I recently saw Ant-Man. Good film, excellent addition to the MCU and its push to take superhero movies in new directions. I enjoyed that they turned it into a heist movie and thought Paul Rudd did a great job. I also loved Michael Douglas in the role of an elderly, retired Hank Pym who had history with Tony Stark’s dad, old-school SHIELD, and the continually-fantastic Hayley Atwell’s Agent Carter. But what was maddening was that it continued the tradition of focusing on an amazing technological breakthrough that has to be kept out of the public at all costs. Hank Pym and Tony Stark are both brilliant scientists and developers that are keeping miraculous scientific advancements from being able to change the world for the better.
Genius: Tony Stark, Invention: Arc Reactor
In the first Iron Man movie we find Tony Stark, brilliant arms dealer, captured by terrorists who want him to make weapons for them. While being tortured (I’m sorry, “freedom-baptized” for the Sarah Palins in the audience) Stark has a breakthrough. He is able to miniaturize Arc Reactor technology. What was once a building-sized installation used to provide clean energy to a Stark factory could now rest easily in the palm of a man’s hand. Stark’s business partner, Obadiah Stane, was amazed- having consider Arc Reactor tech a failure and a propaganda stunt.
Tony proceeds to take this tiny, and extremely powerful device and builds a wearable weapon around it. Great. Now, Iron Man has saved the world countless times and Tony is clearly trying to make up for his past as a weapons dealer. He wants to make good and his motivations seem good. But he’s being a moron.
There is no way to overstate the impact that Arc Reactor technology would make on the world. A miniature reactor that is safe enough to put inside a human body? The thing must give off like zero radiation. Yes Tony was getting sick in the second film, but that wasn’t from radiation but from heavy metal toxicity caused by the core material- and he solved that anyway. This reactor consumes some heavy metals and produces more than 8 gigajoules per second. That outclasses all but like two nuclear power plants in the US! Instead of powering flying, man-sized tanks they could be powering cities for dirt cheap! Palladium is only about $US 600 per ounce and those cores looked like they couldn’t be more than 10 oz, so we’re talking about powering a small city for $6,000. Nothing is that cheap! And it doesn’t produce radioactive waste, it doesn’t produce CO2, and its small enough that securing it from terrorists would be crazy easy!
Tony’s Congressional enemies are so worried about other people building Iron Man suits as weapons that they miss the incredible opportunity for clean energy- and so does Tony! The Iron Man suit is incredible and Tony is a brilliant weapons designer and a hero… But the revolution in energy abundance that the Arc Reactor promises could easily solve so many of the world’s problems. Curb global warming. Provide cheap energy to the world. Power a fleet of interstellar exploration to mine asteroids for more palladium. Tony Stark’s invention could have given mankind the stars. Instead he used it to build a flying race car-themed one-man tank. You’re a jerk Tony!
Genius: Hank Pym, Invention: Pym Particles
Look, in the comics Pym Particles are just pure fucking magic. They do whatever the writer wants basically. But let’s scale it back and just focus on the movie version. In the Ant-Man film, Pym Particles allow the user to alter the distance between atoms. Of all of those on this list, this is probably the single most revolutionary breakthrough. This isn’t just a hyper-efficient energy source, this is a way to alter the fundamental physics of the universe and to do so in a remarkably stable way. And Hank Pym used it to become a super-spy during the Cold War.
In the game Master of Orion 2, a classic of the 4X strategy genre, you can pursue a lot of different technologies. But after you research a certain tech, you can continue to improve upon it. As you go down certain paths of the tech tree and find new breakthroughs, the older techs in that branch gain ‘miniaturization’. That plasma cannon that originally took up 32 slots on your battleship now only takes up 16 and then 8 and so on and so on. This miniaturization is actually far more useful than the higher-tier tech as you go along. Instead of having to build a fleet of expensive Battlecruisers, you can build a much, much larger (and cheaper) swarm of frigates equipped with massive firepower.
Similarly, Hank’s invention (even if we only focus on this one aspect of it) would reshape modern society. Look, IBM and other chip manufacturers are having an increasing amount of trouble with Moore’s Law. They are having more and more trouble squeezing transistors onto computer processors and so its getting harder and harder to boost processing power. Pym Particles would make it easier than ever. Hell, instead of having to deal with teeny-tiny nanotubes and (admittedly cool) tricky manufacturing, you could just build processor chips big and shrink them down. Overnight we would more than double the processing power of our computers, we would raise their capabilities exponentially and cheaply. I couldn’t even predict what would come out of such an explosion of computing power (and, similarly, storage). Hell, you think thumb drives with a terabyte of storage are impressive? With Pym Particles you could build a flash-drive array the size of a tank and shrink it down to fit on your keychain. And your cell phone? The biggest thing holding back your phone is that the battery takes up so much damn room inside it. Well not anymore. We could put an Arc Reactor in there and shrink it to the size of… well of an ant I guess.
Just from a manufacturing standpoint, Pym Particles would change the world. In terms of what else we could do… Its an invention that boggles the mind. Since the things that shrink actually lose mass (Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man can easily be carried by a flying Carpenter Ant) we could fill a rocket with miniaturized space-craft powered by Arc Reactors and launch them up into space. From there they could be flung out to Mars and then popped back to full size. We could colonize the solar system in a few decades. The junction between using Pym Particles to shrink Arc Reactor-powered spacecraft makes the optimistic futurist part of me drool. And all of this just neglects the pure science that could be done by being able to send probes into the Quantum Realm.
Instead Hank Pym hides all of his tech. I get that he doesn’t want to unleash weapons like the Yellowjacket on the world, but once again he is ignoring the peaceful, revolutionary advances his science would allow. What an asshole. Tony and Hank are the kind of guys who would hide a cure for cancer because they’d be afraid the Army might use it to, I don’t know, cure cancer in soldiers.
Agree? Disagree? Can you think of any other examples where movie scientists ignore the real potential of their amazing breakthroughs in favor of being terrified of military development? Share your thoughts with us! We’d loathe to hear them!