Big Hero 2 + 4: Disney reinvents a Marvel franchise

Shortly after the trailer was released, I fired up my Comixology app and downloaded Big Hero 6: Brave New Heroes and gave it a read. I did not like it and because I didn’t like it, my excitement for the Disney/Marvel mashup dimmed and disappeared. The weeks rolled by and I’d almost forgotten the movie was on the horizon, when suddenly big red posters were all over the place, doughy white robots peered at me from every direction, and my NerdyGirlfriend was suggesting that we go see “that new Big Hero 6 movie.” So we did and (surprise!), I really liked it.

The story of Big Hero 6 largely follows a boy genius and his pal robot.

Part of the reason for my about-face on the Big Hero 6 franchise is that the flick is only based on the comic in the loosest possible way. The characters’ names and abilities are kept intact, but what we see on the screen veers wildly in setting, tone, visual style, and — well, in about every way but the basic premise of a boy genius Hiro and Baymax, his pal robot, forming a team of superheroes.

“Big Hero 2 + 4” is probably a more accurate title. I won’t get into the details of the plot, but the story pretty much focuses on Hiro, Baymax, and how they deal with a tragedy and each help each other grow, but these themes are handled in a very predictable way that we’ve seen dozens of times over. That’s not entirely terrible, this is a kid’s movie and it does present a tight story that’s easy to follow. There’s also a lot of very universal humor, particularly from Baymax, a walking sight gag that supplies a lot of the movie’s bumbling, physical humor and easily the best part of this flick.

The comic heroes are very different from the kid-friendly movie team, but the broad strokes are pretty much intact.

The other 4 characters (Gogo, Fred, Wasabi, and Honey) kind of fall into the background. There are a few moments where the “totally not a stoner” character Fred almost steals the show with some genuinely hilarious banter, but I think that’s more due to TJ Miller being just fucking hilarious than anything interesting or funny that his character is given to do on the screen. I can’t help but wonder how much of his lines were improvised. GoGo, Wasabi, and Honey, aside from being visually striking when in motion, don’t really stick in the mind as more than one-note caricatures. I’d like to see a sequel spend more time with the supporting cast.

I'd like to see a sequel spend more time with the supporting heroes.

I’d like to see a sequel spend more time with the supporting heroes.

All of these characters are radically different from their comic incarnations even where their abilities are concerned. Where the comic cast is a hodgepodge supernatural, mutant, and technological abilities, the film sticks with more scientific origins of the collection of powers, presenting the group as a team of young scientists, rather than the sort of Japanese Avengers that we see in the books. Fredzilla, for example, transforms into a giant lizard creature in the comic via a magical ability, but in the film wears a goofy looking monster suit that augments his abillities in a more explainable (and hilarious) manner. Honey’s interdimensional Power Purse from the book manifests as a sort of mobile chemistry set shaped like a purse. Wasabi’s blades and GoGo’s power suit are similarly tweaked and I really dug how these homages to the comic source material kept the story simple and cohesive, rather than a slavish translation that would have required a lot of background.

Yokai

The villain, Yokai, looks amazing, but the kid’s film doesn’t really flesh out the character.

Visually, the big bad of Big Hero 6, Yokai, is awesome looking and an imposing presence, but he’s no Syndrome. You never really care about him (or for him), because the movie doesn’t do much with him and never really develops the character. For most of the film, he’s a silent antagonist and ends up feeling almost auxiliary to the film’s resolution. It’s no spoiler that the heroes win in this kid’s action movie, but his defeat is pretty unsatisfactory and his motives, once revealed, seem a bit weak.

I can’t really talk about Big Hero 6 as a resident of the San Francisco Bay area without commenting on the visual style of the the fictionalized San Fransokyo that the film takes place in. It is gorgeous — both accurate to SF’s small city feel, but modern in a way that is uniquely future-Tokyo. For example, the Golden Gate Bridge and TransAmerica Pyramid are presented with the upright flair of Japanese Torii and the skyline glows neon from afar, but at ground level the front of Hiro’s home above a cafe run by his aunt looks remarkably accurate the the San Francisco that I know. (Although, the interior of the apartment is pretty big by SF standards, I think.) This, along with the race-bending that takes place among the cast of characters, lends Big Hero 6 a multicultural feel that is refreshing.

San Fransokyo

San Fransokyo is an amazing hodge-podge of cultures and visual styles.

Plus, it’s good to see San Franciso celebrated in a film, rather than just destroyed… again.

While we’re on the subject of visual style, the people who populate Big Hero 6 have a very “Incredibles” look to them. Hiro’s Aunt Cass, for example, looks almost EXACTLY like Helen Parr/Elastigirl. I suppose this is “Parr” for the course with modern 3D animation and people’s faces. (heh. heh-heh.)

Elastigirl, is that you? I love what you’ve done with your hair.

Final thought: A strong showing from Disney and a good break from the Marvel Studio’s shared universe, Big Hero 6 completely guts the source comic of everything but its bare bones and rebuilds it into what could be a superior franchise. That said, the film doesn’t tread any new ground thematically and is filled with flat supporting characters, so I wouldn’t recommend that adults rush to the cinema. It’s a solid rental or lazy Sunday matinee.