The New X-Men Movie

It’s annoying when someone who has never taken a Physics 101 course tries to make a sci-fi movie. Case in point is the new X-men movie – X-men first class. Let me explain.

My first problem is with Magneto. He is the superhero who can change himself into a magnet and pull or push things that are made of iron, or other magnetic materials at his will. All that is acceptable. What’s not acceptable is when he pulls a whole submarine out of the ocean. Even if we assume that somehow he is able to muster enough magnetic strength into his body to significantly move such a heavy object against the strong pull of gravitation, my problem is this – what happened to Newton’s third law of motion?

We were taught in high school that forces exist only in pairs called action-reaction pairs. That is to say, you cannot apply a force on another object independently. Whenever you try to do that, the other object will apply an equal and opposite force on you. For example, when the earth pulls us down, we pull the earth up with the same force. It’s just that since our mass is so insignificant compared to the mass of the earth, the force has a visible effect on us but very close to zero effect on the earth. And since we are distributed all over the surface, these already negligible effects cancel each other out to a large extent.

Now if we look at Magneto pulling the submarine out of the ocean with the sheer pull of his magnetic body, Newton’s third law would suggest that the submarine should also pull Magneto downwards with the same force. And since Magneto’s own mass is negligible compared to the mass of the submarine, the effect that you see on the submarine should be negligible compared to the effect you see on Magneto. What I am trying to say is that if Magneto can apply a force enough to pull the submarine out, he himself should fly at an enormous velocity towards the submarine and die within milliseconds of the impact.

You might argue that come on, he’s a superhero and so he can do everything. But the problem with this argument is that he actually has clearly defined powers. His power is to turn himself into a magnet. Honestly, if a superhero could violate Newton’s third law, then this power would be way more impressive than being able to turn himself into a magnet. He should have been called the third law violato or something, instead of Magneto.

My second problem is that dude who could fly simply by wearing wing-shaped clothes and screaming in an ultrasonic voice. In fact, I can’t fathom a reasonable scenario that could lead someone into thinking that these two things were related. The only thing that comes to mind is this – bats emit ultrasonic sounds and they can fly. But really? Is that all that you need to be convinced that you can fly by producing ultrasonic sounds? Human history is full of incidences where someone died because of an attempt at flying without thinking things through. Is this really all they were missing? Scream at the top of your voice while flying? I wonder why inspite of so much advancement in flying technologies, there does not exist a single aircraft that works on this ultra-sonic sound princple. It should be way easier than all that stuff the Wright brothers did! All we really need is a loose sweater and a sonographic equipment from the nearest hospital!

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13 thoughts on “The New X-Men Movie

  1. patu says:

    Magneto’s (the comic book hero) power is to manipulate the magnetic field of the earth, not to turn himself into a magnet. In the comics at least, I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t say what they say about his powers in that.

  2. vinayakpathak says:

    Yeah, I was thinking about that possibility. But I am not too sure that even then, the kinds of things he achieves are all possible. We need a physicist to explain this.

  3. Superheros violate conservation laws all the time. Where do you think the energy for Cyclop’s laser beams come from? Not from his meals, certainly. How does the Incredible Hulk (or Ant-Man) get the extra mass for growth?

    • vinayakpathak says:

      Of course, they can’t explain each and every single detail of how a superhero is doing something or else technology would already be able to build such a thing. But they should at least make it sound feasible.

      Incredible Hulk sounds quite feasible. There already exist creatures that are big. It’s possible to use up resources from around you and gain a lot of mass.

  4. I just watched the movie and I totally agree with you. You didn’t mention that in the beginning of the movie the third law is respected, magneto pulls the metal gate and the metal gate pulls him (dragging the soldiers with him…). But later on he pulls a huge antenna and don’t move a bit and then he holds a submarine and the plane he is in not even increases thrust. I can understand that superheros are not real and does not have to always respect physics laws but it should be consistent, I mean, if he respected third law once, he should respect always…

    • nsty says:

      The screaming guy, Banshee, was created by the comic’s writer, not the movie writer/director. And in the comics he can fly. And they try to explain how these heroes can do what they do. But its like star trek or any sci fi, sometimes you have to bend the rules to make it work.

  5. Bill says:

    Okay. So let’s take both possibilities for Magneto:

    Whether you look at it from the Comic Book angle, that he manipulates existing magnetic fields, or that he turns himself into a magnet. Either way, he requires the defined ability to manipulate the magnetic fields, regardless if created by himself, or manipulated by him.

    Now that we agree its manipulation… if he can manipulate it, then he has larger control than you “see” in the movies. If he’s manipulating existing magnetic fields, then who’s to say he can’t magnify them in his favor, negating the pulling? Yes, the third law was respected in the opening scene with the gates pulling him while he pulls at them. But since it’s clearly explained throughout the X-Men history that the people can CONTROL their powers, couldn’t he have learned, just as all other Mutants, how to use this ability/power? Do with it as he pleases? In this case, he wouldn’t be breaking the third law, he’d be perfectly within it by giving the fields the illusion that he’s greater than the submarine. 🙂

    On the angle that he would use existing fields. If he can manipulate them, then he can indeed (assumption since I’ve never found direct reference, all speculation) do various manipulations. What if he can “pull” fields towards him from great distances, gathering massive magietic capabilities, ending up with the same ending as my previous paragraph states… creating a force greater than the one of the object being affected, aka the sub.

    Now, I mean, if you really wanna get technical with flaws… you should have addressed the biggest Magneto issue from X-2. How does Magneto turn solid metal into liquid? When he escapes his plastic prison in the start of the second movie, I’m not a scientist for the record, but I do know how to research stuff, and I’ve found nothing supporting it. Mystique injected the guard with “iron”. Iron can be heated into liquid form, but solidifies when cooled. If she injected him with melted iron, it would have killed him. So how did the iron stay liquid for Magneto to manipulate? See? It’s FANTASY / SCI-FI… not EVERYTHING is acceptable to logic or fact, but its meant to be led by the imagination.

    Don’t bash it, enjoy it and pretend, like when you’re a kid and you pretend you can fly, then stop doing it when you’re told you can’t. You still had a blast pretending though 🙂

    Signed,

    the guy who had fun writing this!

  6. Anup Ghosh says:

    guys com’on dont get so technical wid d movies, watch them n enjoy d stuff n use ur so technically marvellous brain to do some real research which would bring u some credits, atleast as much those non physics scholar movie directors manage to bag after ever newton’s law defying crazy action sequences the direct.. right????

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