The action in movies and on TV often neglects to obey the laws of physics that govern the natural world. It’s a big part of the suspension of disbelief that comes as part of the social contract of watching such productions. Rarely are the offenses so egregious as in the stories featuring those superheroes that are so ubiquitous in the modern entertainment landscape. We all know that the physics of a character like, say, DCs the Flash, wouldn’t work in reality (how could he turn so sharp going that fast?), but that’s part of the fun, setting aside our rational doubts and thinking, yeah, but what if you really could zip around saving people like that? Well, according to a new study, he would do more harm than good, and being rescued by the Flash would suck.
Physics students at the University of Leicester in Leicester, England, took issue with a scene in the CW’s popular new adaptation of The Flash where the titular superhero runs over a car and saves a biker who the vehicle just plowed into. According to their reckonings, this rescue, occurring as such high speeds, would actually do much more harm than good, far in excess of being hit by an automobile. They suggest that, should the Flash wish to continue to act as a superhero, he should adjust his approach somewhat.
I’m not going to get into the actual physics and mathematics behind their calculations, because frankly I don’t understand it (you can read the whole paper HERE if you’re into such things, it’s actually rather short and to the point). They use the footage—which has figured prominently in much of The Flash marketing—to extrapolate the speed, distance, and velocity to calculate the impact of grabbing someone moving so fast. Lets just say it would not end particularly well for the cyclist in question.
This is all dependent on mass, the surface area of the contact points, and many other factors that have to be accounted for. Again, you’ll have to read the actual conclusions for yourself to make sense of them, but the end result is basically that the guy on the bike would have been better off if the Flash just let him topple head over heels. Then again, it wouldn’t be much of a show if he just let everyone fall all over the place.
Though this paper may take some of the fun out of the show, The Flash is actually a pretty good time. It’s not the greatest superhero show ever, but I managed a mini marathon of the first five episodes of the Arrow spinoff the other, and it’s damn enjoyable. It joins the ranks of shows that are way better than what you usually expect from The CW (The 100 is another one of these). The action follows Barry Allen (Gran Gustin), a goofy forensics expert working for the police force who, after being struck by lightning, can run really fast and uses his new powers for good, like clearing his father (John Wesley Shipp, who played the Flash in the 1990s TV series) of his mother’s murder many years ago. It’s definitely worth a look.