While Scientifically Inaccurate, Quantumania Does Offer Benefits for the Quantum Industry
It wasn’t that long ago that astrophysicists were excited about the upcoming movie Interstellar, which would showcase key concepts and ideas within the field. While Interstellar didn’t get everything right, most agree that it did a decent job at illustrating what an astrophysicist actually studies. Because of this, the movie inspired many to pursue careers in astrophysics, and especially black hole science. For those of us in the quantum industry and larger research community, we hoped it was now our turn with the Marvel Movie Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which focuses on the mysterious “quantum realm.”
We thought wrong.
To be fair, Marvel has had a history of bending the laws of physics to make entertaining fight sequences and plot devices, but with Quantumania, things quickly get out of hand. The “quantum realm” is merely another alien world, complete with strange flora and fauna. Humans also supposedly live in this fever-dream reality, but the movie does a poor job explaining how they originally got there. While the idea of introducing a “quantum realm” gave movie creators carte blanche for adding the different mind-boggling quantum processes like superposition or entanglement in creative ways, the developers ignored this unique opportunity. Their lack of trying even bled over into the fundamental plot and dialogue, resulting in a stilted and unsatisfactory experience. As quantum physicist and best-selling author Dr. Chris Ferrie states: “Sci-fi movies, like Quantumania, do not accurately represent the concepts of quantum physics, nor do they accurately depict the way progress in science is made. On the other hand, the point of blockbuster Hollywood movies is to make money through entertainment, which, perhaps with a hint of irony, Marvel Studios has down to a science.” Ferrie has studied the effects of blockbuster movies on the reputation of quantum physics in his recent best-selling book Quantum Bullsh*t and focuses on the Ant-Man movies specifically as the main source of misinformation.
The previous Ant-Man movies have a reputation for overusing the word quantum, like “quantum healing particles,” or “quantum void.” This created the famous question ad libbed by Paul Rudd in the original Ant-Man movie: “Do you just put the word quantum in front of everything?” Yes, yes they do. Yet in Quantumania, you’ll find no such quantum phrases, as the screen writers instead tried to poorly explain inaccurate quantum processes using conflicts like a “probability storm.” They slapped an additional explanation of “Schrodinger’s box” to this process and hoped the reader went with it. Not surprisingly, we didn’t get it.
Some Positives of Quantumania
While it’s easy to dwell on the inaccuracies and poor writing of Quantumania, the film does provide a few benefits. “Movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania– and the Marvel Cinematic Universe in general are great at inspiring people of all ages and conveying the excitement for the future potential of quantum information science and engineering technologies,” explained Kate Timmerman, the CEO of the Chicago Quantum Exchange. This general interest could possibly translate into a growing quantum workforce, something the quantum industry desperately needs as it continues to expand. “I think many quantum scientists and engineers would agree that this movie helps raise awareness of the field,” Timmerman added. “Many of us in the tech sector were first inspired by pop culture: think Jurassic Park, the Martian, or even Star Wars. Our hope is that someone might see a movie like this one and feel compelled to explore quantum science further, whether that’s a young high school student or a current tech sector worker.”
Kenna Hughes-Castleberry is a staff writer at Inside Quantum Technology and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). Her writing beats include deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology.