Physics and superheroes do not mix

Kate said something interesting to me recently – “It must be exhausting in your head”. She’s referring to my fast yet seemingly random train of thoughts, and she’s right – it is exhausting.

My train of thought gets so carried away that it’s amazing the measly mind powering it manages to cope. This happens a lot when I watch superhero films. I love them, but I find myself somewhere between “Wow cool” and “…but hang on – that can’t happen”. Physics and superpowers don’t generally go well together.

Physics and superheroes

I get the concept of suspension of disbelief – that we suspend our disbelief when watching films to allow us to cast aside small nuances of inconsistencies or physical impossibilities (the use of the element “unobtainium” being a fine example of this in some sci-fi films).

Having said that, though…here are my top 5 gripes, in no particular order.

If The Flash can go from standing still to the speed of sound in a fraction of a second, why do punches hurt him?

As the saying goes, it’s not the long fall that kills you – it’s the sharp sudden stop at the bottom. This is because the fall is harmless – but when you hit the ground, the more rigid parts of your skeleton stop suddenly while all your soft squidgy organs carry on moving. They tear from their arteries and vessels and sort of…splash…inside you. Gross, yes, but bear with me here.

I’ve seen the flash go from 0 – 300mph within a second. He’s not phased by this. I’ve also seen him get punched in the face and have it hurt him. This doesn’t make sense at all – the force he would feel from his sudden sprint would be so much more than the punch. Bugs me. He’s been impaled with arrows, too. The force per square inch would be nothing on his skin compared to the acceleration needed to TRAVEL BACK IN FRIGGIN’ TIME. So there’s that…

Iron Man’s suit protects him from impacts, but the body would still feel the the force of them!

There are countless scenes in Iron Man where he gets flung into a wall, or falls at great speed and hits the ground, coming to a sudden stop.

As above – the suit would stop any superficial scratches and damage to his skin – but Tony Stark’s body would still feel the impacts. Think of someone in a sumo suit getting hit by a train – they’re still fucked!

Yes, there may be some suspension mechanism built in to the suit – but given that the suit is roughly the same size as Tony Stark – there isn’t much room there to dampen the acceleration he’d feel. He’d be dead. He’s a super genius, granted, but he’s a super genius in a fragile casing of flesh and oh so delicate muscle.

The Hulk’s waist stays a svelte 32 inches

Granted, this one’s a bit shit. But all that muscle growth and increase in frame size and The Hulk still doesn’t manage to rip the waist of his trousers?

COME ON! Though I’ll forgive this one, I don’t fancy seeing his rock hard coconuts and green thigh-thick tackle.

How does Spiderman get such frictionless swings and momentum?

Most Spiderman films start and end with him swinging through the city, gradually building up the impressive swings and gymnastics he performs between the cranes. But…mass-wise, he’s very light. When you take into account the length of the web he’s swinging from those swings look a bit far fetched. It’s hard to explain this – but imagine a pillow swinging on a rope that’s tied to the top of a skyscraper. There would be so much wind resistance that the swing would basically stop at the bottom. In a vacuum, yes, he could get the swings we’re seeing – but he’d be dead at the peak of it; his suit resembling a burst ketchup sachet as his body exploded.

How is Ant-Man still alive?

Ant-Man, in my opinion, is a lame superhero. He’s just shit overall I think – lacking in natural ability and overall usefulness.

His suit shrinks him, and can also make him grow into some gimp-dressed giant. BUT, what exactly does the suit shrink? Is it everything within its bounds, or just everything organic that is “part of” the man inside the suit?

Cast aside the fact that shrinking to the size he does while maintaining the weight would put his density somewhere in black hole territory, or the fact that the atoms in him would collapse as the orbiting electrons around every atom that comprised him would be closer to the nucleus. I can suspend that disbelief, no problem, move on.

What I have an issue with is this. If the suit just shrinks the person in it, then what happens to say, the sandwich he ate 5 minutes before putting the suit on and activating it? It’s not part of the man, it’s just a bunch of food, the suit can’t know that. He’d be ant-sized but have a half-digested butty suffocating him. And while we’re on that train of thought – why would the suit shrink the water in his body? It’s not organic, it’s just water. Surely he’d drown in that too…

 

Or perhaps I should just watch the damn films and stop being a pedantic arse. Either/or. Physics and superheroes are mutually exclusive, I’ve learnt.

Tell me I’m not the only one who thinks like this! Does anyone else have these issues?!

One thought on “Physics and superheroes do not mix

  1. Nope, you’re not the only one. The physics behind most of Superman’s powers is distinctly suspect too. But the key is, as you said, suspension of disbelief or – another way of looking at it – dramatic licence. The same is true of pretty much any sci-fi show – there are books and forums dedicated to all the dodgy science of the various Star Trek series, where writers will knowingly break the laws of physics because otherwise an episode’s resolution would fall apart completely.

    I guess the acid test is whether it’s done well If the story is good, the special effects are good and the experience is an enjoyable one, then physics can quietly go and take a hike. But if the story’s bad, woe betide the dodgy science of superheroes …

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