Saturday, November 29, 2014

Gotta Wonder How They'll Name the Sequel

Film: Big Hero 6
Format: Sycamore Theater.

We took the girls to see Big Hero 6 Friday night. The original plan was to hit the film on Thanksgiving, but the day got away from us. We spent the bulk of Friday cleaning and putting up Christmas decorations, and then figured we’d catch the film. I don’t go out to the movies that often, partly because I don’t always have the time and partly because I don’t like crowds of other people around me. But, now and then, it’s worth it to take the girls and have a little family time.

Big Hero 6 is a superhero origin story, although it takes us a long time to actually get to the superhero part. We start by being introduced to Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a 14-year-old robotics expert who is competing in illegal robot fights (and winning). His older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) is a student in robotics at the local university. Wanting to get Hiro on a more productive path, Tadashi takes his younger brother to his lab, introduces him to a number of people, and essentially gets his brother excited about the possibilities for cool new inventions that he and his friends are working on. In Tadashi’s case, the invention is Baymax (Scott Adsit), an inflated robot that acts as a personal medical service.

Hiro, thus inspired, takes it upon himself to create something truly impressive for a robotics exhibition in the hopes of being allowed to enroll in the university. His invention is a collection of tiny microbots that can be controlled with a cybernetic headset. Impressed, he is given entry into the school. He’s also offered an incredible amount of money by an industrialist named Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk), but Hiro declines, deciding instead to study with legendary robotics professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell). That night, a fire breaks out in the robotics building and Tadashi runs inside to rescue Professor Callaghan, but is killed in the ensuing explosion.

Soon after, Hiro discovers that Baymax had been brought home by his brother, and now Baymax is his constant companion. The adventure starts when Hiro’s last remaining microbot seems to be reacting to something, as if it wants to join a larger group of microbots. Hiro and Baymax go exploring and discover a mysterious man in a kabuki mask creating a massive horde of microbots. Hiro, naturally, decides that this person has not only stolen his technology but is also responsible for Tadashi’s death. He recruits Tadashi’s lab friends—Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Go Go (Jamie Chung), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), and Fred (T.J. Miller), and essentially transforms them into a superhero team to track down the person responsible for Tadashi’s tragic demise.

Big Hero 6 has a massive problem lurking at the center of it, though, although it’s a problem that probably won’t be noticed by a large percentage of its core audience. Put simply, there are no surprises in this film. For as well-written as the script is, the plot is disturbingly pedestrian. It’s not entirely predictable in terms of what is going to happen exactly, but the emotional beats and various plot twists are not that difficult to see coming throughout. We know, for instance, that there will be a moment where the bad guy has the entire team of Hiro and his friend pinned down. We know that some wonderful insight will cause them all to break free. In fact, even Tadashi’s death isn’t that difficult to predict because there isn’t a single promo of the film that doesn’t feature Hiro and Baymax as a unit, and not a single promo that features Tadashi at all. I knew what was coming, and while I didn’t precisely predict every plot point exactly, I knew precisely when each emotional beat was going to happen and how it would be resolved.

Big Hero 6 overcomes some of this by being funny. Fred is definitely the Disney-style comic relief character and he has some good moments, but he’s about as predictable as the twists and turns of the plot. No, it is Baymax who is the real star here, both in terms of emotional content and truly original comic moments. I’m positive there will be a sequel to this (Big Hero 7, maybe?), and should I go see it, it will be almost exclusively to see Baymax in action again. He’s funny, sweet, na├»ve, and heartwarming, and much of the comedy comes from a sort of natural robotic innocence.

It’s a hard film not to like on some level. There are genuine moments here, and the comedic bits really work. But for all this, it comes across as one part Marvel origin story, one part The Iron Giant, one part nod to anime, and rather than being fully blended, those parts are simply stacked on top of each other (EDIT: It's also one part Scooby Doo episode). This sounds very much like I didn't like the film, and that simply wouldn't be accurate. It's a very well-made film and I can't imagine a kid not liking it a lot. I also really appreciate the fact that rather than making the kids who are good at science losers and social misfits, it makes them extremely cool. We need more films that make scientists and inventors people to admire and not nerds and twits that we laugh at. And the comedy is genuine, and doesn't often come at the expense of the characters. It's funny without being cruel. There's a lot to like here in terms of what the film actually does. It's just that it does it in a way that's obvious to anyone in a double-digit age category.

In short, I liked this and think it’s worth seeing. I just wanted to like it as much as I thought I would. It will undoubtedly be nominated for an Oscar and will probably win, but there’s no way it’s a better film than The LEGO Movie.

Why to watch Big Hero 6: A fun and funny script.
Why not to watch: Sadly, there are no surprises in the plot.

8 comments:

  1. I don't know if it'll win over The Lego Movie. That won was a huge success to the point they're doing numerous sequels and spin-offs. Though Oscar does have the tendency fall ill with "recency-itis," so that could factor in.

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    1. That's sort of my thinking with this. I'm hoping that the Academy has a long enough memory to nominate The LEGO Movie, which should be the winner, all things being equal.

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  2. Completely agree. I went into this not knowing that it was a superhero team movie and was disappointed when it suddenly became one. We've had more than enough of those and the middle section when Hiro bonds with Baymax is by far the best part of the film. When the focus shifts from that, the movie suffers.

    If The Lego Movie doesn't win Best Animated Feature, it will be a huge miscarriage. The Lego Movie was the best movie I've seen this year, bar none.

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    1. The Hiro/Baymax sequences are absolutely the best parts, although there's a bit of How to Train Your Dragon in there, too. And that goes back to my main point; for as well written as this film is, it feels really derivative.

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  3. It's a nice little piece of animation. Nothing more and that was just fine. Good review SJ.

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    1. Agreed. I enjoyed it. I just wish the story wasn't one I knew before.

      In a way, though, that makes it really accessible for kids. Both of my girls think I'm slightly loopy for thinking it was too derivative.

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  4. I saw your comment on my review and came over hear to read yours. Good call on the Oscar prediction.

    I agree this was mostly predictable. I didn't realize there would be an actual superhero team, so that part was a pleasant surprise for me.

    Not all the humor with Baymax worked for me. The bit where he's acting drunk because his battery is low is an example. I wasn't offended by it; I just found it stupid. He'd just move slower with a low battery, not deflate (which by the way would take extra energy to expel the air) and not be able to think or talk straight.

    After all the shoutouts for The LEGO Movie here it'll be interesting when you get to your "what should have won" post since I know you loved The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, too.

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    1. The "Baymax is drunk" moment is one that I just let play out. You're right that it wouldn't specifically happen that way, but I let it go for the humor of the situation.

      The LEGO Movie not being nominated is one of the biggest misses of the last 10 years.

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