Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Review (Part 2 of 2): Big Hero 6: Like Frozen, with less singing and more robots

This is the second part of my review of Big Hero 6. The first part of the review can be found here

This part will have unmarked SPOILERS.

Brotherly Love

I wasn't merely being glib with the title, when I compared it to Frozen. Where the heart of that movie is all about two sister who deeply love each other, this one is about two brothers. As they're concluding their heart-to-heart, they suddenly see a fire at the exhibition hall.

Holy shit, is this a great scene. They run towards it, and Tadashi realizes that the professor is still inside. There is the initial flinch of self-preservation, but he steels himself to run in. Hiro grabs his brother, but Tadashi tells him that Callaghan is still inside, and he pulls away. He hurls himself into the burning building, which EXPLODES, bowling Hiro over.The scene really conveyed the size and the danger of the fire and the explosion. They were frightening on a visceral level.

It's followed by muted scenes of the funeral, and the wake. The movie has such a fine eye for detail, like when Cass brings up a meal for Hiro, and puts it in the place of the uneaten meal she had placed there before. This part was hard to watch, in part because it was so true. Jen and Lily were crying, and I had something in my eye. Tadashi is absolutely my favorite character. He wasn't some sacred martyr, who existed only to die in to move the hero on to the next point in the Heroic Journey. He was a decent fellow, he tried to use his gifts to help other people, but he had a personality.

And Hiro's coping, or lack of it, rang true. There's such a profound depth of grief with a loss like this, and people often retreat inside themselves, away from those who can help them grieve.

Kabuki Quantum Fighter

Hiro accidentally activates Baymax, and discovers an intact microbot, which seems to be trying to rejoin the others. Baymax follows it to an abandoned factory, and Hiro follows him. They discover that somebody is manufacturing microbots. That somebody is a weirdo in a Kabuki mask, who sends the microbots after the pair.

I thought the animation here was extremely well done. The swarm simultaneously looked real and like nothing on earth.

They escape, and Hiro concludes that the masked man must be the one who killed his brother and stole his bots, so he gets to work upgrading Baymax with armor and badass karate moves. One thing I liked was that Hiro says "Unbelievable." two or three times, but not to the point where it's reduced to a catch phrase. That just seems right, as everyone has their favorite phrases that they repeat under similar circumstances.

With the newly badass Baymax, Hiro follows his lone bot to the harbor, after discovering that the warehouse has been abandoned. The masked man emerges. Hiro discovered that he was followed by Tadashi's friends. He wants to fight the masked man, but the others pull him into Wasabi's subcompact car and flee. An excellent car chase follows, ending only when the car plunges into the bay.


They walk to Fred's mansion. He mentions his parents are away on vacation on their private island, and gestures to a family portrait, where the dad looks suspiciously like Stan Lee. (I later learned that Stan Lee shows up in the post-credit scene, but my fidgety eight-year old didn't want to wait.)

Hiro upgrades Baymax again, and builds his friends some armor. A friend observed that it seemed unconvincing that a young kid was so immediately accepted into their lives, but I think he was acting as a surrogate for his brother. Tadashi was gone, they loved him, and knew he loved his brother, so they transfer that affection on to Hiro. The training montage here is great, and goes on for exactly the right length.

Baymax had scanned Kabuki-Face during their earlier tussle, and now that Hiro has upgraded his scanner, he scans the entire city and locates the subject on an island just off the coast. They arrives and find that the island has been quarantined, and on exploring they discover a former Krei Tech lab that was inventing Stargate looking teleportation gateways. Video footage shows that the test pilot entered one portal, but did not emerge from the second when the first malfunctioned.

Then the masked man shows up behind them and throws a huge chunk of concrete at them. Baymax protects them, because that's what he does. They fight, and the heroes knock his mask off, revealing not Krei, as they had expected, but Callaghan.

Quelle Surprise

He monologues briefly, explaining that he started the fire that killed Tadashi in order to cover his theft of Hiro's microbots. Hiro orders Baymax to kill Callaghan. Baymax refuses. Hiro pops out his healthcare chip, leaving him with only the combat programming. Baymax goes full-on end movie Iron Giant, and aggressively attacks Callaghan, throwing aside those team members who try to intervene. The sound here is muted and it's a wonderful addition to the impact of the scene.  It's only when Honey Lemon manages to slot the healthcare chip back in that he stops.

Hiro and Baymax fly off alone, and return to Hiro's workspace. This is a heartbreaking scene. Hiro is falling apart, and trying to get the slot back open to remove the chip. Baymax tells him that this is not what Tadashi would have wanted, and Hiro replies "Tadashi is gone!" and he finally breaks down crying when Baymax asks if killing Callaghan will make him feel better. It's all in Baymax's soft, sympathetic monotone, and it's all wonderfully delivered.

