look at some of the science our superheroes live by and find out just how powerful Thor, god of thunder, is to withstand the power of a star, how strong Spider-Man’s webs are, and just how many liberties are taken by Ant-Man when using the word “quantum.”


The main character, Scott Lang, wears a suit that allows him to shrink down to the size of an ant with the revolutionary Pym Particle developed by Dr. Hank Pym. This is what we are expected and willing to accept, however, physics around this Pym Particle should still work the same.

“When you’re small, energy is compressed so you have the force of a 200lbs man behind a fist 100th of an inch wide ­— you’re like a bullet,” a line said by Hank Pym’s daughter, Hope Pym. Ant-Man is able to have such strength because it is relative to his size. Hope Pym says that energy is conserved and by looking at the equation for energy, this must mean that mass is conserved, following the law stating that matter is neither created nor destroyed. This means that the object is still as heavy as it would be when it is big, but it is just condensed into a smaller area.

Unfortunately, this is where the movie begins to contradict itself. Towards the end of the movie, Dr. Hank Pym reveals his keychain of a tank is actually a fully functioning vehicle that is just a grow-and-go weapon. If mass is conserved with these shrunken objects, the tank would still be as heavy as a tank, meaning it could not be carried so leisurely at the end of a key ring; neither would Ant-Man be able to casually jump onto people’s shoulders, as he would land with the full force of a man.

This doesn’t even cover the supposed magic of the quantum realm the movie uses as a scapegoat to cover science that isn’t easy to explain. The quantum realm is just the point at which regular physics no longer applies and quantum physics is required. Even though most of quantum physics is theory, the math can still tell us certain things. Even though quantum physics can only tell us either a particle’s location or its momentum, and most calculations are probabilities, when repeated enough times they still produce an expected distribution. So to say, a single calculation may seem chaotic and random, it will still follow a pattern that can be seen when repeated enough times. So even if the science seems strange, it would most likely not allow us to move through time create magical effects.


Peter Parker is able to swing from building to building using webs he creates. Just how strong do these webs have to be to do all of the things Peter uses them for?

First, we need to take a look at Peter Parker himself. Considering he is supposed to be a mid-20’s adult male from New York City and that he lives in lower middle class or poverty depending on the version of the movie, we can estimate his weight to be around 160 pounds (72.5 kilograms). If he is swinging from tall buildings of the city, around 15 to 20 stories, we can estimate the radius of some of his biggest swings to be 190 feet (58 meters), reaching just short of the streets below.

Applying these two forces, the force of gravity on Parker and the centripetal force generated by the swing, we can make the claim that he exerts 2157 newtons of force. That’s about 500 pounds of force or a quarter of a ton. Now most elevators can support over 2000 pounds of force, but those are thick, steel cables while he is using thin spools of web no bigger than his pinky finger.

This also doesn’t take under consideration the various other objects he supports the webs with, launching full sized cars and holding together an entire passenger vessel. If we look at “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” when Parker holds together the boat full of people, we can apply the same calculations.

The Staten Island Ferry weighs about 3000 tons. In the scene, we can see at least 30 cars on the bottom floor of the ferry. Assuming there is an average of two people per car, this brings our total up to 3051 tons. This means that over several points of contact, the collected webs were able to support at least 3050 tons of force. If a single web can sustain a quarter of a ton, this means that over 12000 webs would have to have been used to secure the ship. There were other factors in play, however, we can assume that there still had to be a significant number of webs, at least 6000 shots.


Compared to spiders and ants, a god is far more powerful and durable. Thor, Norse god of thunder and lovable avenger on the big screen, has accomplished many feats, however, one stands out in my mind. In “Avengers: Infinity War,” Thor creates a new weapon when he goes to Nidavellir, a forge that harnesses the power of a neutron star to create the most powerful weapons in the galaxy.

A neutron star is nothing to laugh at. They are the collapsed remains of a super-massive star, with most of the mass packed into a super dense ball 18 to 20 miles long.  In one shot of the scene, we can line up Rocket Racoon’s ship with the star and compare their sizes. This particular star appears to only be about 7000 feet in diameter, about one and a half miles. If the average neutron star weights around 10 million tons at 18 miles in diameter, we can assume this star weighs around 850,000 tons. By using the universal equation for gravity, we can estimate that Thor is only experiencing only 0.000000002 times the gravity on earth, barely anything compared to that of an actual planet.

However, the heat of a neutron star emit heat at a temperature of about 1 million kelvin, or 1,799,540.33 degrees Fahrenheit. That is over 170 times the heat of the surface of the sun. Thor often has lightning running through his body, which generates about 60,000 degrees kelvin, or 108,000 degrees Fahrenheit and he doesn’t even flinch. Would it be believable that Thor could survive a temperature about 17 times outside of his comfort zone for at least a short few minutes? God or no god, it would be very unlikely, but not impossible.

Overanalyzing the science that movies throw at us can lead to a lack of immersion and less enjoyment of the film in front of you. Despite the scientific fallacies at play, we can still lose ourselves in the fantasy reality created for us and enjoy a good movie.

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