Science vs. Fiction: 'Suicide Squad'
The new comic book movie continues an old sci-fi tradition -- extrapolating the possibilities of existing science and technology.
"Suicide Squad," the latest production from Hollywood's comic book movie factory, is not getting much love from critics. But we were able to catch an advance screening and can dutifully report that the movie indulges an old sci-fi movie tradition. Our heroes -- actually, they're villains in this case -- deploy weaponry and superpowers based on real science, but projected forward to have capabilities beyond our current technology.
In this abbreviated edition of our Science vs. Fiction series, we look at five elements from the film and the associations with real-world science and tech. Warning: some mild spoilers ahead.
Every superhero team has its weak link (sorry, Hawkeye, but it's true), and apparently the same goes for supervillians. The Suicide Squad's conspicuous liability is a criminal called Slipknot, whose superpower is, um, ropes. The grappling hook system he uses in the film is rather underwhelming, relatively speaking, but it does have some real-world inspiration. For example, the Tactical Air Initiated Launch (TAIL) system is a pneumatically powered gun that shoots a titanium grappling hook with a Kevlar line.
Will Smith plays Deadshot, an assassin whose superhuman skill with guns lets him bounce bullets around like billiard balls. In one scene, Deadshot is shown calculating angles and ricochets with a head-mounted augmented reality (AR) display. In fact, the military has several AR technologies in development, like these AR smartglasses that features a wireless connection to the soldier's firearm.
Another decidedly second-tier super villain, Captain Boomerang is a cranky Australian mercenary, played by Jai Courtney in the new movie. You can probably intuit his weapon of choice, but did you know that the boomerang is a weapon technology that goes back 30,000 years? It's true. Stone Age hunters made them out of mammoth tusks. Also, thanks to some extracurricular research aboard the International Space Station, we know that boomerangs work in zero-gravity.
In "Suicide Squad," the Japanese warrior known as Katana wields a mystical sword that captures the souls of its victims ... or something. The details are a little fuzzy. As a weapons technology, swords date back to the Bronze Age, and the katana was developed around 900 A.D. Last year, the weapon made headlines when a katana-wielding robot went head-to-head with a champion Japanese sword master. Check out the terrifying fascinating video here.
Finally, there is the little matter of Killer Croc. According to DC comic book mythology, Croc's half-human, half-crocodile body is the result of a genetic defect. There's some weird science behind that, actually. The biological term atavism refers to a phenomenon in which DNA malfunctions, resulting in animals -- and sometimes humans -- developing the physical traits of primitive ancestors.