(Warning! "Avengers: Infinity War" and "Ant-Man and the Wasp" spoilers below!)
Ever since Thanos' fatal finger snap in "Avengers: Infinity War," Marvel fans have been wondering how the franchise will bring back all the "dead" heroes who are contractually obligated to appear in upcoming movies.
The prevailing rumor (backed by ostensibly leaked set pics) suggests that the Avengers will take a cue from "Back to the Future" and embark on some time travel in "Avengers 4," the upcoming sequel to "Infinity War" whose title has still not been made public. It's been speculated that our heroes might even revisit some past iconic Avengers moments.
"Ant-Man and the Wasp" lends support to this theory ― as do the film's creators.
"Ant-Man and the Wasp" focuses heavily on Scott Lang's Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), Hope van Dyne's Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as they attempt to rescue the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) ― who's Hope's mother and Hank's wife ― from the Quantum Realm. That's the psychedelic alternate dimension you can only access by going subatomic (as seen in the first "Ant-Man") or by using magic (as seen in "Doctor Strange").
Throughout the new Marvel installment, the movie drops various hints about the potential for time travel. For example, characters talk about time and space operating differently in the Quantum Realm. There's even a mention of trying to avoid a pesky "time vortex."
In an interview with HuffPost ahead of the film's release, director Peyton Reed offered some more thoughts about the time travel theme.
We'd spoken before, about the first "Ant-Man" installment in 2015. At the time, I asked him about the fan theory that Ant-Man had already been present in various "Avengers" films (he was just so small you couldn't see him). Reed said he liked the theory, but wondered whether the "timeline works out."
Now, though, Reed says Ant-Man might indeed have been in past "Avengers" scenes.
"I think based on the science that we've set up in the first movie and this one, I won't rule out the possibility because, again, we are dealing with a time vortex. That could happen," he said. "[Ant-Man] could be anywhere. There could be different probabilities. There could be different versions of every MCU movie. We're the 20th MCU movie. Maybe there's a universe where there's 200 MCU movies. They're all different versions. That's the beauty of the Quantum Realm. It's dramatically fertile and flexible."
Dr. Spiros Michalakis, a quantum physicist and science consultant on "Ant-Man and the Wasp," is the originator of the MCU's Quantum Realm. Michalakis told HuffPost he was brought in a week before the first "Ant-Man" began shooting. At that point, filmmakers were thinking of basing the movie's miniature actions in a place called the Microverse, a subatomic world familiar to Marvel comics fans.
"I'm like, 'Wait a minute. It should be the Quantum Realm,'" he said. "And they're like, 'Quantum Realm? Sounds great. We'll call it the Quantum Realm.' And then from there it took on its own life."
Michalakis confirmed that through the Quantum Realm, anything is possible, including time travel and access to alternate dimensions.
"Oh, yes, all of that, of course," he said. "There is no notion of time yet... Things don't exist down there, so you're exploring different states, different dimensions, and you can't even tell which is time, which is space. Of course, you can go back and forth in time. Potentially, time is not a singular dimension. It is, itself, potentially a whole universe of dimensions included in it. It's just a label."
"[The] Quantum Realm potentially is infinite," Reed said. "We had to distill it down to how much Quantum Realm we wanted to show in the body of this movie, and how much dramatically this movie could contain, because from the beginning I had this mandate that [the movie has] got to be under two hours. Because it's a comedy, and it's fast-moving."
Even distilled, the Quantum Realm can be a lot to take in, with its psychedelic visuals and tardigrades and just plain old limitless attractions. Even Hank Pym seems to get overwhelmed by the place. Then there's the concept of quantum entanglement, which it turns out enabled Janet van Dyne to secretly plant a message in Ant-Man's head in the first movie. Now, because of the entanglement, Scott and Janet are connected across space and time.
"[Quantum entanglement] is the fabric that weaves together space and time, so they could be two particles that are very far apart, but when you go into the Quantum Realm, the two are one," Michalakis said.
If you're having trouble with this subatomic world, an easy way to conceptualize it is to think of it, in Michalakis' words, as "the source code for reality."
"This is the place where things haven't crystalized yet. Space and time, things are not well-defined. They're more probabilistic. There's a cloud of possibilities, and this is actually what goes on. This is really cutting-edge quantum physics right now," Michalakis said. "It's kind of like what lies under the hood of reality."
Thanks to Reed and Michalakis' explanations, it's easy to see how the Quantum Realm could serve as an "Infinity War" reset button. In theory, everything that's happened in the MCU thus far could be undone, because in the Quantum Realm, the rules of reality are made to be broken.
"The deeper you go," Michalakis said, "as the place where math and physics ― the lines are almost blurred, then you start wondering, 'Are the laws of physics just a filtering of the infinite possibilities?'"
In fact, Michalakis believes if Ant-Man and Wasp had been in "Infinity War," they'd have destroyed the movie's big purple Mr. Clean wannabe villain, Thanos (Josh Brolin).
"There's even an interview where Evangeline Lilly was like, 'The Wasp could've easily flown into his ear and punched [Thanos'] brains out and everything would be fine,' and I applaud that," Michalakis said.
Whether or not we eventually see Ant-Man dish Thanos a serving of revenge so icy cold it'd make his former employer Baskin-Robbins blush, we know for a fact the Quantum Realm will play a big role in the future of the MCU ― in a possible "Ant-Man 3" and beyond.
"I know that [for] Marvel, starting with 'Ant-Man' and kind of continuing with 'Doctor Strange' and this movie, exploring that kind of psychedelic subatomic side of Marvel from the comics is definitely a priority," Reed said. "Because it's so ripe with possibility in terms of what it can be visually and storywise."
But that was all he'd share before he warned of the "Marvel snipers" looking to stop spoilers.