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I am not familiar with the comic book, but I did know about the character a bit and I have seen the movie. In the movie it's never said directly what the role of the suit is exactly. At one point, they make it seem that the suit is vital and then at another point it seems it is not.

What I am referring to is to a few different scenes in the movie. One is the scene with the goat, which obviously was not wearing a suit, although it was in a glass container. My understanding of the Pym Particle is the shrinking effect takes place when the particle is released in a gas. This would explain the suit and the glass container with the goat. It also explains the demise of Yellowjacket at the end of the movie: as the circuits are destroyed it seems the suit is flooded with the particle in uneven amounts, causing his body to become mangled when it shrinks at various rates in different places.

But then what about the little throwing stars that he uses to shrink or enlarge things? It does look like there is a glass cylinder in the center which contains the particle, but are we to believe that upon breaking open the gas automatically covers the object evenly, allowing the item to enlarge or shrink without being mangled? And if that is somehow possible, why do they make it a point to have the scene with Hank in the back of the police car? They show him knock the suit onto the seat and struggle to position his head and the second the helmet appears to make a seal he shrinks? So is the suit needed or not?

Also I read that in one issue of the comic he accidentally shrinks Spider-Man. So what is the purpose of the suit? It seems unnecessary??

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4 Answers 4

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In the MCU, the suit isn't needed to shrink, but it is needed to shrink in a controlled and safe way.

The suit does two things for Scott (or whoever is wearing it).

First, it contains charges of Pym Particles calibrated to let the user shrink or grow at will to within a range of sizes. The throwing discs only work once and only change things to specific size ratio.

More importantly, the suit provides a self contained environment that ensures all of the user shrinks or grows at the same rate. Note that, with one exception, the things Scott uses the discs on are inanimate objects. If there are internal stresses on those, it's not a big deal. If, however, Scott's neck shrank at a different rate to the rest of his spine, that could be a disaster. That's why he waited until he got a seal on his helmet before trying to shrink.

(The one exception is the ant at the end. I guess we can assume the ant was small enough to be surrounded evenly by the particles when the disc hit it, and that its internal structure is simple enough that it was able to cope.)

In the experiments on other living things, the bell jars provided this same enclosed environment. The suit is just a more portable version.

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The suit isn’t needed to shrink but it helps in a few important ways. KutuluMike’s answer is good but I just want to expand on it with some important points with quotes from the film.

Firstly, the suit protects the brain from altering too much and being too affected by the particles. The helmet is a protection aid to the wearer; on a similar, albeit amplified, scale to a hard hat for a construction worker.

Dr. Hank Pym: The board’s chairman is my daughter, Hope. She was the deciding vote. But she came back to me when she saw how close Cross was to cracking my formula. The process is highly volatile. What isn’t protected by a specialized helmet can affect the brain’s chemistry. I don’t think Darren realizes this, and you know, he’s not the most stable guy to begin with.

Ant-Man

Note though that it isn’t necessarily perfect as wearing the suit has still taken its toll on Hank: it’s just better than wearing nothing or nothing protective even as we find out with Darren later.

Scott Lang: She’s right, Hank. I’m not your guy. Why don’t you wear the suit?

Dr. Hank Pym: You think I don’t want to? I can’t. I spent years wearing it. It took a toll on me. You’re our only option.

Ant-Man

Hope van Dyne: This is not who you are, it’s the particles altering your brain chemistry.

Ant-Man

The suit also contains the regulator which Hank warns Scott not to mess around with. This is because the regulator keeps the two settings: normal and ant in check so as not to go sub-atomic or Giant-Man.

Scott Lang: You know, I think this regulator is holding me back.

Dr. Hank Pym: Do not screw with the regulator. If that regulator is compromised you would go sub-atomic.

Scott Lang: What does that mean?

Dr. Hank Pym: It means that you would enter a quantum realm.

Ant-Man

And lastly, of course, we know from Ant-Man and the Wasp that the suit isn’t needed to shrink because during the school break in scene Scott gets stuck child sized and before that grows taller than normal without the helmet on.

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  • Great example of him being half-sized and still able to breathe/function without the suit.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 7:07
  • @Valorum Of course he’s wearing the body of the suit, just not the helmet.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 7:13
  • We see him use the flying disk particles on a variety of things not covered in suit material.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 7:16
  • @Valorum mostly inanimate objects of course though. I think Mike’s answer covers that point well enough though that I didn’t want to reiterate it.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 7:18
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Yes. In the MCU he never shrinks without his suit, or expands. Because in shrunken mode, the molecules of breathable air are now 140 times larger than they were before. The Aveoli in his lungs are now so small he can no longer perform gas exchange of outside air. His suit must work to shrink the air he inhales or risk asphyxiation. Without the suit's kind of helmet, the chemical balance of the brain would be affected when shrinking.

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    He can shrink without the suit, the film gives a reason for why he doesn’t though and it’s not to do with the size of air molecules.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Jun 9, 2020 at 6:37
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Yes and No. Your question is antman oriented. If we are talking about antman yes he needed the suit to shrink. But if we asked could anyone be shrunk with suit only. The answer is no. Aslong you are inside a container you will be safe to shrink.

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