The theoretical physicist who advises Marvel on TV shows and films has revealed some of the tricks of his trade, and we can’t get enough of it.
Clifford Johnson is the British physicist who advises Marvel on all things scientific – a job which you might not have thought existed in the same universe where Tony Stark memorably builds an exoskeleton robot “in a cave… with a box of scraps!!” But in an interview with Wired, he spilled the beans on what it’s like to be a consultant to the biggest movie franchise of all time (including credits for Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Endgame).
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Our favourite anecdote comes from his time working on Agent Carter, the TV spin-off series to the Captain America films. As he recounts,
In season two of Agent Carter I filled the blackboards in Howard Stark’s lab with period-appropriate equations, modified slightly to relate to the problems they were trying to solve. Maybe me and one other person would appreciate what’s in those equations, but it was fun.
So congratulations if you spotted the 1940s-era calculus scribbled in chalk in the background, that’s the kind of dedication and attention to detail we love to see (and that keeps us coming back for more).
On top of that, he also tried to pave the way for the infinity stones plotline in the same series, offering to write physics rules for the precious gems but his ideas weren’t taken up that time.
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If you want to follow in Johnson’s footsteps and put your science qualifications in the aid of a good cause – a really good cause – then you can join the Science and Entertainment Exchange, which was founded by the US National Academy of Science to ensure a better representation of science and scientists in the media.
Johnson specifically mentions his pride at Marvel showing science to be a collaborative effort rather than the one-man army approach more common to the comic books. While of course not everything in the Marvel universe obeys the laws of physics to the letter, Johnson is proud of what he calls the “Marvel science” present in the films, which is “obviously not real science, but it is rooted in things from the real world.”
It’s been a rough time for Marvel fans lately, with 2020 being the first year since 2009 in which no new films were released. But in 2021 that’s all set to change, with the introduction of Phase Four and the release of blockbuster movies like Black Widow, The Eternals, and the as-yet-untitled Spider-Man sequel. Stock up on the popcorn and give your old favourites a re-watch in advance because it’s sure to be another wild ride.