Baymax shows Hiro some footage of Tadashi running the initial tests, and Hiro's friends arrive. They review the footage from the island and discover that the test pilot was Callaghan's daughter when they see her last name on her helmet. (I think that's why they went with the less common spelling of the name, as it makes it easily to identify her as his daughter.)

A hate so big...

I love Callaghan as a villain. He reminds me of Magneto. I applied Roger Zelazny's line about a hate so big that it would burn the innocent to reach the guilty to Magneto in an earlier review and I think it applies to Callaghan as well.

His actions, at first, are not unreasonable. If someone hurt my daughter, you better believe I'd become a supervillian to get revenge. He sees the opportunity to hurt Krei like he'd been hurt, so he sets the fire as a distraction when he's sure that no one is in the building, and uses it as cover to steal the bots, which will be the instrument of his revenge. He had no way of knowing that Tadashi would be in a position to run into the building to save him, and when he angrily tells Hiro that Tadashi shouldn't have done it, this doesn't mean that he doesn't regret what he has done.

Would he have gone through with it had he known the consequences? I'd like to think not, that affection for one of his prized pupils would have convinced him to try another way. But things happened as they did, and we'll never know.

A slight digression here (yeah, I know, mark that one off on your Josh blogging bingo card. It's right between excessive use of italics and run-on sentences), that ties back into my larger point. John Byrne was tasked with rebooting Superman into the modern era in 1986, and one of the best changes he made was re-imagining Lex Luthor as corrupt businessman, which is the interpretation that dominates today.

Silver Age Lex Luthor might have built a weather control satellite and used it to blackmail the world (or more likely, to ruin Superman's vacation, Silver Age villains having no sense of perspective). Modern Age Lex Luthor would patent the satellite and license it out, making much more money than he ever could in criminal endeavors.

And that makes sense. From a strict cost-benefit analysis, super-villainy is seldom a practical solution to any problem. However, it works here. I figured out his identity as the villain from almost the first moment I saw the professor. I was thinking, "Hmmm...respected robots professor gives up job he loves to become supervillain? Unlikely." But when we consider that the only thing he's living for anymore is revenge, then it's a reasonable, or at least rational path to his goals.

However, he is a villain. It's not a reasonable response to drop fifty tons of rocks on a group of kids snooping around your lair. If it were, most episodes of Scooby Doo would end verrrrry early.

He's a great counterpoint to Hiro, as well, who is dealing with his own rage and loss, and who not incidentally, also tried to straight up murder the architect of that loss. Hiro had someone to pull him back.

"I want my daughter back!" 

Now that our heroes know that Callaghan is going to kill Krei, they intervene to stop him. Krei has bankrolled the construction of a new facility to replace the one destroyed in the fire. Callaghan arrives and uses the nanobots to assemble to defective portal over the building. The visual was very well done and the way the bots moved things into place reminded me of Doctor Octopus' arms. Krei begs for his life like Count Rugen, offering Callaghan anything he wants, and Callaghan replies the only way he can, "I want my daughter back!"

The heroes fight and win, but Baymax scans the portal and determines that Callaghan's daughter is still within, in "hypersleep".  Hiro and Baymax venture in and rescue her, though Baymax sacrifices himself so that Hiro and Abigail get get out. 

I'm a little torn about this. On one hand,  it's a bit of a cop out. On the other, I'm sick and tired of writers fridging female characters simply to give a little motivation to the (male) main characters. On reflection, it's a cheat, but one I'm happy to live with.

I love Callaghan's expression when they're putting him in the police car and he sees his daughter. It's almost unreadable, but my interpretation is that he's so happy to have her back, and despondent that she'll know him as a monster.

When setting things up in Tadashi's old lab, Hiro discovers Baymax's personality chip clutched in the rocket fist he had used to push the pod out of the portal. I figured that's where they were going, but I didn't see how it had been accomplished. I'll have to watch the home video version closely to see if we're shown it, or if it happens off-screen.

Hiro rebuilds Baymax, and the team continues as superheroes.


Outstanding. I loved almost everything, and I've already addressed the few quibbles I had, so I'm just going to summarize what I loved about it.

Mister Rogers once famously said

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."

I liked that the heroes were decent without being bland. Technology is only a tool, but I like they wanted to use that tool to help people.

Tadashi was my favorite character, and I like that he built a robot to help people, and that his last act was to attempt to save someone's life.

I liked that it showed that smart people come in all shapes and sizes and colors.

I like the gender balance, and that the ladies were the first one into the fight.

I like how it addresses that grief is real, and it can be overwhelming, but in time, things will get better.

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